Aug 16, 2022 - Science

5 billion could starve to death if U.S., Russia engage in nuclear war: Study

Illustration of a man pushing a nuclear symbol.

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

About two-thirds of the world's population could starve to death if the United States and Russia engaged in nuclear war, according to a study published Monday.

The big picture: Soot and ash from nuclear weapon detonation would block the sun and cause disruptions to the Earth’s climate, causing a "catastrophic disruption of global food markets," researchers predicted in a peer-reviewed study led by Rutgers University.

Reality check: Food insecurity would be deadlier than nuclear blasts, according to the study published in Nature Food journal.

By the numbers: Researchers estimate that more than 5 billion people could die from a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia.

  • They also estimate that more than 2 billion people could die from a smaller-scale nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

What they found: The reduced light, global cooling, and likely trade restrictions after a nuclear war would be a global catastrophe for food security.

  • Crop declines would be the most severe in the mid-high latitude nations, including major exporting countries such as Russia and the U.S., which would then affect import-dependent countries in Africa and the Middle East.
  • Nuclear war would primarily contaminate soil and water close to where the nuclear weapons are used.

What they're saying: “The data tell us one thing: We must prevent a nuclear war from ever happening,” climate scientist and co-author of the study Alan Robock said.

Between the lines: Russia's invasion of Ukraine has increased tensions between the U.S. and its former Cold War foe — both of which have nuclear weapons.

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