Thanks to increased international tensions, rogue regimes and increasingly larger misplaced amounts of nuclear material, the old standby Cold War-era crisis situation is becoming a topic of some discussion. I am talking, of course, about the detonation of a nuclear weapon. The Bomb.
The prospect of surviving a nuclear strike may seem impossible thanks to depiction of their titanic power in media, and though these are the ultimate weapons of superpowers, capable of ushering in a planetary holocaust when unleashed en masse, a nuclear detonation is survivable with some luck under the right conditions with the right supplies close at hand.
However, keep in mind that there are 99 operating power plants in the United States, and any one of them can malfunction. So some of the things you will learn and apply in this article are also valid in case of a power plant meltdown.
In this article, I will prevent an overview of nuclear preparation and dealing with the aftermath. I’ll detail how nukes dole out so much death, how best to spend your time and effort preparing to shelter yourself from a blast if you have warning, as well as dealing with and surviving the aftermath of a strike.
It is the rare person who is unacquainted with a nuclear bomb or missile’s iconic blast, the mushroom-shaped cloud hanging over ground zero like an eerie, eldritch harbinger. Nuclear weapons are essentially explosive weapons of mind-bending power, but their effects are not limited to their blasts, annihilating though it may be.
Even the smallest of nukes possesses several destructive and deadly traits. The blast as mentioned is unimaginably powerful, vaporizing matter near the epicenter of the detonation and will kill, maim or destroy miles further from there. The heat produced by one of these monsters can cause instant 3rd degree burns for great distances, and will set fires to flammable materials.
If one is “lucky” enough to survive the heat and shockwave, the release of hard radiation will severely sicken or kill in days to weeks. If one survives the immediate aftermath of a detonation, irradiated debris, dust and other fine particulates will be drifting back to the ground after being sucked high into the atmosphere.
This radioactive dust and soot is dangerous all by itself, being highly radioactive and its contact with the skin or ingestion will cause significant radiation injuries. Surviving for any length of time after exposure to a strong burst or cumulative radiation will greatly increase the lifelong risk of disease and cancers of all sorts.
Surviving the Bomb
Before we can identify how best to protect ourselves from a nuclear weapon, we must understand what we are dealing with. Nuclear warheads are a total weapon: every element of their function doles out death and destruction on a massive scale, and secondary effects will continue to kill survivors, hamper rescue and relief efforts and make rebuilding and reoccupying affected terrain difficult or impossible.
A nuke creates havoc and injury through 4 mechanisms:
Shockwave and fireball. Responsible for most of destruction. Effects more pronounced near point of detonation and lose strength as distance increases. Near ground zero, annihilation is likely. Further away, people will be ripped apart, and any non-hardened structure will be destroyed totally or severely damaged.
Thermal radiation. Causes severe burns and ignites combustible materials. Subsequent fires may be put out by blast wave. Causes temporary to severe permanent eye injuries even very far from detonation. Proximity, size and height of fireball from detonation will determine severity of eye injury.
Multiple types of radiation released can cause harm from ingestion, or from particle penetration of body. Some are long range and dangerous even far from point of detonation. DNA and molecular damage is expected with most forms. Sickness will result from lower dosages, severe injury or death from higher dosages.
Ionizing radiation above affects fine matter churned up by blast. This debris is pulled high into the air from blast effects and will travel and settle back to earth later.
A primary hazard in the aftermath of a nuclear detonation. Can be tracked around on clothing, skin and hair, irradiating victim the entire time, or inhaled or ingested.
An EMP severely damages or destroys most electronics that are not specially shielded and disrupts communications in unpredictable ways. Not physically harmful to organic matter, but loss of vital communications and other electronic gear will hamper rescue and escape efforts.
You could not be blamed for thinking that surviving one of these nightmare weapons is a matter of luck and nothing else. Mercifully this is not strictly the case.
As I mentioned above, barring you are far, far underground or in a specially constructed shelter, if a nuke detonates nearby and you are at or near ground zero you are probably toast. Sorry, poor choice of words; actually, you will probably be reduced to your constituent atoms, not turned into toast, but you get my drift.
At any rate, barring that, if you have some notice and time to react and can reach appropriate shelter, you can likely survive the blast wave and flash from the bomb. Having the right supplies and tools close at hand will help you survive the aftermath.
Preparation consists of two phases, material supplies and shelter construction or selection. Material preparation will contain few surprises for most regular readers, and consists of potable water, food, medical equipment and other common preps. A general list is provided below.
Water- Standard guideline of 1 gallon per person per day applies here. Expect to be sheltering in place for at least 3 days post-event.
Shelf stable and high calorie. No surprises here, and try to stick with food that requires minimal preparation.
Gloves and respirators are the keys here. Specialty anti-radiation suits and gasmasks require training to use and do not guarantee protection against fallout. Your biggest concern is inhaling or ingesting fallout after it starts floating back to the ground.
Crank or battery powered. Use this to tune into a government emergency frequency and await instructions from experts. Expect interference and loss of signal in the immediate aftermath of a detonation.
Trauma and first-aid supplies per usual with 2 extra additions: add supplementary supplies for burn treatment and a bottle of potassium iodide pills.
Potassium Iodide blocks the absorption of radioactive iodides in the thyroid gland, helping to prevent thyroid cancer. If any critical medications require refrigeration you must make provision for an ice chest; the lights will be out after detonation.
At least one complete change of clothes to enable you to ditch contaminated garments for a fresh set.
And headlamps with plenty of batteries. The lights are going out and will not be coming back on for a while.
If you are able to shelter in place at home or another known location, keep a five gallon bucket with lid, contractor bags, TP, baby wipes, body powder and daily hygiene products to enable you to keep clean and healthy. Going outside in the aftermath for any reason will likely be a bad idea.
Make it a point to keep your kit with you in the form of a BOB or similar bag. If you get warning of an impending strike you may have only enough time to grab you kit as you bail out of a vehicle or evacuate your current dwelling and seek shelter. If forced to stay in place after the blast, those supplies may be all you have to sustain yourself.
The rest of your preparatory work will be identifying and selecting shelter locations around your workplace, city and perhaps your home if you do not have a home with a basement.
If you have time and resources, you may choose to create a purpose-designed nuclear shelter on your property. Pay attention to the buildings and other structures you pass on your travels, and bear in mind this rule: the more massive the better against radiation.
Being in a building is better than being outdoors, being in a basement is better than that, and being in subbasement is better still. Pay extra attention to the materials a building is constructed from, and choose one made from concrete or other dense materials instead of wood or lightweight sheet metal. Being outside or in a vehicle is about the worst thing you could do.
You locale will probably play a significant factor in the probability you are targeted at all: major population centers, especially on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. are priority targets for any nuclear opponent, as are military sites, major infrastructure hubs and other targets of national importance. If you live in or near one of these places, you are at heightened risk, and you must be very thorough in your preparations.
Again, a “point-blank” detonation is considered certain death. Larger weapons will have a greater sphere of total destruction and hard radiation effect. The larger the population in your locale or greater its strategic importance, the more likely it is a mega-weapon will be pointed your way. If you are unable or unwilling to abide that you should consider relocating.
If You Have Warning
You may have a few minutes to half an hour or a little longer. If you have a plan and know where you are going, a few minutes can be enough time to save your bacon. Get inside the nearest, heaviest structure that you have identified as suitable and head underground or too the center of it. Don’t forget your kit if you have time and opportunity. Stay away from windows.
If stuck out of doors, place the heaviest, sturdiest mass or object between you and the likely epicenter of the blast and be below ground level if possible. Protect your head. Inside or out, DO NOT LOOK FOR THE BLAST OR CLOUD. You risk blindness or worse.
After the shockwave passes and assuming you are not torn limb from limb, seek the nearest, best shelter as fallout will be on its way down in short order.
Assuming you are intact and ok, stay inside as fallout will be arriving before long. Being inside will save you from the worst of follow-on radiation. The good news is that fallout loses potency over time. The bad news is you need to stay away from it, which means being cooped up inside for days or weeks.
If exposed to fallout, strip and discard all clothing as soon as possible, and do this in a location that you can airlock to prevent contaminating other supplies and survivors. Do this as quickly as possible as every moment you are in contact to fallout you are absorbing deadly amounts of radiation.
If able, take a shower or wash yourself with soap or shampoo (No conditioner- this traps particles against your hair and skin) to decontaminate further.
After this is complete conduct a survey of the building and make it as airtight as possible, closing, sealing and taping all seams, cracks, doors, windows, dampers, vents, etc. Fallout can be extremely fine, and will easily infiltrate your shelter on a draft.
Assume any foodstuff or item exposed to fallout to be dangerous, and should not be consumed or brought inside your shelter, even if sealed.
When you are able, tune in to a public address or disaster announcement frequency on your radio so you can receive information on evacuation procedures and advice following the strike. Follow all instructions carefully and to the letter regarding radiation hazards and evacuation routes.
The decision to help anyone moving around outside your shelter is a tough call. You must assume they have been hit with serious amounts of radiation and will be tracking fallout everywhere.
They might be irradiated themselves and present a significant hazard to survivors in your shelter. If you do decide to let them in, follow all decontamination procedures listed above. Give this instance much thought before you decide.
While unimaginably devastating, a nuclear strike is survivable so long as you are not near ground zero and have appropriate shelter and supplies when the detonation occurs.
Taking the time to preselect good shelter points and gathering and keeping gear, water and food handy will be time well invested in the event that the unthinkable occurs.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.