First, a primer on nuclear war terms. Counterforce means military targets, countervalue means civilian ones. That being said, on with the post.
Eric Harry’s novel Arc Light, one of the first reviewed on Fuldapocalypse, has a way to get a large but survivable nuclear exchange. This is to have both sides aiming for an incredibly counterforce-centered approach. Doing such approaches in Nuclear War Simulator (and there are official scenarios that show such focuses being done) generally means something similar to the novel: Around a few million dead on both sides (especially depending on which way the fallout blows), but most “important” stuff still intact, as the damage is concentrated in remote bases.
Besides the obvious “but what if it goes beyond missile silos in the middle of nowhere” objection, there’s also context that the US and Russia/USSR are very big, which makes it more possible to have “remote” areas at all. Have a big fallout wave anywhere near the dense massively populated belt of eastern China and the toll rises dramatically. Do it basically anywhere across India’s generally “spread out” (for lack of a better word) populace or in a smaller country and the result is similar.
I have to repeat that the Arc Light approach is something I find a lot more acceptable (not plausible, I use acceptable as a better term) than the Hackett’s WW3 approach. The strategic exchange is aimed purely at military targets? All right, I can believe that. Tac nukes are used but nothing more? I can also accept that. But just a small number of countervalue targets (ie the infamous Birmingham and Minsk?) That’s harder for me to accept.