Weapons of Mass Destruction
The reason to cover weapons of mass destruction in a book about extreme environments is because they have the potential to forever alter life on earth. The inconceivable destructive power of modern thermonuclear devices is antithetical to civilization, which requires a sophisticated infrastructure. The deaths from detonation of even one nuclear warhead over a population center would dwarf the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center disaster.
The exploitation of fuel-loaded jets to attack the World Trade Center produced an unusual situation by trapping the victims inside the twin towers, whose collapse vaporized them. Usually, immediate deaths from massive explosions represent a fraction of the total, particularly if toxic gases or radioactivity are involved. The grim task is to separate those waiting to die from those who can recover with medical care. This principle of triage is similar for all types of weapons of mass destruction, whether they involve radioactivity, biological agents, or nerve gas. However, the problems of scale and loss of medical and transportation infrastructure to manage such disasters are seriously underestimated by triage strategies.
This chapter briefly summarizes some of the major biological and human problems of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) warfare. It will become clear that the greatest threat to the survival of humankind remains thermonuclear weapons because biological and chemical agents cannot yet be fashioned into weapons of