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Even a limited nuclear war could kill billions of people from starvation, study finds


According to peer-reviewed research published in

, an all-out nuclear war between Russia and the United States could trigger a global famine and kill more than 5 billion peopleNature Food On Monday, while smaller regional nuclear conflicts could also starve billions of people, sobering findings suggest that the wider effects of nuclear war are several nuclear- Amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the number of armed states has exploded.

Even one study suggests that a limited nuclear war could kill billions.

AFP via Getty Images

Key Facts

According to a climate model that simulates six different nuclear war scenarios, soot emitted into the atmosphere after nuclear exchange blocks sunlight and lowers temperatures, disrupting crop production.

These models analyze changes in agricultural production and trade under five scenarios to understand How a small nuclear war between India and Pakistan and a major war between Russia and the United States unfolded, showing how even a small localized nuclear war could have far-reaching effects and trigger severe food shortages that cost billions of lives .

In the most extreme case – between the United States and Russia, researchers say Large-scale nuclear war in 2019 – a collapse in agricultural production means that within two years more than 75% of the planet will starve, almost all except Australia and a few countries in Africa and South America.

Over 2 billion people will die from famine in two years, researchers find smaller exchanges between India and Pakistan .

Crop reductions are most severe in mid-to-high latitude countries, including export powerhouses such as the United States and Russia, and may lead to export restrictions, which will affect import-dependent countries in Africa and the Middle East severe difficulty.

Researchers provide limited help in the immediate aftermath of a small-scale nuclear war through offset strategies (such as using livestock-raised crops to feed humans or eliminating all food waste), but The usefulness after a major conflict is fiction.

what We do not know

other effects of nuclear war on food production. The scenarios the researchers considered focused explicitly on the effects of calories and soot entering the atmosphere. They note that caloric intake accounts for only a small fraction of human nutritional needs, adding that future research should consider the effects of various proteins and micronutrients that are critical to human health. A nuclear war would also have effects that go far beyond triggering a nuclear winter. For example, nuclear explosions heating the atmosphere could destroy the ozone layer and allow more ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth’s surface. There will be large areas affected by radioactive contamination, and critical infrastructure and food production products may be destroyed. These questions should be considered in future studies, the researchers said.


Humans have the potential to adapt agricultural systems to function Researchers note that in the case of a nuclear winter, despite their warnings , it will be challenging to implement these changes in a timely manner in the deadly second year predicted by the model. Using cold-adapted crops that require less light, greenhouses, or switching to alternative food sources such as mushrooms, seaweed, insects and cellular proteins could also help reduce the impact, the researchers said, but have not been examined using models.

Main background

This study adds another grim insight into the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war and builds upon decades of scientists On top of the warnings, they say that even a limited nuclear exchange could be devastating for the entire planet. The complex nature of planetary ecosystems means many of these consequences remain unclear, but researchers believe that soot emitted into the atmosphere after nuclear exchanges can block the sun and cause a dramatic drop in temperature, a phenomenon known as a nuclear winter. Models suggest that a nuclear winter could trigger widespread famine, dramatic changes in ocean chemistry — which could have fatal effects on marine ecosystems such as coral reefs — and could plunge the world into a new ice age. The research comes at a time when many nuclear-armed nations are on edge following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Experts and countries alike have expressed concern over the conflict, which has turned nuclear power plants into battlegrounds, where President Vladimir Putin’s threat to deploy nuclear weapons could end in nuclear disaster. Russia is one of nine nuclear-armed countries, which also includes the United States, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.

Further reading

How a small nuclear war would change the entire planet (Nature)

Here’s the latest data on climate and food, and it’s not going well (Forbes)

Sea-farmed supercrops: How seaweed is changing the way we live (The Guardian) Report)

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