cnd logo

     Scottish CND      Trident: Britain's Weapon of Mass Destruction

4. Effect of the use of Trident against the Moscow area

4.1 - Effect of an attack on 16 command bunkers using 48 Trident warheads
4.2 - Effect of one of these warheads

4.1 Effect of an attack on 16 command bunkers in and around Moscow using the 48 Trident warheads from one submarine

The submarine on patrol will be prepared to launch an attack with all its 14 missiles and 48 nuclear warheads. This example assumes that all of these would be targeted at command centres in and around Moscow. It is likely that at least 2 warheads would be detonated at each command post. The target plan will take into account the fact that some incoming warheads could be destroyed by Russian ABM defences. For this reason it is assumed that 3 warheads are aimed at each bunker.41 It should be noted that while this may be the most likely way that Trident would be used, it is not the most destructive. If the 48 warheads were aimed at 48 separate targets there would be substantially more casualties.

The following is a list of 16 command posts against which Trident might be targeted.42 The table also shows how far each bunker is from the city centre of Moscow and in which direction it lies from the city centre.

Potential Targets for Trident
LocationUse of bunkerDirection Distance
1. Defence Ministrycommandcity centre0 km
2. Lubyankacommandcity centre0 km
3. Parliamentlarge bunkercity centre0 km
4. Khodinka airfieldmilitary intelligenceN of centre6 km
5. Raminikilarge bunkerS of centre6 km
6. E of KlimovskmilitarySouth48 km
7. E of Chekhovgeneral staffSouth65 km
8. N of Chekhovgeneral staffSouth65 km
9. Sarapovodefence councilSouth68 km
10. VoronovogovernmentSouth 56 km
11. Balabanovorocket forces HQSouth West90 km
12. Vnukovo airfieldgovernmentSouth West25 km
13. Golicynosatellite controlWest27 km
14. Perkhushkovorocket forces HQWest42 km
15. Balashikhaair defence HQEast25 km
16. Monino airfieldmilitary airbaseEast38 km

These command centres are buried underground. 43 Nuclear weapons used against them would be detonated near the surface in a "groundburst" explosion. If a weapon is detonated in this way the immediate effects are less than in an "airburst" when the bomb explodes hundreds of metres above the surface. However, in a "groundburst" the fireball touches the ground which produces a crater. The debris in the crater is radioactive. It is thrown into the air and dispersed downwind - as nuclear fallout. This fallout results in massive radioactive contamination over a huge area. It is worth noting that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were both airburst. They did not produce the massive fallout which would result from the use of Trident against command bunkers.

The effect of this attack is shown in Map 1 which shows the effect of an attack on 16 command bunkers in and around Moscow using 48 Trident warheads - 3 groundburst against each bunker (colour GIF 68 kb)

The map assumes the wind is from the South West. The combined effects of the explosions and fallout would be completely overwhelming in the central and northern parts of Moscow and in many of the towns and villages in the surrounding area. In the south of the city there would be some casualties from the effects of detonations 5 -10 kms away, this would be followed by fallout from attacks on the bunkers outside the city.

The effect of the fallout from attacks on the rural bunkers is illustrated by a statement made by General Butler, with regard to the US SIOP: "One of the exercises I asked my staff to go through was to remove all the weapons directly targeted on Moscow and just calculate radiation levels in the city by looking at the strikes upwind of the city in various climatological scenarios. The result was exactly as I would have predicted: the city was rendered uninhabitable for generations." 44

The following is an estimate of the number of direct deaths from an attack on the Moscow area with 48 Trident warheads. 45 This includes fatalities from blast, heat, immediate radiation and deaths from fallout within 12 weeks.

Deaths within Moscow city
City AreaPopulationDeaths
Total in city8,864,5242,536,988

Deaths outside Moscow city
Direction Deaths
Total outside city489,434

The total number of people who would die within 12 weeks in Moscow and the surrounding areas would be around 3 million, including around 750,000 children. Several million people would be injured.

The overall effect of an attack on this scale is particularly numbing. Anyone trying to flee would be likely to find themselves travelling through contaminated areas. The pollution of water supplies, destruction of homes and general devastation would result in secondary problems with disease. Radiation reduces the bodys ability to fight off illness. There would also be both short term and long term problems with food supplies, because of the contamination of agricultural land and disruption of transport. The figures above do not include those deaths which would arise indirectly from disease or other longer term fatalities

It is possible that the actual target plan would result in more casualties than illustrated. British Trident warheads would be most effective against shallow command posts and least effective against the deepest bunkers. There are many shallow bunkers inside the city. The British attack plan may also include airburst attacks on some facilities such as communications sites and airfields.46

The total effect of a massive nuclear attack on targets around an urban centre was illustrated in a 1981 study of the effects of a nuclear attack on the British capital, called "London after the bomb". This calculated the effect of an attack with 11 bombs, with a total of 6 Megaton groundburst and 7 Megaton airburst on targets around the city. This study concluded that the proportion of the citys population who would be killed within 8 weeks would be between 65% and 76 %. 47 Although the total yield of explosives in a British attack on Moscow would be less, the effect could be on the same scale.48

4.2 Effect of one of these warheads

This example shows the effect of just one of the 48 warheads which would be used in this attack - detonating at the Defence Ministry in central Moscow. Each warhead probably has a yield of around 100 kilotons.49

This is illustrated in three charts which show the effects of one 100 kilton warhead (groundburst detonation)

Chart 2 drawing showing immediate effects and fallout
Chart 3 graph showing immediate effects
Chart 4 graph showing nuclear fallout

The effect of both immediate effects and fallout are also illustrated in Map 2. (colour GIF 75 kb)

The calculations were been carried out using the Weapons Effect computer program produced for the US Defence Nuclear Agency in 1984. 50

Within 1.35 km of the explosion the blast overpressure would be greater than 12 psi and the extent of damage by blast alone would be such that almost everyone would be killed.51 In addition neutron and gamma radiation would be fatal to all who were exposed over a wider distance, 1.6 km.52 So it is likely that 98% of those within 1.6 kms of the explosion would be killed.

Most buildings would be destroyed within 2.2 kms, with blast overpressure greater than 5 psi. Blast alone would result in 50 % fatalities. All those exposed to direct heat from detonation would be killed, within this distance. So total casualties within 2.2 kms could be 55% killed and 40% injured. 53

There would be extensive damage to buildings within 4 kms, with blast overpressure greater than 2 psi. Blast alone would result in 5 % fatalities and 45 % injuries. Direct heat from the explosion would be at the lethal level of 6.7 cal/cm2 as far as 4.5 kms from the centre.54 This could raise the death rate within 4 kms to 8 %. If a high proportion of the population were in the open at the time of detonation this figure would be much greater.

Blast overpressure would be 1 psi at 6.6 kms away. Blast casualties would be 25 % injured. Those directly in line of sight of the explosion would suffer from serious burns, which would be complicated by the lack of medical treatment. This is assumed to result in 1 % fatalities within this area. The death rate could be substantially higher if many of the population were in the open, or if there were extensive fires. In the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions fires caused by the bombs were responsible for a high proportion of the deaths and injuries. Destruction caused by blast would be the major factor leading to fires.

The casualty rates mentioned so far have only taken account of the effects of blast, heat and direct radiation from the explosion. The other major factor is the nuclear fallout. The following calculations assume a windspeed of 10 knots and even population density within the city. Estimating immediate casualties from fall out depends on the degree of shelter which the population have. An average Protection Factor (PF) of 5 is assumed in this case. 55

Within 5 kms downwind fallout would result in a Maximum Biological Dose of 2000 rads in the open. Taking account of the Protection Factor (PF5) this results in an average dose of 400 rads. These exposures would be accumulated within 72 hours of the explosion. 400 rads would result in 50 % fatalities. 56 Initial symptoms including vomiting would occur within hour to 2 hours and last for 2 days. There would then be a latent period of 1 - 14 days when symptoms would be less obvious. After 2 weeks the victims would suffer from hair loss, diarrhoea, fatigue and uncontrolled bleeding from the mouth.57 Around 50 % of healthy adults would die within 2 - 12 weeks from infection and internal bleeding.

Within 11 kms downwind fallout would result in a dose of 1500 rads in the open, or an average dose of 300 rads, for PF5. 300 rads would result in 50 % fatalities among adults who were already injured and 25 % fatalities among healthy adults. Death rates for children would be significantly higher. 58

The immediate effects of fallout would extend over a far wider area. Those in the open, 83 kms downwind, could receive a dose of 300 rads, fatal in 25 % of cases. These calculations only show the fatalities within the initial 12 week period. There would be many more long term fatalities from cancers resulting from exposure to radiation.

The following is an estimate of the total casualties within 12 weeks resulting from the detonation of one Trident warhead, groundburst, at the Defence Ministry in Moscow:

Deaths from blast, heat and direct radiation:
125,000 59
Additional deaths from fall out (PF5):
Total number of deaths

18 % of the population of Moscow are under the age of 15. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of radiation, especially infants. The death toll within 12 weeks would include around 30,000 children. Sakue Shimohira was close to the epicentre of the Nagasaki bomb when she was a schoolgirl. She described the scene: "there were mothers crying for their children and children crying for their mothers and no matter how far they stretched their arms they could not be comforted."

The effects of the explosion would go beyond the immediate human casualties. The experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki shows that schools, hospitals and churches would all be destroyed. The overall effect of the total destruction of property, physical injuries, radiation exposure and psychological damage are beyond comprehension.


41. US plans involve large number of warheads being used against some key targets. General Butler has said in the US nuclear plan (SIOP) there were 69 warheads targeted on one installation. Bruce Blair suggest that this was probably the Chekhov Command Bunker. Brian Hall op cit.
42. Based on information from the Federation of American Scientists (, Zero Alert for Global Nuclear Forces, Bruce Blair, and the Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, Bruce Blair.
43. Robert Aldridge was a senior engineer in Lockheed working on the Trident Reentry Body. With regard to a Trident C4 missiles with Mk4 / W76 warhead using NAVSTAR for guidance he says "by sending two warheads from different missiles to the same target, known as 2-on-1 targeting, the probability of destroying a hardened missile silo would be 94%" Trident Resisters Handbook, Robert Aldridge, p 2.2-2. The warheads on UK Trident D5 missiles, without NAVSTAR but with improved stellar navigation, will have a similar capability. Bruce Blair says the US Trident force can destroy the Russian primary command bunkers, but not some of the deepest alternate command bunkers. Zero Alert for Nuclear Forces, Bruce Blair, p61. He has also given a formula for the effectiveness of nuclear weapons against bunkers. The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, Bruce Blair, p 324. Calculations using this and the crater width from the Weapons Effect computer program suggests that UK Trident warheads might not destroy very deep bunkers. The US Nuclear Policy Review said of the US Trident force with W76 and W88 - "the Trident II (D5) missile - with its improved accuracy, range and payload relative to previous SLBMs - allows the SLBM force to hold at risk almost the entire range of strategic targets". 1995 Annual US Defence Report.
44. Brain Hall, op cit. 45. Casualty estimates for outside the city were based on population figures from the 1989 census for areas outside the city. The breakdown of population within Moscow is from Russia and the Post Soviet Scene, a Geographical Perspective, James H Baker, Arnold, 1996. Estimates of casualties were made using detailed maps of effects.
46 With regard to attacks on radio masts, General Lee Butler has said: "Take communications sites, for example. The most likely way to cripple a communications site is to strike an antenna. Now what is an antenna ? It's an ungainly spire of structural steel. It this wasn't a nuclear war, you would send an airplane with a couple of 500-pound bombs, or even send in a Special Forces team to topple the thing with dynamite. What do you do when you're a nuclear war planner ? You target a nuclear weapon against it. A nuclear weapon measured in the, what, half-megaton range ? Whatever it takes !" quoted in Brian Hall, op cit.
47. Medical Effect of Nuclear Weapons, British Medical Assocition (BMA), 1983.
48. Several smaller bombs will cause more damage than one large bomb of equivalent yield. The US Navy first deployed Polaris with a single one megaton warhead on each missile. This was later replaced with three warheads, each of 200 kilotons, which were expected to do as much, or more damage. The effect of fallout from ten 100 kiloton warheads would be significantly greater than that of a single 1 megaton warhead because it would fall to the ground more quickly.
49. This is the estimated yield of the W76 warhead which is used by the US Navy. According to the former Director of the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory in the US, the British Trident warhead is a "Dutch copy" of the US W76. The British government has acknowledged that the warheads are contained in the Mk4 Reentry vehicle, which is used in the US for the W76 warhead. The yield of the W76 is given as 100 kt in Nuclear Weapons Databook, Thomas Cochrane et al, Natural Resources Defence Council, 1984, p74 and as 90-100 kt in US Nuclear Weapons, Chuck Hansen, Aerofax, 1988, p206.
50. Calculations carried out using Weapons Effects version 2.1 produced by Horizon Technologies for the US Defence Nuclear Agency, 21 December 1984 (WE), from High Energy Weapons Archive (
51. Office of Techology Assessment (OTA) guidelines, quoted in BMA op cit, p62
52. Combined gamma and neutron dose of 600 rads at 1.6 km. The particularly damaging neutron dose would be 140 rads at 1.6 km and 74 rads at 1.7 km
53. OTA guidelines are for 50% killed and 40% injured within this area. BMA op cit. Heat levels could be more than five times the lethal limit.
54. The OTA guidelines are that 6.7 cal/cm2 produces eventual death and exposure to 3.4 cal/cm2 produces significant injury , requiring specialist medical treatment, BMA, op cit, p69
55. The WE program calculates the Maximum Biological Dose that would be accumulated by someone in the open for 72 hours, taking no account of shelter provided by buildings. To translate this into the likely dose, a protection factor (PF) is applied. If people go about their normal day the average PF wold be around 3. Joseph Rotblatt has suggested a PF of 5 for acute effects and 3 for long term effects. Old civil defence manuals suggested that if people made improvised shelters in the centre of their houses the PF would be higher than 10. BMA op cit p74f. The actual dose which would be acquired after a nuclear explosion wold depend on how people responded, particularly in the first 24 hours. Other inputs in these calculations are windspeed 10 knots, crosswind 0, fission fraction 0.5, yield 100 kt. The WE program assumes that the dose is directly proportional to the yield, and in doing so probably underestimates the dose from warheads with yields of less than 500 kt, see note 48 above
56. BMA op cit p 84. Effects of Nuclear Weapons, High Energy Weapons Archive, Carey Sublette, para (
57. Carey Sublette op cit
58. BMA op cit p 83f
59. This figure of 125,000 is based on the effect within the various areas described, assuming the population of Moscow is evenly distributed across the city. A rougher way of calculating casualties is to assume that everyone within the 5 psi contour would be killed but none outside it - assuming even population density. On this basis there would be 132,000 fatalities.

Scottish CND      Trident: Britain's Weapon of Mass Destruction