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February 5, 1982

Nuclear War

JAMA. 1982;247(5):581-582. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320300011005

To the Editor.—  Robert Shepherd, MD, in a recent letter (1981;245:1819) suggested that the medical profession should concentrate on encouraging an "effective civil defense program," rather than working for the ideal but impractical goal of preventing nuclear war. Apparently Dr Shepherd, along with many others, does not realize the full extent of the destructiveness of a modern nuclear device. The bombs of today are at least two orders of magnitude more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.Recent reviews1-3 of the effects of nuclear war point out the inability of civil defense measures to protect our society from this "last epidemic." The thermal energy released by a 1-megaton blast could alone ignite fires as much as 16 km away. A firestorm would likely develop with temperatures exceeding 1,000 °C, a temperature higher than that necessary to melt glass and metal and burn ordinary fire-proof materials. Blast shelters