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The Science Of Nuclear Fallout: Is New Zealand The Safest Country To Ride Out Nuclear War?

The Science Of Nuclear Fallout: Is New Zealand The Safest Country To Ride Out Nuclear War?

New Zealand

Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a cabinet meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Oct. 28, 2002. (AP Photo/ITAR-TASS/Presidential Press Service) / Photo: solarseven / iStock, https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/solarseven?mediatype=photography 

Russia polarized against western powers under NATO and growing fears that the invasion of Ukraine could escalate into a nuclear war present several scenarios including a doomsday event of mass devastation with millions of lives lost.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned on several occasions that he will use nuclear warfare rather than concede defeat in Ukraine. On April 28, he said that Russia will respond with “instruments…nobody else can boast of” if any other country intervened.

The U.S. and other western nations have downplayed such rhetoric as saber rattling, but the increasing frequency of such messaging from Russia offers a bleak outlook of how the world is being shaped in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

The military concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) suggests that if two countries hold nuclear missiles, then neither really has any incentive to use them, making a nuclear exchange unlikely.

However, in the unfortunate event that some overzealous head of state presses the proverbial “red button”, where on this forsaken earth would it be safe to live out the nuclear decay that would befall us?

The U.S. and Soviet Union engaged in a nuclear arms race during the Cold War, competiting for supremacy. This led to a tense, 13-day political and military standoff in October 1962 known as the Cuban Missile Crisis over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from U.S. shores.


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U.S. school children had to participate in drills where they were taught to “duck and cover” their heads under their desks in the event of a nuclear attack.

In 1964, a New York Times report detailed how Americans were slowly migrating to New Zealand “to escape the threat of nuclear war in the northern hemisphere.” The kiwi-loving nation is often cited as the place most likely to preserve a thriving society through a nuclear aftermath.

But why is New Zealand seen as the safest place on earth in case of a nuclear war? To understand this, we first need to dissect the anatomy of an all-out nuclear war between Russia and NATO allies.

Russia is likely to throw the first “tactical” nuclear salvo that could be used over a short distance. If this is misinterpreted as a start of a nuclear war, it could then elicit a response from NATO and an all-out nuclear war in the northern hemisphere.

“Once you have crossed the nuclear threshold, there is no obvious stopping point,” said James Acton, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Pace in Washington DC, in a BBC News report. “I don’t think anyone can have any confidence of what that world would look like.”

With this scenario in mind, the Southern hemisphere is the farthest you can get from the nuclear war that could ensue among the world’s nuclear power, which are concentrated in the north, and New Zealand is among the furthest south of countries.

“If we consider somewhere like New Zealand… It is hard to see why they wouldn’t make it through with most of their technology (and institutions) intact,” existential risk scholar Toby Ord wrote in his book, “The Precipice.”

Booking a direct ticket to New Zealand might seem like the next best thing right now, but it is not the only place that would be best to survive the nuclear onslaught.

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The Antarctica could also be the safest place to go in the event of nuclear war because the Antarctic Treaty banned all detonation of nuclear weapons there. Other places that could be safe include Easter Island, a remote archipelago in the South Pacific, over 2000 miles from South America, among others.

Apart from nuclear safety, New Zealand is also considered one of the best countries to live, according to the Best Countries list, scoring well in major categories such as citizenship, rights, quality of life, open for business, and a place for adventure.

A one way ticket from Atlanta to New Zealand’s capital of Wellington would set you back $1,200 if you buy it a few months out, according to online travel booking websites.

Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a cabinet meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Oct. 28, 2002. (AP Photo/ITAR-TASS/Presidential Press Service) / Photo: solarseven / iStock, https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/solarseven?mediatype=photography