You are talking about the "Nuclear Winter" scenario raised by Carl Sagan and others back in the 1982 TTAPS study, before the Soviet Union fell, before World Peace briefly seemed to be at hand (and before he started playing for the Lakers), and Global Warming suddenly became the new popular Coming Apocalypse Scenario.
The Nuclear Winter was a very real and well thought out possibility, and I have often thought that it would be one way to solve the seemingly intractable problem of Global Warming.
Human civilization would definitely take a step backwards, but probably not all the way back to the Stone Age. Probably back to mid-1800's to early 1900's technology. Simple machinery, hand-made tools and forgings, and simple electronics would all be fairly robust and capable of being produced shortly after a nuclear holocaust. Those countries in Africa and South America not directly destroyed by the nuclear blasts would retain a considerably higher level of technological infrastructure, and would most likely lead the way in the recovery of human civilization. Radiation would be a big problem, for sure, but, just like at Chernobyl, radiation levels thought to be unhealthy and unsafe for human life would surprisingly still allow large numbers of human beings to survive, at risk for cancer certainly, but beating the odds long enough to reproduce and thrive.
Mass starvation among the survivors in the attacked countries would be the biggest problem, as city folks used to chowing down at their fast food feeding place of choice would have their food supplies disrupted for a long time. However, given the world-wide obesity epidemic (a growing problem in Russia as well as some parts of Europe) the end results might not be what you imagine either. A nuclear war could also be a cure for the world-wide obesity epidemic. Let's see, a 300-lb man who should weigh 150 lbs. would have150lbs of stored fat to live off of. At a basal metabolic rate of 2000-2500 calories a day (fat gives you 9 calories/gm), he would lose 222-277 grams a day which is 0.49 - 0.61 lbs a day, so he could go for 240-340 days WITHOUT ANY FOOD, and end up at his ideal body weight. That's 8 months to a year in which to learn how to plant his own food and learn how to forage. So think of fat people as human versions of hibernating bears, storing up fat for the nuclear winter to come.
The more underdeveloped societies, still based on self-sufficient farming and hunting/gathering, would have a definite advantage in surviving a nuclear holocaust. The SHTF survivalists in this country would also have an advantage.
In terms of radiation risk, one has to distinguish between the very strict guidelines of radiation safety, which strives to prevent any increases in risk of cancer or other genetic problems, to that of wildlife survival capabilities in a highly radioactive environment. It's been demonstrated repeatedly that animals can live and thrive in very radioactive areas considered to be too dangerous for humans. As long as the background radiation levels are below that necessary to cause acute radiation sickness, it is clear that animals, and thus humans, can survive and reproduce in these highly radioactive areas. Whether you get increased rates of stillbirths/birth defects, and cancer are just statistics in such wildlife recovery situations. Enough survivors remain healthy to reproduce in spite of the background radiation, which is all that you need to get a thriving community started again.
Bikini Atoll would be a better area for comparison since you don't think Chernobyl is a fair comparison. Despite high levels of radioactive cesium and strontium everywhere, the coral and sea and land wildlife have recovered and are thriving. The islanders were even re-settled onto the island briefly, in 1968, before they were removed again in 1978 because of the buildup of radioactive strontium in their bodies. If you don't consume any locally grown food or fish on the islands, the radiation levels have dropped to the point where Bikini Atoll is safe to visit (and scuba dive).
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