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What are the chances of a nuclear world war? What is the risk of a nuclear attack on United States soil? The risk of a child born today suffering an early death due to nuclear war is at least 10 percent,
Hellman gives another analogy: “The risk that each one of us dies as a result of failed deterrence is thousands of times greater than the risk you would bear if a nuclear power plant were built right next to your home.” Determining such a risk seems a little like predicting the future, but Hellman is confident about his numbers. He justifies his probability by breaking down a catastrophe into a sequence of smaller failures, incorporating expert opinions, examining history and estimating within a range of numbers.
Based on the outcomes of these events, Hellman estimated these numbers: • Rate of initiating events: six percent per year • Probability that an initiating event leads to a major crisis: 33 percent • Probability that a major crisis leads to the use of a nuclear weapon: 10 to 50 percent The third probability is hardest to estimate because we have yet to drop a bomb on Russia (or vice versa). Hellman used the 10 to 50 percent range based on studying what transpired in the Cuban Missile Crisis and on statements by the participants. People can make irrational decisions when under the gun, he explained. Once a major crisis erupts, it becomes a question of who will back down first; like a game of nuclear chicken, he said.