[Ed. note. I may have gone a bit overboard here. I certainly feel a little monomaniacal now that I've finished writing it, and I definitely need a drink. So please, after your done, please feel free to read the entry I wrote just the day before telling you how much I love this city and inviting y'all out to a party in the not too-distant-future. Try to avoid the creeping suspicion you get in the following paragraphs that I might not be too fun at parties.]
First, click on this link and play around a bit. Enter some numbers. See what pops up.
For those of you who skipped the link, here it is again, with an honest-to-god title rather than hiding it behind the fold: Nuclear Weapon Effects Calculator. Doesn't that just take you back to the halcyon days of your youth--the days after we finally admitted that "Duck and Cover" wasn't really going to save us but before the end of the "Evil Empire?" Weren't those comforting days? Can't you just remember seeing that scene where L.A. gets wiped off the face of the planet in "Terminator 2?" Wasn't it great having that same nightmare on a regular basis from the release of the movie until the fall of the Soviet Union? Shit man, those were great days. Whatever happened to that cold dread you used to feel about the possibility of being atomized in a fashion that would be visible from across the solar system?
And because you're precisely the perfect mix of masochist and nerd, it's time to start researching and calculating.
First, you're going to need some tools. First, let's get the basics out of the way. This calculator uses kilometers, which is unfortunate, but easy enough. A kilometer is just .62 miles. You might want to just round it down to .6, since, after all, close counts in horseshoes, handgrenades, and thermonuclear weapons.
Trickier is megatons and kilotons. A kiloton is the equivalent of 1 thousand tons of dynamite going off. A megaton is the equivalent of a million tons going off. So, a megaton is a thousand kilotons.
So let's do some research. The Hiroshima blast was about 15 kilotons, or .015 megatons. The largest nuclear weapon actually tested clocked in at 58 megatons, and produced a shockwave that was traveled around the world three times. But no worries: the average Russian warhead is between 500 and 550 kilotons. We'll call it .5 megatons, just to make it nice and even. A couple dozen of these are usually found on each ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, but of course you remembered that from your youth), but they're designed to break-up into individual pieces after flying over the sea, with each MIRV (multiple independent re-entry vehicle...god, isn't it all flooding back?) aimed at a different target. So ignore the 15-20 megaton ICBM and focus on your little .5 megaton either flying at you or being smuggled into your port. That's what you have to worry about.
So now the fun begins! For the purposes of the fun, let's just imagine a nuclear weapon going off at a number of possible places in your fair city.
1 Liberty Plaza, 10006? Sure, that seems to be a hot location for this.
8th Avenue and 34th Street. Everyone who's anyone does Madison Square Garden.
Broadway and 42nd Street, 10036. The Great White Way! Loads of tourists shoulder to shoulder.
And the corner of West 17th. St. and Surf Avenue, in Brooklyn. Coney Island can be a dangerous neighborhood at times.
You can use Yahoo Maps to figure out the approximate distance to these locations. Remember to divide by .6 to figure out what it is in kilometers. Wondering if an aging Russian nuke in the cheap seats at Madison Square Garden will just give you third degree burns but keep you out of the second air-blast radius--you know, the one that results in near-total fatalities? How far south do you need to go to avoid being consumed in the fireball but still be within ionizing radiation radius (the area where the intense electromagnetic radiation is strong enough to literally knock electrons off the atoms that they'd been serving so nicely up until that microsecond)? Look no further!
And so, with this, you get to discover that, if a Hiroshima-sized blast goes off at the half-price ticket kiosk in Times Square while you're at work (at 57th Street and 7th Avenue), you're just inside the ionizing radiation event horizon. Good bye electrons! Congratulations! You just became positively charged! No more negativity for you. But good news. If you happen to be home sick that day, and you don't happen to be looking downtown when it goes off, chances are you'll be able to amble off to Jersey across the GWB. In fact, up until about 10 megatons, you stand a fairly good chance of dying a horribly prolonged death rather than a here-one-minute, gone-the-next one.
In fact, if it goes off at the WTC site rather than in Times Square, you might get out of work with nothing worse than third degree burns over your entire body and a only a fair-to-middling chance that your building wasn't flattened by the first or second blast wave.
Bad news, though, if they bring out the MOAB. If it's anywhere close to 50 megatons, not only will work be well inside the initial fireball (the one lasting half a minute that will consume all the air for miles, not the secondary fires that will break out afterwards), and home inside the "near-total fatalities" mark, no matter where in Manhattan they put it, but you're screwed even if they park it outside of Nathan's and order the works.
Pleasant dreams. Say hello to the nice men in the white outfits when they bring you the coat that makes you hug yourself.