That’s a very good question, Olsen, and I wish I had an answer better than “it depends.” It depends on the type of weapon that was used, how big it was and where it was used. Because nuclear weapons have only been used twice in actual combat, we have only two examples of actual human communities recovering from nuclear warfare: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both bombed in August 1945 at the very end of World War II. Today both are vibrant thriving cities; Hiroshima’s population is about 1.1 million and it is a vibrant cultural center in Japan. Certainly there were many health effects from radiation such as cancers and birth defects that took a terrible toll on the population of these cities after 1945, and even today the Japanese government recognizes about 1% of the living survivors of one (or, very rare, both) bombings as having chronic illnesses related to the effects of the weapons. However, for the most part Hiroshima and Nagasaki rebuilt themselves, finding an opportunity to create entirely new communities that were unified and given meaning by the horror through which the people who still lived there had come.
The 1945 bombs were very small by modern standards, not surprising considering they were the very first nuclear weapons ever used. Nuclear testing in the 1950s and 60s, especially in the Pacific and in some areas of Russia, have wreaked a much greater toll environmentally. One area of Australia where the British government tested weapons in the 1950s is estimated to be uninhabitable for over 200,000 years until the radiation levels decrease naturally. Similarly, certain atolls in the Pacific that were the sites of early H-bomb tests are also thought to be uninhabitable basically forever. Keep in mind that unlike Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the nuclear tests were deliberately conducted in unpopulated (or underpopulated) areas.
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