How Many Civilians Would Be Killed in an Attack on Iran’s Nuclear Sites?

No one in Iran is — and few in the West are — talking about the potential death toll, but it could rival the catastrophes of Bhopal and Chernobyl

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BEHROUZ MEHRI / AFP / Getty Images

Iranian twin sisters sit in front of worshippers performing 'Id al-Fitr prayers to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan in the Olympic Village neighborhood of western Tehran on Aug. 19, 2012

Clarification Appended: Sept. 28, 2012

For Iranians these days, life under economic sanctions is a crescendo of hardships. With the Iranian currency at an all-time low against the dollar, shortages of essential medicines and quadrupling prices of basic goods like shampoo and bread, a sense of crisis pervades daily life. Now Iranians are worrying about one more thing: imminent death from an American or Israeli military strike.

With talk of an attack growing more feverish by the day, the mood in Iran is unsettled as never before. In their fear and worry, Iranians say they feel alone, stuck between a defiant government that clings to its nuclear ambitions and a world so unattuned to their suffering that the fatal consequences of a strike on the Iranian people has so far been totally absent from the debate. “We are close to reliving the days of the Iran-Iraq war, soon we will have to wait in line for everyday goods,” says a 60-year-old, middle-class matron from Tehran. “Things are getting worse by the day,” says a 57-year-old Iranian academic preparing to emigrate to North America. “It is better to get out now while it’s still possible.”

(MORE: Ahmadinejad Leaves World Stage with a Whimper)

While Iranians are increasingly fretful of an imminent attack, they remain broadly unaware of just how devastating the human impact could be. Even a conservative strike on a handful of Iran’s nuclear facilities, a recent report predicts, could kill or injure 5,000 to 80,000 people. The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble, a report written by an Iranian-American scientist with expertise in industrial nuclear-waste management, notes that a number of Iran’s sites are located directly atop or near major civilian centers. One key site that would almost certainly be targeted in a bombing campaign, the uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan, houses 371 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride and is located on the city’s doorstep; toxic plumes released from a strike would reach the city center within an hour, killing or injuring as many as 70,000 and exposing over 300,000 to radioactive material. These plumes would “destroy their lungs, blind them, severely burn their skin and damage other tissues and vital organs.” The report’s predictions for long-term toxicity and fatalities are equally stark. “The numbers are alarming,” says Khosrow Semnani, the report’s author, “we’re talking about a catastrophe in the same class as Bhopal and Chernobyl.”

Beyond those initially killed in a potential strike, the Iranian government’s lack of readiness for handling wide-scale radiation exposure could exponentially raise the death toll, Semnani says. His study, published by the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and the nongovernmental organization Omid for Iran, outlines Iran’s poor record of emergency response and notes that its civilian casualties from natural disasters like earthquakes have been far greater than those suffered during similar disasters in better prepared countries like Turkey. With virtually no clinical capacity or medical infrastructure to deal with wide-scale radioactive fallout, or early warning systems in place to limit exposure, Iran would be swiftly overwhelmed by the aftermath of a strike. The government’s woeful unpreparedness remains unknown to most Iranians. “This issue is a redline, the [Iranian] media can’t go near it,” says Jamshid Barzegar, a senior analyst at BBC Persian. “To talk about this would be considered a weakening of people’s attitudes. The government only speaks of tactics and resistance, how unhurt Iran will be by an attack.”

But if the aftermath of a war remains murky to most Iranians, their anticipation of its inevitability is growing. The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, told Iranians last week that “we must all prepare for the upcoming war.” His warning, the bluntest yet by a senior official, that Iran and Israel would enter a “physical conflict,” has raised expectations of an attack among Iranians, who are typically accustomed to dismissing such talk. When reformist MP Mohammed Reza Tabesh criticized Jafari’s remarks in parliament, the hard-line majority shouted him down with cries of “Allahu Akbar.” “When people see their top military commander and officials speaking of the inevitability of war, the belief sinks in,” says Barzegar.

Whether Iranian officials actually think Israel is closer to launching an attack than it has been in the past, or their readiness rhetoric is meant to convey their own unflappability, the Iranian public is left with greater uneasiness and less real information than ever. Sterile media speculation in Israel and the U.S. ignores the question of civilian casualties, portraying an attack on Iran as a tidy pinpoint strike like those Israel has carried out against Iraq and Syria. Iran, for its part, claims the number of casualties it might sustain will be tolerable. “Hawks on both sides, Israel and the United States, and Iran, want to underplay the level of casualties,” says Ali Ansari, an Iran expert at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews. “But both sides are wildly wrong, there will be quite devastating consequences. It will be a mess.”

Clarification: The original version of this story said that a report estimated that a strike on the nuclear facilities in Isfahan would result in the deaths of as many as 70,000 people. The report’s author says the estimate is that such an assault may kill or injure 70,000 people.

MORE: Photos of Twin Earthquakes in Iran

223 comments
Mehdi Alireza
Mehdi Alireza

Dears. Thinking about such nightmare is dangerous. Iran

retaliation would not limit to Israel, EU and US in their territory or in the Middle

East. More than one million Iranian and Iraqi people killed by mass and chemical weapons

in Iraq war and show that no one cannot stop them even nuke. Apparently World

war 3 is inevitable and finding a good planet (Mars) to survive because of Iran

Nuke retaliation is rational. Also thinking about next generation new weapons

that cancel heart frequencies in battle field according to my information is

understandable !Nuke is not a good weapon for new wars and Iran doesn't need

any nuclear weapon!!!

Take care and never ever think about it. enjoy  now  and

let the politician to destroy the world !

Cathy Palmer
Cathy Palmer

On top of the mass casualties in Iran there will be at least half of that in countries

around Iran as the battle expands.  Then the one subject not covered in the US

is the cost of lives here.  No one could be stupid enough to believe that there

would be no strikes in retaliation in the US.

Brother Rolf
Brother Rolf

How many civilians will be killed when Iran nukes Israel?

HighEarl
HighEarl

May as well ask how many Jews around the world will be slaughtered if the Zionists attack Iran.

Remember, this is Israel, a nation which has sold nuclear weapons to South Africa's white power government. This is Israel which bleeds the US of it's men, women, money while pretending not to have nuclear weapons because it has not signed the NPT and it is illegal for the US to give aid to any nuclear armed nation which has not signed the NPT.

This is Israel which rightfully has no right to exist, a nation as cruel and racist as the South African Apartheid regime it armed with nuclear weapons, a nation which bans jews from marrying non jews, a nation which murdered it's own man of Peace and installed a man who could find a boogeyman under any rock he seeks.

Israel, soon you will be on your own in the word. You should have treated the US and Americans with the law of the brother rather than the law of the stranger. I remember the USS Liberty, I remember Rachell Corrie, I remember and know you for what you truly are.

Paul Ensor
Paul Ensor

And what about the death toll if Iran does what it says its going to do when it gets an atomic bomb. These would not be such "innocent civilians" after a second holocoust They allowed to happen.

HG
HG

Why isn't Time asking how many civilians would be killed in an Iranian strike on Israel? 

Jacob Blues
Jacob Blues

Yes, and we use our Jedi mind powers too. 

Really now sah.  Get a grip on reality. 

Jacob Blues
Jacob Blues

Iran has been supporting not one, but two anti-Israel proxy armies that has led to wars in 2006 and 2008.   Iran also supported Yasser Arafat during his last war in 2000.

Iran's military also supported attacks against the US military in Iraq. 

So we're up to something like four wars and counting (Bahrain, Yemen) so figure six to be on the safe side (Whoops, need to include Iran's activity supporting Bashar Assad in Syria) so now seven. 

Jacob Blues
Jacob Blues

Once again Arvay, you cannot stomach the existence of Jews. 

Reality though states otherwise.  This is not the doing of Israel, but the doing of Iran.  It is Iran that has been on the receiving end of six seperate UNSC sanctions.  This includes votes from both Russia and China. 

It is Iran that has been pushing the IAEA off and not answer the questions about its nuclear program. 

It is Iran that is calling for the destruction of Israel. 

Several simple actions could put a stop to this situation real fast.  But those decisions need to be made in Tehran. 

Stanley Goldstein
Stanley Goldstein

The situation reminds me of 1939 when Hitler led a willing German nation into a war that served no useful purpose and brought on horrors for the Germans and the world. What Iran gets out of threatening Israel and the rest of the world with nuclear warfare is beyond me. Does it ever occur to these religious fools that Allah really doesn't like them.

Stanley Goldstein
Stanley Goldstein

The situation reminds me of 1939 when Hitler led a willing German nation into a war that served no useful purpose and brought on horrors for the Germans and the world. What Iran gets out of threatening Israel and the rest of the world with nuclear warfare is beyond me. Does it ever occur to these religious fools that Allah really doesn't like them.

Stanley Goldstein
Stanley Goldstein

The situation reminds me of 1939 when Hitler led a willing German nation into a war that served no useful purpose and brought on horrors for the Germans and the world. What Iran gets out of threatening Israel and the rest of the world with nuclear warfare is beyond me. Does it ever occur to these religious fools that Allah really doesn't like them.

Kobbi Gal
Kobbi Gal

This is another classic example of how the lower-class citizens have to suffer the circumstances of a radical government with radical logic and goals.

The situation becomes even more complex when analyzing the ladder of actions from both sides: On one side the attackers (Israel) would like to suprise the Iranian defense systems by striking the facilities with minimal intervention. On the other hand Israel cannot release a mass-evacuation warning to the citizens living in the areas of the facilities (much like the Israeli Defense Forces did in the 2006 Lebanon War when planes released flyers over the areas populated by Hezbollah so that citizens would not be harmed during the clashes.) because it would eliminate the element of suprise.Sad situation and I'm afraid of the outcome if there is a strike.

Colin Sydney
Colin Sydney

One fact everyone seems to avoid is that " no nuclear armed nation has every attacked another nuclear nation". Even at the height of tensions between nuclear armed Russia and USA, India and Pakistan, nuclear weapons were not utilized to annihilate each other. its a fact that nuclear weapons throughout history has been a better war deterrent that the UN. Iran is arming itself not to use it but to protect it from an ever unpredictable US and Israel. While this has been going on, the UN has been a silent spectator and an irrelevant organization. The Failure of the UN http://wp.me/p2JYCO-1d 

RobertSF
RobertSF

Iran needs to be destroyed, period. We should have destroyed it back in 1979.

rayrice
rayrice

Iran's govermental policy is wrong ,  but is madness  to attack them  for  a  misguided  decision,  and kill  thousands  or  inn ocent  civilians,  an action which in the Mid=East   that will  provoke    a  response  fom Iran    ( and maybe   its  neighbors )   that will  result in    thousands of  deaths  in Tel Aviv and  Jerusalem.  I am a strong  supporter  of   our  military,  but I  know  that an attack  on Iran  will  have the  same  recult as an attack on  Iraq  and  Afghanistan ,  thousands of  American deaths  and  tens of  thousands of  injuries, ...all to please Israeli  zealot   zionists  who    have  no  qualms about   Americans  dying  in  their interests.Yes, America  can  defeat  Iran  ,  but  at  a cost  o  many lives  and poisoning  the  well of  good will in the Mid=east

Politbureau
Politbureau

How about U.S. troops directly downwind from Iran's nuclear installations in neighboring Afghanistan after Bushehr, an operational nuclear reactor, is hit?

 "The atomic bombs which that reactor was capable of

producing whether from enriched uranium or from plutonium, would be of

the Hiroshima size. Thus a mortal danger to the people of Israel

progressively arose."-- Israeli gov't press release after Iraq's Osirak not yet operational nuclear reactor was bombed in 1981

Sachi Mohanty
Sachi Mohanty

It's so sad to see the persistence of this madness -- a crazy and noxious cauldron of nationalism and religion.

Who knows how far the conflagration might or will spread -> whether it will stay confined to the Middle East or touch all nations where Muslims inhabit in large or small numbers.

There's no denying the hatefulness in Islam that seems to so quickly arouse Muslims to march on the streets to protests various kinds of "insults."

There's also no denying the rapacious land-grab policy of the State of Israel which has been a long-term policy.

In may ways, it would be wrong to say that the U.S. "will have blood on its hands" if it supports an Israeli preemptive attack on Iran. Why?

Because America already has blood on its hands in propping up Israel in all its shenanigans.

It's extraordinary to realize that America is willing to spend upwards of a trillion dollars in making a success of the Iraq invasion and continues to spend hundreds of billions in stabilizing Afghanistan.

Contrast that with what the U.S. spends in "humanitarian" assistance to these countries.

Do I hear -- "why should America be spending billions creating schools and primacy healthcare facilities and vaccination clinics for the kids in Iraq and Afghanistan?"

Something is deeply wrong with our human sensibilities, isn't it, that such questions would even arise.

Is it the ultimate example of the success of the military-industrial complex's project to brain-wash the average person with ideas of "patriotism" and American military superiority and fear-mongering about "clash of civilizations" and Muslims taking over the world?

Or, is it possible that people all by themselves have decided that the $700 billion Pentagon budget is justifiable -> either because it provides employment or because it keeps the American military machine in tip-top shape, battle ready, or, the tip of the spear sharp -< "WITHOUT" any explicit propagandizing from the military-industrial complex?

How truly sad to realize that Eisenhower's warning about the dangers of the looming monster have come to fruition in such a ghoulish fashion and people seem to either not be very bothered about it or are happy with the state of things where America's military budget is larger than the next 10 largest military budgets combined.

Why does it not appear to bother such a vast majority of people when 10s and 100s and hundreds of thousands of people (cumulatively over a period of time) die in distant nations such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, or Vietnam?

Whereas the "sacrifice" of the voluntary soldier of the present-day Pentagon is lauded by all and sundry and the deaths of thousands of American soldiers mourned with disproportionate grief.

Will we reach a level of maturity soon when we stop assigning different values to human lives in different nations?

http://explainingindia.blogspo...

Twitter: @sachi_bbsr:twitter  

dodger37
dodger37

the question that should be asked first is: "how many human beings will die when "Iran launch a nuclear strike against Israel ?"

We know that mad men like Hitler and Ahmadinejad always do what they said they will do, so you can rely on his word to destroy Israel (and the surrounding countries with it)

MaLoDiAbLo
MaLoDiAbLo

Forget conventional bombers...  Forget killing thousands of innocent men, women and children...  But prepare to witness the destruction of anything in modern Iran.

The Israel and the United States are drawn to EMP technology because it is potentially non-lethal, but is still highly destructive. An E-bomb attack would leave buildings standing and spare lives, but it would destroy a sizable military.

There is a range of possible attack scenarios. Low-level electromagnetic pulses would temporarily jam electronics systems, more intense pulses would corrupt important computer data and very powerful bursts would completely fry electric and electronic equipment.

In modern warfare, the various levels of attack could accomplish a number of important combat missions without racking up many casualties. For example, an e-bomb could effectively neutralize:

     - vehicle and air craft control systems

     - targeting systems, on the ground and on missiles and bombs

     - communications systems

     - navigation systems

     - long and short-range sensor systems

EMP weapons could be especially useful in an invasion of Iran, because a pulse would effectively neutralize underground bunkers. Most of Iran's underground bunkers are hard to reach with conventional bombs and missiles. A nuclear blast could effectively demolish many of these bunkers, but this would take a devastating toll on surrounding areas. An electromagnetic pulse could pass through the ground, knocking out the bunker's lights, ventilation systems, communications -- even electric doors. The bunker would be completely uninhabitable.

One rocket, one EMP bomb...  only detected in time to say, oh shit!!!

P.S.  You don't want to be in flight when this thing goes off.  The plane locks up and goes straight down.

1dodnov90
1dodnov90

Oh come on give us a break..bombing over specific sites is not an US

army speciality..war after war over the last fourty years they've made

plenty of tragic "mistakes", hitting schools, funeral processions,

embassies and pharmaceutical factories killing thousands of innocent 

people all over the world..simply because they haven't been aimed to

"kill Bin laden, remove Saddam Hussein or keep Iran fron creating WMD"

or any other bullshits they have come up with over the last years, they

just want to take possession of a country in order to better exploit it

..I really hope there won't be any bombings over Iran

1dodnov90
1dodnov90

 Oh come on give us a break..bombing over specific sites is not an US

army speciality..war after war over the last fourty years they've made

plenty of tragic "mistakes", hitting schools, funeral processions,

embassies and pharmaceutical factories killing thousands of innocent 

people all over the world..simply because they haven't been aimed to

"kill Bin laden, remove Saddam Hussein or keep Iran fron creating WMD"

or any other bullshits they have come up with over the last years, they

just want to take possession of a country in order to better exploit it

..I really hope there won't be any bombings over Iran

Toni Scurlock
Toni Scurlock

How long does anyone really believe Israel would have lasted over there if it hadn't taken such a tough stance on things??

1dodnov90
1dodnov90

Oh come on give us a break..bombing over specific sites is not an US army speciality..war after war over the last fourty years they've made plenty of tragic "mistakes", hitting schools, funeral processions, embassies and pharmaceutical factories killing thousands of innocent  people all over the world..simply because they haven't been aimed to "kill Bin laden, remove Saddam Hussein or keep Iran fron creating WMD" or any other bullshits they have come up with over the last years, they just want to take possession of a country in order to better exploit it ..I really hope there won't be any bombings over Iran

Amit_Atlanta_USA
Amit_Atlanta_USA

Inspite of deceiving Americans by people like CNN's Mr. Fareed Zakaria saying that:

a) Iran is a rational actor

b) A Nuclear armed Iran can add to the stability of the region by acting as a counter balance to Israeli nukes, and even Indian amp; Pakistani nukes MISLEADINGLY portraying friendly India amp; Pakistan as adversaries to Iran!

c) By being the VERY FIRST journalist of repute(?) to MISLEADINGLY claim that an US amp; Israeli attack on Iran will be seen as YET ANOTHER front of the US war on Islam, something NOT even radical Muslim countries have claimed. On the contrary, the Saudis have been urging US to attack Iran, by saying that we need to "chop the head of the snake".

The only possible motive of Mr. Zakaria’s MISCHIEVOUS assertion…..is thwart any potential attack on Iran by COVERTLY influencing “naïve” American public opinion, and if an attack did indeed take place stir up greater problems for America all over the world incl. amongst the millions of Muslim Diaspora right here in the west.

A notable reference to such an eventuality can be seen from the ASTOUNDING statement by a senior Pakistani diplomat (NOT just another Pakistani!) Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK Walid Shamsul Hassan who warned of Terror on the streets of London if the US drone attacks continued on his nation. He said “ There are over 1 million Pakistani Diaspora in the UK and they can make the roads of London less safe” (ref: Sunday Times Sept 8th 2008), and in eye opening 4 part BBC interview (ref: You Tube Oct 10th 2008).

So, even as a danger from nuclear armed radical Iran, and self declared Islam bomb possessing Pakistan (which in the words of Richard Clarke is adding to 100+ nuke stockpile like SAUSAGES!!!) remains, the REAL GREATEST DANGER is US complacency.........of doing nothing at all........and this is fed by internal elements such as Mr. Zakaria an active mouth piece for Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranians, the Pakistanis and ofcourse the Muslim Brotherhood.

With credible reports that President Obama is considering Mr. Zakaria for the position of US Sec.of State in his second term, Americans can only pray for our country's safety!

Amit_Atlanta_USA
Amit_Atlanta_USA

http://globalpublicsquare.blog...

 

Yet another of our ISLAMIC SUPPORTER ZAKARIA's SUGARCOATING exercise.

Just as he is following the IRANIAN issue closely, CNN's knowledgeable readers are also following MR.ZAKARIA's efforts at HOODWINKING Americans!

He never talks about:

a) STOPPING FORTHWITH enrichment beyond 20%.

b) SURRENDERING stocks of enriched Uranium upto amp; beyond 20% while keeping some for medical purposes.

c) IMMEDIATE DISMANTLING all underground Nuclear facilities.

d) DECLARING UNEQUIVOCALLY Israel's right to exist.

e) Neither the GOP nor even Israel will oppose lifting of sanctions (NOT merely easing) once all these are VERIFIABLY done.

ANY AMOUNT OF SUGARCOATING by comparing radical Islamist Iran with China or Russia will have any effect on KNOWLEGEABLE Americans, Europeans or anyone.

Mr. ZAKARIA is only exposing himself more as a DIE-HARD "RADICAL" ISLAMIC SUPPORTER by doing just that!

brenro
brenro

Hiding behind women and children is the islamic way. A nuclear capable Iran cannot be tolerated.

JosephKaya
JosephKaya

@Jacob Blues  If Iran hates Jews so much and wants their complete annihilation, then why do they not start with the 20 to 40 thousand Jews living happily in Iran? 

xexon
xexon

Why? Because they threw off our puppet that was so cruel to them?

It was our own policies that set the stage for this mess. It's our policies right now that continues it.

x

rayrice
rayrice

A  NUCLEAR  FREE  MID =EAST  IS  THE  WAY  TO  GO.  WILL THE  APARTHEID  ZIONISTS AGREE TO THAT,  OR  SHOULD  WE SEND  MORE  AMERICAN BOYS TO THEIR  DEATH  TO HUMOR THEM?

CrimsonA
CrimsonA

 And what gives the United States the right to have nuclear weapons?

mohomd abzaid
mohomd abzaid

To breno.. No one asks enemies whether they permit nukes or not, idiot ! I think you have to look for those who fight only in their tank s, planes and drones before you judge brave  heroes !!

SixSixSix
SixSixSix

 And like brave American warriors hide behind drone consoles.

ResistanceAxis
ResistanceAxis

@_darkhours but is this the whole story or just anti-Iran propaganda??

brenro
brenro

 You're clouded by your anti-semitism if you think our presence in the Middle East has anything to do with Israel.

brenro
brenro

 Never said they did.

Bill Pearlman
Bill Pearlman

If you can't see the difference between us and Iran perhaps you should move there

Toni Scurlock
Toni Scurlock

I guess our 2,000 dead soldiers in Afghanistan died of boredom while sitting behind their drone consoles...   

betelrealestate
betelrealestate

@HezbollahGirl hey moron- look up 1929 Hebron massacre of over 100 #Jews. No provocation, no motive other than to destroy innocent life

LuminaSpargo
LuminaSpargo

@_darkhours @ResistanceAxis #Theocracy is #totalitarian by definition. Attempts total #control of every aspect of life from birth to burial.

_darkhours
_darkhours

@ResistanceAxis Time to start a new #world #religion. #Syncretism. I name you my prophet lol ;)

_darkhours
_darkhours

@ResistanceAxis Always bad time for #christians - Summary Report on Repression&Persecution of Iran Christian in 2010 http://t.co/bOk8yEip

HezbollahGirl
HezbollahGirl

@ResistanceAxis Actually Zionists started the massacres even BEFORE 48! Just an FYI ya khayye

_darkhours
_darkhours

@ResistanceAxis There are many reports. Its not anti-Iran propaganda.

SixSixSix
SixSixSix

Seems to me that most of those are dying at the hands of their "allies". So, in Afghanistan maybe one more foreign invader stayed too long?  You think the CIA and military drone operators are part of the ones taking causalities, right. They stay hidden in compounds...in Texas and New York. Go home for dinner, watch a movie, and get up and put in another demanding day at the front after padding on another 10 pounds per year.

I guess the 100,000s of Iranians who died fighting off the Iraqi invasion were just wimps. You know the ones who died while the US provided the Saddam with intelligence to lob his chemical weapons against them. The ones who died during the tanker wars were just kiddies.

If you are determined to see them as impeccable enemies, at least get to know them. But blind hate and bluster is so much easier. Why do those who impugn others act so much like what they claim to oppose? Freud had a word for it - projection.