If World War 3 occurs, the Russian president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems is claiming that Russia’s nuclear weapons should target the Yellowstone volcano for eruption in order to completely ensure the “complete destruction of the enemy” because NATO has been “moving to the borders of Russia.” Although this idea sounds like a bad April Fool’s joke on the entire world, is such a hypothetical nuclear attack even possible?
In a related report by the Inquisitr, a Yellowstone volcano eruption may be a supervolcano, but one scientist predicts it would take large salt deposits to cause the end of the world.
Retired Kremlin military analyst Konstantin Sivkov believes a nuclear first strike is necessary assuming tensions over the Ukraine crisis leads to World War 3.
“Geologists believe that the Yellowstone supervolcano could explode at any moment. There are signs of growing activity there. Therefore it suffices to push the relatively small, for example the impact of the munition megaton class to initiate an eruption. The consequences will be catastrophic for the United States, a country just disappears,” he argued, according to a translation by the Sydney Morning Herald.
As a secondary option, Sivkov believes the San Andreas fault could be targeted by Russia’s nuclear weapons, saying, “A detonation of a nuclear weapon there can trigger catastrophic events like a coast-scale tsunami which can completely destroy the infrastructure of the United States.”
Even if World War 3 does erupt, what does science actually say about Sivkov’s idea? The Yellowstone supervolcano was also a terrorist target in 2014, but although the terrorists had infiltrated the United States, they discarded the idea as being too difficult to pull off. The reason is that the large magma chamber underneath Yellowstone National Park might be 37 miles long and 18 miles wide, but it’s also buried deep underground at about three to seven miles depending on the location. This means Russia would need to use an Earth-Penetrating Weapon (EPW).
When the United States considered developing its own EPW, the justification was to target chemical and biological weapon facilities contained underground. Under former President George W. Bush, the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) was designed to target such facilities with a low-yield nuclear weapon in hopes of limiting nuclear fallout. As the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) noted, a “nuclear earth penetrator cannot penetrate deep enough to contain the nuclear fallout. Even the strongest casing will crush itself by the time it penetrates 10-30 feet into rock or concrete.” Due to such concerns, the funding for the RNEP was dropped and the Pentagon switched to the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which uses an amount of conventional explosives larger than the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) instead of a nuclear warhead.
Russian bunker busters do exist, but there’s still the technical difficulties related to triggering a Yellowstone volcano eruption based upon the depth of the magma chamber. In regards to the reach of Earth-Penetrating Weapons, the Federal Of American Scientists reports that when a B2 Bomber dropped an unarmed B61-11 EPW over Alaska, it only burrowed 20 feet into the soil despite falling from an altitude of 40,000 feet. The American Physical Society also notes that “there is no possibility of reaching depths of 100 feet in any kind of soil, much less rock.” Fortunately, the soils of Yellowstone National Park are generally shallow and stony.
Of course, the initial penetration is not the issue, it’s whether or not the blast wave could cause a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption. While the UCS was only discussing bunker busters, they do claim that even nuclear weapons could only reach so far down into the Earth.
“[E]ven nuclear weapons have limited effectiveness at destroying the deepest or widely separated underground bunkers. For example, an earth penetrating weapon using the 1.2 megaton B83 warhead—the highest yield weapon in the U.S. nuclear stockpile—could crush underground bunkers to a depth of about 1000 feet. Deeper bunkers can be constructed with modern tunneling equipment, and are essentially invulnerable to nuclear attack.”
As previously noted above, Yellowstone’s magma chamber has a depth of approximately 15,840 feet (three miles). So the question remains for whether or not a megaton blast is enough to make the magma chamber pop. Obviously, this article is hardly a thorough scientific study of the idea, but at first glance, it seems Vladimir Putin could lob Russia’s nuclear weapons at the Yellowstone volcano all day long without triggering an eruption.
This means Konstantin Sivkov is probably wrong to suggest that a low-yield nuclear weapon would work. Even if it did, he’s also wrong to suggest that Russia would suffer few consequences due to its distance from the Yellowstone volcano. Such an eruption would indeed destroy the United States, but the ash being spewed into the atmosphere would entail instant global cooling, which would certainly affect Russia greatly.
Besides, who really “wins” a nuclear World War 3?