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Lynn Eden on: Predicting Damage from Nuclear Blasts
Q: Give me examples of how the military went about getting knowledge or data on blast damage (from nuclear explosions). Describe some of the steps.

LE: Well, they set up a series of structures and they had these structural engineers kind of do their dynamic analysis and do predictions and they actually made predictions. There were three of them who went out there, out in the Pacific, and they made predictions before the tests, and they put them in an envelope and sealed it to see how well they could predict the damage and then the buildings were damaged at various levels...And they took that information that they got in the tests and they further analyzed it and they got further contracts from Air Force intelligence, and they -- with this helped them finance research sometimes with graduate students, and they refined their predictive abilities to predict damage form very large shock waves...

They had very specific things they wanted to understand about the effects of blast and the level and the kinds of structures that would be affected in what ways, and so they instrumented things and carefully designed these tests. They also did blast experiments on -- they blew over trees. They had what they called the Yucca National Forest. They put trees in concrete and then, you know, blasted them off, you know, blew them over. They did blast tests on aircraft.

They also did thermal radiation tests, but those radiation tests were largely for defensive purposes and by that I mean shielding U.S. aircraft. When they would go on operations they wanted to know what would it take to protect them. They did not do those same tests -- they did not say what would be the effect of thermal radiation or fire on enemy structures...

These were large complex tests in which, you know, almost everything under the sun was looked at. I mean, a great deal was looked at. One thing that wasn't looked at, though, was mass fire effects on enemy structures, enemy equipment.

Q: And you think that the damage caused by fire actually would have been far greater than -- or certainly significant enough to warrant study?

LE: Well, yes. You know, I've worked on this with Ted Postol, a physicist, and I would say it would be somewhere between two and five times as great a damage in terms of the radius of damage. I think a really very, very, very conservative estimate would be double the damage with the modern weapons. Virtually never less damage. Yes. It's a very significant effect. Very, very significant.

I think when you're talking about silos or deep bunkers, it's not relevant, but you have to understand that historically that came later in U.S. targeting, and it's important, but it turns out to be where -- the sheer numbers of weapons that were allocated historically had not been to that target set (i.e. hardened targets). So, you can't explain by something that came later, what happened earlier, and earlier the targets they were interested in and -- have remained until recently not uninterested in -- all kinds of structures, all kinds of military structures, all kinds of industrial structures; certainly, you know, petroleum, electric grids, all of that would be damaged by fire -- most of it, not all of it. I'm not saying all of it. That would be an overstatement.

The other thing that's very important is that you can't really segregate with these kinds of weapons...I mean, silos, it's true are out, but command and control, communications, military headquarters, important political headquarters, these are in or near cities. So, if you think you're going to be doing these very elaborate withholds (that is, not attack population centers) -- and starting with [Robert] McNamara the sense of we don't want to damage, we don't want to do urban attacks -- well, if you hit near the edge of a city, never mind in the city, and it turns out that your damage radius is two to five times what you thought it would be, well, they're really not going to be able to tell a difference.

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