Wednesday, April 10, 2013

6 Steps to Survive a Nuclear Bomb Attack

File:Operation Upshot-Knothole - Badger 001.jpg
I’m receiving a lot of emails by people worried, all over the world regarding the issue with North Korea. First, lets try to be realistic about the potential striking range. For those of you in Europe worried about nuclear war, at this moment North Korea just doesn’t seem to have any way to strike a target that far away. At the most we’re looking at reaching Alaska and the west coast of continental US. Of course South Korea and Guam are well within reach, and this does not mean that smaller bombs cant be sneaked in by other methods, pretty much anywhere in the world, so while all things considered not a top priority, it can happen. Some will even say that a suitcase bomb or smaller dirty bomb being used in terrorist attacks is very much unavoidable and will end up happening eventually.
Even though an unlikely event, the anxiety and concern is understandable and as always knowledge not only helps calm our fears, it might be life-saving in such an event if it ever takes place.

1)You CAN survive a nuclear attack:  While very powerful, and even though within a certain range of one or two miles the destruction and fatality is almost complete, the further away you are from where the bomb exploded, the greater the chances of survival you have. For a 10 kiloton nuke, you’re looking at a fatality rate of 20% at an 8 mile radius. So unless you live close or within a major strategic target your chances aren’t that bad.

2)Don’t look at the explosion and breathe in and out: The explosion is so bright that it can blind you momentarily or permanently. Breathing in and out in short pulses will keep your air passages open and help protect your lungs and eardrums from the high pressure shockwave of the explosion. If you hold your breath your lungs can burst due to overpressure waves, causing internal bleeding and death. Pulmonary contusion is the most common cause of death due to blast (explosion) injuries. Find shelter or hit the floor if there’s no shelter near by.

3)Identify the Explosion area and Wind Direction: If you happen to survive the initial blast, and make it out of the fires and collapsed structures, you may have a chance of making it. If the overpressure shock, flying debris and heat didn’t kill you, now you have to worry about the radioactive fallout. You have between 10 and 20 minutes before the radioactive particles start falling. The wind will spread the fallout plume in the direction of the wind, so the fastest way to avoid fallout if the wind is blowing it your way is moving perpendicularly away from it. If you are lucky enough to survive and the wind isn’t blowing the ash your way, evacuate the area moving against the direction of the wind. The wind can change directions at any time but this is your safest bet. 

4)Cover up: While evacuating is your main priority if you are able to do so, you also want to cover as much as you can to avoid the contact with radioactive particles. Ideally you would have an NBC suit and respirator. If not you can somewhat improvise protection with rubber boots and gloves and waterproof clothing, using duct tape to close up the gaps. You should only remove these clothes after being decontaminated when you reach a safe area.

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5)If you cant evacuate you should shelter in place: A basement or better yet a fallout shelter is the best place to be in. You need 3 feet of earth for protection against gamma rays. If you are in an apartment building, you want to be in the 9th floor or higher, and stay in inner rooms, away from exterior walls for added protection. After 72hs radiation will go down considerably.

6) Plan ahead of time: This is the last but most important point. Know your situation. Know if you live in a potential target like a large metropolis or close to an important military base.  Know the predominant wind direction and think about how you would evacuate, which would be the fastest route and which would be the second best choice if that main route is packed with cars. Identify any nearby fallout or bomb shelters, check their operational status (if they are still open and working) or other improvised shelter like tunnels or underground structures in case you have to shelter in place. Ideally, you would have either a fallout shelter or an improvised shelter in your basement. Finally have your Standard Preparedness Supplies ready and organized so as to grab what you can and go as fast as possible. 



Don Williams said...

1) There is a big difference between having a nuke versus having a nuke small and lightweight enough
to be carried on an ICBM. There is also a big difference between a missile that can travel 3000 miles
without a payload versus one powerful enough to travel that distance with a nuke of any power.

2) I don't think North Korea is that powerful and I think US submarines and Minuteman missiles would turn
it into a pile of ashes if it ever looked like a threat to the continental USA (CONUS). I am more concerned about
US authorities underestimating North Korea enough for it to cause a significant economic event.
Japan and South Korea are not that far away and an attack on them would probably hit several
US financial investments and supply chains. There is also the issue of whether North Korea could
lift a major nuke high enough ( 100 miles or so) to cause a major EMP pulse to destroy Japan's
electrical grid and electronic infrastructure --although Japan's electrical utility company seems
to be doing a pretty good job of that already and Wall Street
is unfazed.

3) Things become more tricky if North Korea's elites are merely proxies for a covert Chinese attack
on the USA. If, for example, China has transferred enough nuclear and missile technology
to allow North Korea to launch an EMP attack on CONUS in order to severely weaken the US
economy. US retaliation against North Korea would not matter to Korea's elites if they were living
in luxury in China.

Hitting back at China for that would be very tricky.

During the Cold War, the USA and USSR entered into a complex strategic game in which the major cities
of each were to be held hostage in the early stages of war while nukes were targeted at the other
sides' missile fields and airfields (the counterforce verse countervalue attack.) with attacks being
made on economic infrastructure in the middle stages (e.g, major power plants.) See the writings
of Bernard Brodie and Herman Kahn. This led to a massive buildup of Soviet and US nuclear forces
that peaked around 1985 and helped bankrupt the Soviet Union. Arms control treaties have since
greatly reduced those forces from what they were in 1985.

4) But China never went along with this expensive game --instead, their limited nuclear forces suggest
they plan to destroy the USA's major cities (and 75% of the population) at once if the conflict ever goes nuclear.
They seem to assume they would have 30 minutes to detect a US attack and respond with massive
retaliation. I myself think they are overly optimistic --that they would in fact have less than 30 seconds
before being disarmed.

Don Williams said...

1) The other thing that worries me about North Korea is that some US elites like Dick Cheney may attempt to exploit any conflict to promote other agendas.

2) You know -- something like letting Bin Laden escape in Afghanistan so you can tell ghost stories and invade an unrelated, oil-rich country hundreds of miles away due to the threat that it's 67 year old dictator might one day get some Viagra when he is 77 years old and launch a Jihad.

3) As they say in Washington, never let a disaster go to waste. Consider the response to the Wall Street crisis of 2008 -- income for the common citizen has fallen by $5000 while the richer have gotten much richer.

4) Some fairly astute people have been wondering why Hillary Clinton spent so much time in insignificant New Zealand -- and mocking her (and Obama) for their focus on the Pacific:

5) Those mockers are fools.
Mineral ores on land are being depleted -- the fix in the coming decades will be to mine the rich deposits on the ocean floor around volcanic vents.
Look at what Nautilus is doing off New Guinea.

6) New Zealand has many outlying islands. Under the 1982 Law of the Sea , she can draw a 200 mile circle around each and claim exclusive mining rights. As a result, the 4 million people of New Zealand can claim roughly 4 MILLION square miles of sea bed (the greedy buggers are actually trying to claim 6 million).

7) Meanwhile, that same Law gives the 1.3 BILLION people of China a mere 350,000 square miles. Anybody want to guess how fair China thinks that is? Anybody want to guess who is the third party that wants to cut a deal with New Zealand to shut out China?

Don Williams said...

Ferfal captured the major points. I would note several additional details:

1) The USA and Russia have much more powerful bombs than 10 kilotons--
up to 1 megaton (MT) --million tons of TNT. However, this is not
as bad as it seems -- a nuclear fireball is a sphere and so it has the Radius
Cubed constraint: To Double the radius of destruction from the center you
much have a warhead that is 8 times more powerful -- 2*2*2.

2) I tend to think of the damage radius of a nuke as the distance at which
blast pressure drops to 2 psi (pounds per square inch) -- which corresponds
to a wind speed of 70 miles per hour or around hurricane strength. If you are
out in the open, you can get hit by debris ( or by broken glass if you are in front of
a window ) but if you are lying in a ditch or in a
basement , you are probably safe.

3) The 2 psi range for a 10 kt nuke detonated at ground surface is (cube root
of 10) X 2600 feet = 1.06 miles

But note that AIR bursts of nukes have damage radii almost twice those of
ground bursts -- a 10 kt detonated
at the optimum height would have 2 psi blast pressure at (cube root of 10) X
4200 feet = 1.71 miles

Note: Taken from p. 114-115 of "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons" by Samuel
Glasstone --the standard technical reference. Available online
at .

For comparison, a 300kt US nuke airburst would exert 2 psi at
(cube root 300) x 4200 feet = 5.32 miles from ground zero.

A 1 megaton nuke airburst would exert 2 psi at around 8 miles from ground zero.

4) An Important point is that while Air bursts have greater damage against
most surface structures, they create little to NO radioactive fallout
(since no dirt is scooped up from the earth's surface to be irradiated by
the nuclear fallball.)

The US Army field manual FM 3-3-1 (p. 3-9) describes the difference in appearance
between the mushroom cloud of an air burst versus a ground burst. Available at

And military planners tend to favor air bursts except when they need to destroy
buried or hardened targets (command bunkers, missile silos,etc.).

5) Another important point is that you do NOT want to be in Front of a strong, high
building when the blast hits -- the REFLECTED pressure wave will crush you if you
are within a distance from the base of the wall equal to 1/2 its height.

6) A problem with all this is that primitive missiles have very poor accuracy --so
you can not be sure that a North Korea warhead will hit near it's expected target
--i.e, it may hit the suburbs of a city instead of the center. (I believe the accuracy
of US warheads, in contrast, is around 100 yards.)

Don Williams said...

7) As Ferfal noted, you do not want to look at the glare of a nudet --it can permanently
blind you, especially at night.

The thermal (heat ) pulse can also cause severe burns
within the 2 psi radius -- although diving under cover would prevent that.

One problem is that the thermal pulse on a clear day can cause fires which , if they consolidate, can
create a firestorm that burns the entire city to ashes and kills even people in deep

That is another reason for fleeing away from the area of destruction
(especially if the nudet was an airburst with no fallout). However, escape can be difficult
since roads within the 2 psi radius are often clogged with debris from the blast, especially
as you move closer in toward ground zero. A motorcycle or even bicycle might help.

8) It is important to note that the shape of the fallout clouds from ground bursts
depend very much on the speed of the wind -- a 20 mph wind will create a long, cigar-shaped
area of deposit downwind from ground zero, with little to no deposit upwind of ground
zero (fallout is blown downwind before it falls out of the sky.)

However, a calm day will result in fallout being deposited in a roughly circular area
around ground zero and you will need to take shelter even if you are upwind from
the nudet if you can't escape that area within 15 or so minutes. Radius of that circular area
is about 1.6 miles for a 10kt nudet (p 3-22, 3-23 of Army FM 3-3-1 cited above.) or about
0.5 miles out past the 2 psi damage radius. Run.

9) As Army FM 3-3-1 notes , it is important to count the seconds between the nuclear
flash and the arrival of the blast wave to determine the distance to the nudet. The US Army
also trains its personnel to measure the width of the mushroom cloud at t+5 minutes to
estimate the yield. Yield can also be estimated from the duration of the flash --
a 10kt burns for only 2 seconds whereas a 300 kt burns for around 11 seconds. The yield
in turn will tell you the size of the mushroom cloud if it is a ground burst.

10) Finally, you have to worry about the accumulated fallout from targets upwind of you as well
as close by -- the source for the two week shelter time Ferfal mentioned. However, that is
a concern only for a major nuclear war instead of 2 or 3 terrorists nuke. In the USA and UK,
fallout is supposed to be monitored by local authorities with dosimeters/geiger counters and
they are supposed to tell citizens on AM radio broadcasts when it is safe to come out (initially,
only for short periods of a few hours.) So it would be a good idea to have an AM radio with batteries.

It is also essential to have several gallons of water if you shelter in place -- shelters heat up rapidly
if they have several people.

11) For American readers, that Montana retreat of James Wesley Rawles may be looking
good about now -- unless you look at FEMA's projected fallout levels for that area due to
Russian ground attacks on the Minuteman missile fields at Great Falls:

To put 15,000 rad in perspective, note that 500 rads will kill you.
They don't put that FEMA map in those "Mountain Redoubt" real estate ads, for some reason. Heh heh

k said...

If there is such an attack, it would certainly severely disrupt the economies of nations not directly harmed by the attack.

Natalie said...

I'd argue the best place to shelter in an apartment building is in the middle, however tall it is. You don't want to be too close to the roof where the fallout is settling, surely? Thanks for the article :)

Don Williams said...

A few more details:
1) As Ferfal noted, you need to look at what the wind is currently doing -- people may think they are upwind of a major target but that can change rapidly if a low weather front is passing through.

For example, the winds on the East Coast of the USA generally blow from the west or northwest so a person in a northwestern suburb of a major city may think they are safe.

But on some days the wind may blow from the south and even more rarely from the east. In which case, you are suddenly downwind from a nudet and can get heavily dusted.

2) A second danger is that you may be 50 miles downwind from a target and hence expect only moderate fallout. However, rainstorms can leach the fallout out of the sky and deposit it in a concentrated location (hotspot) of intense radiation.

3) As the Army Field Manual 3-3-1 notes, winds blow at different directions at different altitudes --it has a more precise method for predicting where fallout will be deposited based on adding the wind vectors at multiple altitudes instead of just using the ground wind's speed/velocity, although the average person probably won't use this more complex approach.

4) Ferfal listed potassium iodide in the supplies. You want to take some of this in order to flood your thyroid gland with regular iodide so that it won't absorb the radioactive iodine gas released in the air by a nudet and develop cancer (children are particularly vulnerable --a lot of children in the Ukraine had to have their thyroid glands removed after Chernobyl).

5) Finally, Ferfal was correct about not ingesting radioactive particles (wipe off fallout from canned goods,etc.)

Some radioactive elements like strontrium, cesium etc are chemically similar to calcium and if they are absorbed into your bones ,they will slowly kill you by destroying your bone marrow in a form of leukemia. Milk from cows feeding on contaminated fields in some cases should not be drunk -- the government radio broadcasts should warn if this is the case.