New Animated Video Depicts Decision Making Process During Nuclear Crisis

For Immediate Release: Aug. 29, 2023

Media Contacts: Matt Caplan, Illinois State University (309) 438-3236; Chris Rostampour, Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction (202) 463-8270, ext. 103

(Washington D.C.) — A newly released animated video produced with support from the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction simulates the rapid briefing and decision-making process that the leaders of major nuclear-armed states would face in the event of an imminent nuclear attack.

The video opens with a fictional scenario set in an unnamed country. The audience follows the point of view of a president who is briefed by a military general and must answer the pressing question of whether the country should retaliate with nuclear strikes of its own.

The animation highlights the dangers of current U.S. and Russian launch-under-attack policies and the risks associated with presidents having the sole authority over nuclear weapons launches. It also recounts historical close calls and false alarms that could have escalated to nuclear war.

Since its release Aug. 22, the video has garnered nearly 4 million views and risen to second place on the list of most trending videos on YouTube.

How A Nuclear War Will Start – Minute by Minute” was written by Dr. Matt Caplan, an assistant professor at Illinois State University, with financial and advisory support from the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction and the Princeton Program on Science and Global Security (SGS). 

Caplan joined the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction as a Next-Generation Fellow in 2021. He continued working with the program’s experts on raising awareness about the threat of nuclear weapons after the fellowship through a follow-on grant. The new animated video was produced and released by a Munich-based animation and design studio called Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell where Caplan worked as a scientist-in-residence during summer 2023. 

For this work, Caplan was inspired by a virtual reality experience called “The Nuclear Biscuit” developed in 2021 by Dr. Sharon K. Weiner and Dr. Moritz Kütt in cooperation with SGS.

“The threat of nuclear weapons doesn’t resonate with many young people today. I want young people to think about the very real and present dangers nuclear weapons still pose. The danger didn’t end with the Cold War. I just hope viewers come away knowing that the threat is still very real; but more importantly, that it doesn’t have to be this way,” said Caplan, a former fellow at the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction.

How A Nuclear War Will Start – Minute by Minute,” is accessible via Kurzgesagt’s YouTube channel.