The Effects of Nuclear Weapons

Compiled and edited by
Samuel Glasstone and Philip J. Dolan

Third Edition

Prepared and published by the
and the


When "The Effects of Atomic Weapons" was published in 1950, the explosive energy yields of the fission bombs available at that time were equivalent to some thousands of tons (i.e., kilotons) of TNT. With the development of thermonuclear (fusion) weapons, having energy yields in the range of millions of tons (i.e., megatons) of TNT, a new presentation, entitled "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons," was issued in 1957. A completely revised edition was published in 1962 and this was reprinted with a few changes early in 1964.

Since the last version of "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons" was prepared, much new information has become available concerning nuclear weapons effects. This has come in part from the series of atmospheric tests, including several at very high altitudes, conducted in the Pacific Ocean area in 1962. In addition, laboratory studies, theoretical calculations, and computer simulations have provided a better understanding of the various effects. Within the limits imposed by security requirements, the new information has been incorporated in the present edition. In particular, attention may be called to a new chapter on the electromagnetic pulse.

We should emphasize, as has been done in the earlier editions, that numerical values given in this book are not--and cannot be--exact. They must inevitably include a substantial margin of error. Apart from the difficulties in making measurements of weapons effects, the results are often dependent upon circumstances which could not be predicted in the event of a nuclear attack. Furthermore, two weapons of different design may have the same explosive energy yield, but the effects could be markedly different. Where such possibilities exist, attention is called in the text to the limitations of the data presented; these limitations should not be overlooked.

The material is arranged in a manner that should permit the general reader to obtain a good understanding of the various topics without having to cope with the more technical details. Most chapters are thus in two parts: the first part is written at a fairly low technical level whereas the second treats some of the more technical and mathematical aspects. The presentation allows the reader to omit any or all of the latter sections without loss of continuity.

The choice of units for expressing numerical data presented us with a dilemma. The exclusive use of international (SI) or metric units would have placed a burden on many readers not familiar with these units, whereas the inclusion of both SI and common units would have complicated many figures, especially those with logarithmic scales. As a compromise, we have retained the older units and added an explanation of the SI system and a table of appropriate conversion factors.

Many organizations and individuals contributed in one way or another to this revision of "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons," and their cooperation is gratefully acknowledged. In particular, we wish to express our appreciation of the help given us by L. J. Deal and W. W. Schroebel of the Energy Research and Development Administration and by Cmdr. H. L. Hoppe of the Department of Defense.

Samuel Glasstone
Philip J. Dolan