This is really a huge article that spans over 4000 words; so, buckle up!! I’ve tried to simplify it as much as possible so that everyone can understand it. Also, if you find any mistakes (grammatical or factual), please let us know in the comments below so we can fix it up. So, let’s learn something about how to survive a nuclear attack.
Is Nuclear Blast Really Possible in your area?
In the case of a nuclear war, possible targets are armed forces bases and their headquarters. These areas are at the risk of being the ground zero for the nuclear blast. Whereas, the fallout is the main concern for rest of the country. People as far as 500 km (300+ miles) are at the risk of being affected by nuclear fallout. We have a documented case in form of Chernobyl disaster. A number of people were affected by radioactive iodine around 600 km (310 miles) downwind. Radioactive iodine was also found in dairy milk in the state of Washington. Because cows grazed on pastures which were contaminated because of Chernobyl nuclear fallout.
What about the possibility of terrorists’ attack at major metropolitan cities? If you are living in any metropolitan city, you are living in the center of possible ground zero of the terrorist nuke. In 2004, the Department of Homeland Security carried out a study to examine the effects of a terrorist nuke detonated in Washington, D.C. They discovered that a 10-kiloton nuke, about 2/3rds the size of the Hiroshima bomb, would result in about 15,000 immediate deaths. Another 15,000 casualties from the blast, thermal flash, and initial radiation release will be imminent. And the good news is; most people would survive that initial blast.
However, this study also determined that as many as another 250,000 people could soon be at risk. This is because of lethal doses of radiation from the fallout drifting downwind. There is still good news here, that casualties from radioactive fallout are avoidable, too. But this only applies to those who are pre-trained in this regard beforehand.
What Happens in a Nuclear Blast?
The effects of nuclear weapons are categorized as initial and residual (nuclear fallout radiation). The initial radiation makes up about 5% of the total energy released by a nuclear explosion and is released well within the first minute following the detonation. Initial effects occur in the immediate area of the explosion and are hazardous in the first minute after the explosion. Whereas, residual effects can last for days or even years and cause serious illness and even death.
1. Initial Effects of a Nuclear Explosion
The initial effects include blast, thermal radiation, and nuclear radiation.
- Blast: Defined as the brief and rapid movement of air away from the explosion’s center and the pressure caused by this movement. Strong winds will accompany the blast. Blast hurls debris and personnel, collapses lungs, ruptures eardrums, collapses structures, and causes immediate death or injury with its crushing effect.
- Thermal Radiation: This is the heat and light radiation that a nuclear explosion’s fireball emits. Light radiation consists of both visible light and ultraviolet and infrared light. Thermal radiation produces extensive fires, skin burns, and flash blindness.
- Initial Nuclear Radiation: The major problem in protecting yourself against the initial radiation’s effects is that you may have received a lethal or incapacitating dose before taking any protective action. Anyone exposed to lethal amounts of initial radiation may well have been killed or fatally injured by blast or thermal radiation. The three main types of nuclear radiation emitted from radioactive atoms and included in all nuclear fallout are;
Alpha: Alpha particles are the least penetrating of the three primary forms of radiation, as they cannot travel more than four to seven inches in the air and a single sheet of paper or the outermost layer of dead skin that covers the body will stop them. However, if alpha particle emitting radioactive material is inhaled or ingested, they can be very dangerous.
Beta: Beta particles travel faster and penetrate further than alpha particles. They can travel from a few millimeters up to about ten yards in the open air and can penetrate several millimeters through tissue. Beta particle radiation is generally a slight external exposure hazard, although prolonged exposure to large amounts can cause skin burns and it is also a major hazard when interacting with the lens of the eye. However, like alpha particles, the greatest threat is if the beta particle emitting radioactive material is inhaled or ingested as it can also do grave internal damage.
Gamma: Gamma rays are similar to x-rays, they are a form of electromagnetic radiation. Gamma rays are the most hazardous type of external radiation as they can travel up to a mile in the open air and penetrate all types of materials. Since gamma rays penetrate more deeply through the body than alpha or beta particles, all tissues and organs can be damaged by sources from outside of the body. Only sufficiently dense shielding and/or distance from gamma-ray emitting radioactive material can provide protection.
2. Residual Effects of a Nuclear Explosion
Residual radiation consists of all radiation produced after one minute from the explosion. It has more effect on you than initial radiation. Any nuclear detonation on the ground, or where an airburst was low enough that the fireball touched the ground, will create tons of radioactive materials that will be sucked up into the classical mushroom-shaped cloud to then be spread far downwind. These radioactive particles will fall out both near and hundreds of miles away from ground zero. Each of these trillions of contaminated particles gives off invisible radiation while in the mushroom cloud, while descending, and after having fallen to earth.
Do you remember the dust and ash that covered many parts of the US hundreds of miles away from the eruption of Mount St. Helens? If you do; then you may have an idea of how far and wide radioactive nuclear fallout can be dispersed. However, we would not see it ankle deep as some did downwind of Mount St. Helens. This radioactive nuclear fallout has the potential to kill many more people downwind than ground zero. Residual radiation consists of induced radiation and fallout.
- Induced Radiation: It describes a relatively small, intensely radioactive area directly underneath the nuclear weapon’s fireball. The irradiated earth in this area will remain highly radioactive for an extremely long time. You should not travel into an area of induced radiation.
- Fallout: Fallout consists of radioactive soil, water particles, debris as well as weapon fragments. During a surface detonation, or if an airburst’s nuclear fireball touches the ground, large amounts of soil and water are vaporized along with the bomb’s fragments. These fragments are forced upward to altitudes of 25,000 meters or more. When these vaporized contents cool, they can form more than 200 different radioactive products. The vaporized bomb contents condense into tiny radioactive particles and they fall back to earth as radioactive dust. Fallout particles emit alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. Fallout is your most significant radiation hazard, provided you have not received a lethal radiation dose from the initial radiation.
Effects of Nuclear Blasts on Humans
1. Possible Nuclear Injuries
Most injuries in the nuclear environment result from the initial nuclear effects of the detonation. Further radiation injuries may occur if you do not take proper precautions against fallout. Individuals in the area near a nuclear explosion will probably suffer a combination of all three types of injuries.
- Blast Injuries: Blast injuries produced by nuclear weapons are similar to those caused by conventional high-explosive weapons. Blast over-pressure can produce collapsed lungs and ruptured internal organs. Projectile wounds occur as the explosion’s force hurls debris at you. Large pieces of debris striking you will cause fractured limbs or massive internal injuries. Blast over-pressure may throw you long distances, and you will suffer a severe injury upon impact with the ground or other objects. Substantial cover and distance from the explosion are the best protection against blast injury. Cover blast injury wounds as soon as possible to prevent the entry of radioactive dust particles.
- Thermal Injuries: The heat and light the nuclear fireball emits; causes thermal injuries. First-, second-, or third-degree burns may result. Flash blindness may also occur. This blindness may be permanent or temporary depending on the degree of exposure of the eyes. Considerable cover and distance from the explosion can prevent thermal injuries. Clothing will provide significant protection against thermal injuries. Cover as much exposed skin as possible before a nuclear explosion. First aid for thermal injuries is the same as first aid for burns. Cover open burns (second-or third-degree) to prevent the entry of radioactive particles. Wash all burns before covering.
- Radiation Injuries: During the initial fireball stage of a nuclear detonation, initial gamma radiation and neutrons are the most serious threat. Beta and alpha radiation are radioactive particles normally associated with radioactive dust from the fallout. They are short-range particles and you can easily protect yourself against them if you take precautions. See the next section for the symptoms of radiation injuries.
2. Bodily Reactions to Radiation
Before we explain how to survive a nuclear attack, it is important for you to learn how your body will react to radiation. These effects can be broadly classed as either chronic or acute.
- Chronic Effects: Chronic effects are those that occur some years after exposure to radiation. Examples are cancer and genetic defects. Chronic effects are of minor concern insofar as they affect your immediate survival in a radioactive environment.
- Acute Effects: On the other hand, acute effects are of primary importance to your survival. Some acute effects occur within hours after exposure to radiation. These effects result from the radiation’s direct physical damage to tissue. Radiation sickness and beta burns are examples of acute effects. Radiation sickness symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, and loss of hair. Penetrating beta rays cause radiation burns; the wounds are similar to fire burns.
- External and Internal Hazards: The entry of alpha or beta radiation-emitting particles into the body can cause internal damage. The external hazard produces overall irradiation and beta burns. The internal hazard results in irradiation of critical organs such as the gastrointestinal tract, thyroid gland, and bone. A very small amount of radioactive material can cause extreme damage to these and other internal organs. The internal hazard can enter the body either through consumption of contaminated water or food or by absorption through cuts or abrasions. Material that enters the body through breathing presents a negligible hazard. You can greatly reduce the internal radiation hazard by using good personal hygiene and carefully decontaminating your food and water.
- Symptoms: The symptoms of radiation injuries include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. The severity of these symptoms is due to the extreme sensitivity of the gastrointestinal tract to radiation. The severity of the symptoms and the speed of onset after exposure are good indicators of the degree of radiation damage. The gastrointestinal damage can come from either the external or the internal radiation hazard.
- Recovery Capability: The extent of body damage depends mainly on the part of the body exposed to radiation and how long it was exposed, as well as its ability to recover. The brain and kidneys have little recovery capability. Other parts (skin and bone marrow) have a great ability to recover from damage. Usually, a dose of 600 centigrams (cgys) to the entire body will result in almost certain death. If only your hands received this same dose, your overall health would not suffer much, although your hands would suffer severe damage.
- Special Medical Aspects: The presence of fallout material in your area requires slight changes in first aid procedures. You must cover all wounds to prevent contamination and the entry of radioactive particles. You must first wash burns of beta radiation, then treat them as ordinary burns. Take extra measures to prevent infection. Your body will be extremely sensitive to infections due to changes in your blood chemistry. Pay close attention to the prevention of colds or respiratory infections. Rigorously practice personal hygiene to prevent infections. Cover your eyes with improvised goggles to prevent the entry of particles.
Expected health effects for an adult assuming the cumulative total radiation exposure was all received within a weeks’ time. Snippet from FM 3-7. NBC Field Handbook
How to Survive a Nuclear Attack
Knowledge of the radiation hazards discussed earlier is extremely important in surviving in a fallout area. It is also critical to know how to protect yourself from the most dangerous form of residual radiation-penetrating external radiation.
The means you can use to protect yourself from penetrating external radiation are time, distance, and shielding. You can reduce the level of radiation and help increase your chance of survival by controlling the duration of exposure. You can also get as far away from the radiation source as possible. Finally, you can place some radiation-absorbing or shielding material between you and the radiation.
Time is important to you, as the survivor, in two ways. First, radiation dosages are cumulative. The longer you are exposed to a radioactive source, the greater the dose you will receive. Obviously, spend as little time in a radioactive area as possible. Second, radioactivity decreases or decays over time. This concept is known as radioactive half-life.
Thus, a radioactive element decays or loses half of its radioactivity within a certain time. The rule of thumb for radioactivity decay is that it decreases in intensity by a factor of ten for every sevenfold increase in time following the peak radiation level. For example, if a nuclear fallout area had a maximum radiation rate of 200 cgys per hour when fallout is complete, this rate would fall to 20 cgys per hour after 7 hours; it would fall still further to 2 cgys per hour after 49 hours. Even an untrained observer can see that the greatest hazard from fallout occurs immediately after detonation and that the hazard decreases quickly over a relatively short time. As a survivor, try to avoid fallout areas until the radioactivity decays to safe levels. If you can avoid fallout areas long enough for most of the radioactivity to decay, you enhance your chance of survival.
Distance provides very effective protection against penetrating gamma radiation because radiation intensity decreases by the square of the distance from the source. For example, if exposed to 1,000 cgys of radiation standing 30 centimeters from the source, at 60 centimeters, you would only receive 250 cgys. Thus, when you double the distance, radiation decreases to (0.5)2 or 0.25 the amount. While this formula is valid for concentrated sources of radiation in small areas, it becomes more complicated for large areas of radiation such as fallout areas.
Shielding is the most important method of protection from penetrating radiation. Of the three countermeasures against penetrating radiation, shielding provides the greatest protection and is the easiest to use under survival conditions. Therefore, it is the most desirable method. If shielding is not possible, use the other two methods to the maximum extent practical. Shielding actually works by absorbing or weakening the penetrating radiation, thereby reducing the amount of radiation reaching your body. The denser the material, the better the shielding effect. Lead, iron, concrete, and water are good examples of shielding materials.
Shelters in case of a nuclear attack are the ONLY thing that can save you from its initial and after effects. It is such an important topic that I had to cover it in a separate article to avoid this article being converted into a book. This article explains how to build a nuclear shelter.
5. Exposure Timetable
The following timetable provides you with the information needed to avoid receiving serious dosage and still let you cope with survival problems:
- Complete isolation from 4 to 6 days after the detonation.
- Very brief exposure to outside on the third day is permissible, but exposure should not exceed 30 minutes.
- One exposure of not more than 30 minutes on the seventh day.
- One exposure of not more than 1 hour on the eighth day.
- Exposure of 2 to 4 hours from the ninth day through the twelfth day.
- Normal working, followed by rest in a protected shelter, from the thirteenth day on.
- In all instances, make your exposures as brief as possible. Consider only mandatory requirements as valid reasons for exposure. Decontaminate at every stop.
The times given above are conservative. If forced to move after the first or second day, you may do so, Make sure that the exposure is no longer than absolutely necessary. Cover yourself as much as possible. If you have a lead sheet/blanket available, cover yourself in it when moving out of the shelter.
6. Water Procurement
In a fallout-contaminated area, available water sources may be contaminated. If you wait at least 48 hours before drinking any water to allow for radioactive decay to take place and select the safest possible water source, you will greatly reduce the danger of ingesting harmful amounts of radioactivity. Although many factors (wind direction, rainfall, sediment) will influence your choice in selecting water sources, consider the following guidelines.
- Safest Water Sources: Water from springs, wells, or other underground sources that undergo natural filtration will be your safest source. Any water found in the pipes or containers of houses or stores will also be free from radioactive particles. This water will be safe to drink, although you will have to take precautions against bacteria in the water. Snow taken from 15 or more centimeters below the surface during the fallout is also a safe source of water.
- Streams and Rivers: Water from streams and rivers will be relatively free from fallout within several days after the nuclear explosion because of dilution. If at all possible, filter such water before drinking to get rid of radioactive particles. The best filtration method is to dig sediment holes or seepage basins along the side of a water source. The water will seep laterally into the hole through the intervening soil that acts as a filtering agent and removes the contaminated fallout particles that settled on the original body of water. This method can remove up to 99 percent of the radioactivity in water. You must cover the hole in some way in order to prevent further contamination. Or you can use this powerful Personal water filters.
- Standing Water: Water from lakes, pools, ponds, and other standing sources is likely to be heavily contaminated, though most of the heavier, long-lived radioactive isotopes will settle to the bottom. Use the settling technique to purify this water.
– First, fill a bucket or other deep container three-fourths full with contaminated water.
– Then take dirt from a depth of 10 or more centimeters below the ground surface and stir it into the water.
– Use about 2.5 centimeters of dirt for every 10 centimeters of water.
– Stir the water until you see most dirt particles suspended in the water.
– Let the mixture settle for at least 6 hours.
– The settling dirt particles will carry most of the suspended fallout particles to the bottom and cover them.
– You can then dip out the clear water. Purify this water using a filtration device. You can use this personal water filter but we recommend this portable water filter as it can filter many types of viruses as well.
7. Food Procurement
Although it is a serious problem to obtain edible food in a radiation-contaminated area, it is not impossible to solve. Most processed foods you may find in any abandoned buildings are safe for use after decontaminating them. These include canned and packaged foods after removing the containers or wrappers or washing them free of fallout particles. These processed foods also include food stored in any closed container and food stored in protected areas (such as cellars), if you wash them before eating. Wash all food containers or wrappers before handling them to prevent further contamination. If little or no processed food is available in your area, you may have to supplement your diet with local food sources. Local food sources are animals and plants.
1. Animals as a Food Source
Assume that all animals, regardless of their habitat or living conditions, were exposed to radiation. The effects of radiation on animals are similar to those on humans. Thus, most of the wild animals living in a fallout area are likely to become sick or die from radiation during the first month after the nuclear explosion. Even though animals may not be free from harmful radioactive materials, you can and must use them in survival conditions as a food source if other foods are not available.
With careful preparation and by following several important principles, animals can be safe food sources.
- First, do not eat an animal that appears to be sick. It may have developed a bacterial infection as a result of radiation poisoning.
- Contaminated meat, even if thoroughly cooked, could cause severe illness or death if eaten.
- Carefully skin all animals to prevent any radioactive particles on the skin or fur from entering the body.
- Do not eat meat close to the bones and joints as an animal’s skeleton contains over 90 percent of the radioactivity.
- The remaining animal muscle tissue, however, will be safe to eat. Before cooking it, cut the meat away from the bone, leaving at least a 3-millimeter thickness of meat on the bone.
- Discard all internal organs (heart, liver, and kidneys) since they tend to concentrate beta and gamma radioactivity.
- Cook all meat until it is very well done. To be sure the meat is well done, cut it into less than 13 millimeter-thick pieces before cooking. Such cuts will also reduce cooking time and save fuel.
- The extent of contamination in fish and aquatic animals will be much greater than that of land animals. This is also true for water plants, especially in coastal areas. Use aquatic food sources only in conditions of extreme emergency.
- All eggs, even if laid during the period of fallout, will be safe to eat.
- Completely avoid milk from any animals in a fallout area because animals absorb large amounts of radioactivity from the plants they eat.
2. Plants as a Food Source
Plant contamination occurs by the accumulation of fallout on their outer surfaces or by absorption of radioactive elements through their roots. Your first choice of plant food should be vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, carrots, and other plants whose edible portion grows underground. These are the safest to eat once you scrub them and remove their skins.
Second in order of preference are those plants with edible parts that you can decontaminate by washing and peeling their outer surfaces. Examples are bananas, apples, tomatoes, prickly pears, and other such fruits and vegetables. Any smooth-skinned vegetable, fruit, or plant that you cannot easily peel or effectively decontaminate by washing will be your third choice of emergency food. The effectiveness of decontamination by scrubbing is inversely proportional to the roughness of the fruit’s surface. Smooth-surfaced fruits have lost 90 percent of their contamination after washing, while washing rough-surfaced plants remove only about 50 percent of the contamination. You eat rough-surfaced plants (such as lettuce) only as a last resort because you cannot effectively decontaminate them by peeling or washing.