We are in a moment of very intense geopolitical tension. We have been talking about the conflict between Ukraine and Russia for no less than seven months, one that seems to have no end today. And it is getting worse every day, not only because of the constant casualties on both sides, nor because of the refusal of peaceful negotiation, but also because of the recent threat of a nuclear attack. And it is that lately there has been talking of the possible launch of tactical nuclear weapons, which we are going to take a look at to understand what they are, how they work, and their consequences.
What is a tactical nuke?
This is the first question we ask ourselves when we hear this word. Above all, the adjective ‘tactical’ draws a lot of attention, since the two previous words together make us imagine the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, but it is scary to think that there is more lethal weaponry than this. Let’s remember, for example, that not long ago we talked about Poseidon missiles, capable of creating giant radioactive waves to destroy everything in their path, but these are part of the category of ‘strategic’ bombs.
So what is a tactical nuke? Well, this is nothing less than a type of weaponry with a much smaller range and power than the previous ones. In other words, their launch is still just as harmful as they have a radioactive charge, but they are launched on very specific targets. Its explosion is from 0.3 to 100 kilotons, which is also an impressive power in the short-range it has.
How do tactical nukes work?
Now that you know what these shells are, we can draw some conclusions. And it is that being smaller warheads, their transport is much simpler. Having a much smaller size, they can be geographically positioned anywhere in order to guarantee the impact in a specific location.
That is why they can be mounted on land mobile launchers such as ships, or even submarines such as the Kronos if they were to be used for military purposes, from where they can be propelled and reach the target more easily. Its explosion will depend on the power it has, although being a minimum of 0.3 kilotons we can expect a destructive power lower than that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Therefore, it can be expected that at least a small-scale attack will occur on very specific targets, such as military compounds or concentrations of enemy troops positioned at a specific point.
What consequences would the launch of a tactical nuclear weapon have?
To begin with, it is necessary to emphasize that tactical nuclear weapons have never been fired. This means that they are deterrent weapons today, as we have seen in Putin’s announcement to launch one in case the West takes an active part in the conflict. For now, the use of one of these missiles would mean an international intervention in Ukrainian territory, but the consequences could be catastrophic.
We are not only talking about an attack with a missile, whose explosion would devastate what it finds in its path for tens of kilometers around by a shock wave. This produces enormous physical damage from impact and scorching heat.
The secondary effect that it has, apart from the initial destruction, is that of radioactive fallout. The atmospheric pressure, the condensation of the area, and the absorption of the air are so great that it causes the explosion causes the gases to accumulate in the highest part of the column of smoke so characteristic of a mushroom shape.
As this cloud dissipates, the falling water spreads radioactive material that can be carried by air currents to other parts beyond the impact zone. It should be noted that the first hours after the explosion are the most critical since it is the time of the greatest concentration of radioactivity in the area.
For this reason, it is important not to run away in these early hours, since it is best to stay in the interior rooms of a house, or underground shelters if there are any, in order to protect yourself from external radiation as much as possible.
As you can see, it is a potentially destructive weapon and although many are needed to achieve a significant devastating effect, there is no doubt that its launch has a negative effect on tension and fear with which other truly catastrophic moments of the past are remembered.