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If an American city got nuked, how big would the hole be?

Dear Cecil:

If the Russians ever nuked Chicago, how big a hole would it make? Would I be safe in the suburbs? This is a matter of genuine and serious concern to me.

H.B., Schaumburg, Illinois

Cecil replies:

During the days of the Soviet Union the Russians didn’t tell anybody how big their bombs were, and since the breakup nobody over there has been able to find the information in the files. The one definitive statement we have came many winters ago, when Nikita Khrushchev announced to a cheering throng of East Berliners on January 16, 1963 that the Russians were packing a 100 megaton warhead. One megaton has the explosive power of one million tons of TNT (hence, mega-ton), so, as you can see, this sucker is pretty big.

However, this might have been mere Commie Rat propaganda. The biggest bomb that the Soviets actually exploded (on October 30, 1961) amounted to a mere 57 tons, by their own admission. Some scientists, though, estimated the power of that blast to be more in the 60 to 90 megaton range, so maybe we should figure that for once the Reds were telling the truth. A 100 megaton bomb would make a crater about 19 miles in diameter, which would let Schaumburg off the hook (initially) in the unlikely event that it struck downtown Chicago dead center. The devastating fire storms that follow in the wake of the explosion, though, would reduce Schaumburg to a rubble of melting McDonald’s stands in a matter of hours. To escape the fire storms, you’d have to move another ten or twenty miles out. Then, all you’d have to worry about would be the radiation, which will get you sooner or later, no matter what. Sweet dreams.

Cecil Adams

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