clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How many people would die if a nuclear bomb hit Salt Lake City?

President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un have escalated rising tensions between the United States and North Korea with a war of words.

North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho said this past Monday that Trump’s recent insults and tweets against North Korea are a “clear declaration of war.”

"For the past couple of days, we had earnestly hoped that the war of words between North Korea and the U.S. would not lead to action," Ri said, according to NPR. "However, Trump had ultimately declared war again last weekend, by saying regarding our leadership, that he will make it unable to last longer."

Experts outlined to the Los Angeles Times what a war between the two nations would look like. Similarly, CNN’s Will Ripley offered a thought on how much damage North Korea’s weapons would have, saying they have the “potential to kill a lot of people and do a lot of damage.”

Stevens Institute of Technology professor Alex Wellerstein has a more specific measurement than that. He’s created an online tool called a “Nukemap,” which shows how many people in an individual city would be killed in a nuclear blast.

For example, in Tokyo, 450,000 people would die. In Los Angeles, that number hovers close to 240,000.

A map of the nuclear fallout. |

So what about Salt Lake City? We entered the Beehive State’s capital into the tool and found these results:

Estimated fatalities: 80,540

Estimated injuries: 143,320

Estimated fatalities and injuries. |

This number can changed based on which nuclear weapon is used. For these results, we selected the nuclear weapon tested in 2017.

Wellerstein told Business Insider he developed the map to calm people’s fear over nuclear fallout.

"People tend to have either wildly exaggerated views of the weapons, or wildly under-appreciate their power, if they have thoughts about them at all. It can lead to hysterical policies of all sorts," he said.

He added, "A more grounded, sober, calibrated view of these weapons, in my experience, leads people to take more sober approaches to them. [A] nuclear detonation wouldn't be the end of everything, but we should strive to avoid it at practically all costs."

Despite creating his own tool, Wellerstein criticizes other nuclear graphics and online tools as fear mongering.

On Wednesday, Lissina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treat Organization, shared a graphic that showed the potential “radio-isotope cloud from hypothetical atmospheric burst over Pacific.”

The graphic shows the “expected range of a radioactive cloud resulting from a North Korea-launched nuclear bomb over the Pacific Ocean,” according to RT.

Upon receiving questions over the graphic, Zerbo said it’s a “rough imulation” and “nothing more.”

But Wellerstein called the graphic “dangerous” in tweets to Zerbo, adding that “people are going to interpret the plume as being ‘radioactivity’ — without a scale of some sort, they will assume the worst.”

Wellerstein also tweeted out a separate graphic that showed a scale of how long to take shelter after a nuclear blast.

Wellerstein's apparent downplaying of the potency of radioactive fallout wouldn't sit well with Utah's downwinders, thousands of southern Utahns and Nevadans who suffered the health effects of open-air nuclear testing in southern Nevada during the 1950s and '60s.

The Downwinders of Utah Archive at the University of Utah's J. Marriott Library opened an exhibit in 2016 to shed light on people's stories and the history behind the nuclear tests to prepare society for the future, the Deseret News reported.

“It is critical that the stories of the downwinders be recorded and preserved,” downwinder Mary Dickson said in a statement at the time. “Not only are these stories a valuable record of a shameful chapter of our shared past, they also serve as a reminder and a warning that we all live downwind. Without this important archive, our stories die with us."