How to Survive a Nuclear Attack

I think we can all agree that the likelihood of a nuclear war was contoured very nicely on this year’s news feeds. People all over the world know that North Korea is preparing its missiles for an attack against the US, but no one knows if the threat is real or it’s just an image stunt.

Besides the scary test launches performed by North Korea’s army, there is nothing to indicate that this is a real threat. However, the idea stands and the ruler in Pyongyang fuels it with new actions such as safety drills that teach the population what to do in the case of a nuclear attack.

Now, while American senators and politicians accuse North Korea of running illegal nuclear programs, it seems to have little to no effect on the outcome of this deadly game. However, the extremely sad side is that, in the case of a nuclear attack, the entire planet will suffer not just North Korea or the US. We are in the middle of a possibly fatal confrontation that could throw us in the next Ice Age, and this is definitely a scary thought.

But could we survive such a horrible attack? According to specialists in survival and military training, survival is possible, but only if you know the steps to take. That’s why below you’ll find more information on how a nuclear attack works and the steps to take in order to make sure you survive. After all, it’s the stake is none other than the survival of the human race!

The Likelihood of War

As I already mentioned, the idea of a nuclear war is already in everyone’s minds. Still, the likelihood that North Korea would launch an attack is quite low. First of all, their weapons are not powerful enough to reach the US territory and second, their people will also suffer from such an act. Even more, everyone suspects that this is a way to force the hand of the US to recognize North Korea as a nuclear power.

However, in the event of an attack, with the technology they own, they do have the possibility of starting a very disastrous chain of events. It’s important to know that, even though most of their missiles are short-range, 49 out of 50 tests were successful. This means that the missiles are operational and they are prepared to start an attack at any given time. They didn’t yet show the intent towards an attack, but they do have the option, which is scary enough.

Nuclear Missile Ranges – Am I in danger?

The current short-range missiles can only reach up to 1000Km away, which puts both South Korea and Osaka, Japan’s second largest city, in danger. However, their middle-range missiles can go up to 2000Km away, reaching Tokyo and all of Japan.

They also have intermediary-range missiles that can go up to 4500Km away, reaching most regions in the South East Asia. There is also one US military base in range, in the island of Guam. However, these missiles are less reliable than the first two types and they are still running tests.

Sadly, the list doesn’t stop here as North Korea continues the tests. This year, they managed to test two intercontinental ballistic missiles, managing to threaten regions like Australia, most of Europe, Alaska (part of the US), parts of the northern US, part of New Zealand, and others.

For more information on North Korea’s nuclear warhead testing and the dangers they pose to the rest of the World, we strongly recommend checking out this interactive guide by ABC Australia.

While it’s not clear if these last missiles are fully operational, it’s clear that North Korea is still working on arming their offense. Soon, there won’t be a safe point on Earth because of this desire to prove their worth in military arsenal.

However, if North Korea proves they only want recognition and not to destroy the world, there is still a chance of a nuclear war. Today, in the world, there are nine nuclear powers and they possess about 15,000 weapons. Among these, the US and Russia are the most powerful and they have about 1,800 weapons on high-alert (meaning, ready to launch at any time). These are so powerful, that a single warhead could destroy an entire city, killing millions, and affecting the environment for decades.

So yes, the threat of a nuclear attack is real and it should be on your mind day and night.

How will the Nuclear Attack Happen?

Very few people know what is actually going to happen during such an attack so it’s important to have at least an idea.

The first stage is the launch and detonation of the missile. Now, according to the weather, type of missile, and level of energy, the blast radius may differ. But, for the 1MT nuclear missile (more powerful than the ones launched on Hiroshima, but less powerful than designs available today) the nuclear blast radius would be about 80 km away.

The first thing that hits someone in the blast area is the wave of thermal radiation (or heat) that can produce burns and temporary blindness. Seconds later, the blast wave will hit and this usually comes with debris which can inflict damage to anyone in the open.

The burns from thermal radiation happen in waves. Thus, if you’re anywhere in the 11Km radius (again, for a 1MT bomb), you’ll get first degree burns, but if you’re in the 8Km radius, you’ll get 3rd-degree burns and you’ll probably die.

The blast radius is about 6Km for one 1MT missile, and it will produce winds of 255Km/h, swiping anything in front. The explosion is so powerful that it will break buildings, destroy any structure within the radius and carry the debris many kilometers away.

You can get a pretty good idea of how this works from this video:

The Blast & the Fallout

Every nuclear explosion comes in two waves: the blast and the fallout.

The blast happens at the moment of explosion and consists of intense light and heat accompanied by a high-pressure wave that moves in a circular area around the point of impact. This immense force will break and pulverize everything it meets, while spreading radioactive particles that stick to objects, dust, skin, clothes, and anything they find. This way, for a large area, the air, water, and ground will be contaminated and not favorable to life.

The fallout is what comes after the blast, when radioactive particles are carried by winds and travel large distances contaminating other surfaces and living creatures. The effects of fallout are deadly in the first two weeks from the explosion, after which the radiation levels start to drop.

How to Survive the Blast

Yes, it is possible to survive a nuclear blast, but you must be well prepared for this. One the missile is detonated, everything will happen in a matter of seconds and, while our body may be equipped with the necessary force to withstand an explosion, the winds and debris moving around at extremely high speeds won’t go around.

The best way to survive a nuclear blast is to be inside, underground, in a building with concrete, think walls. Bricks are also known to help block the radiation, but at the moment of the blast the best location is inside. However, you should avoid wooden structure for as much as possible. Specialists recommend finding a basement or a blast shelter that was specially designed to keep you safe from the heat and radiation. If an underground structure is not available, you should find a concrete structure, without windows, and as close to the ground as possible.

If you are caught outside, there’s still a chance if you duck for cover or lie down flat on the ground. It’s important to keep your eyes closed (the thermal radiation can blind you if you look directly at it). Once the blast is over, find shelter and remove the clothes you were wearing during the explosion. Also, scrub yourself clean, using soap and water to remove any radioactive particles.

The clothes you had on during the explosion must be sealed in plastic bags, and you must make sure no radioactive dust falls off them while you do this operation.

Once you and your family are safe and the blast is over, you shouldn’t go outside under any circumstances (unless officials instruct you otherwise)! The radiation will be scattered by the winds and the levels will drop eventually, but the first two weeks are deadly. Keep busy and stay alert for any official communications via the emergency channels. Also, if you have the possibility, try to get in touch with other survivors and check on their status.

What to do Before the Blast


The main element of a successful survival is preparedness. This means that you have to prepare yourself for this situation, both emotionally and physically. Since the emotional aspect is usually different from one person to another, I think it’s best to discuss the physical preparedness first.

First, you need to make sure you have a well-designed plan that includes the following main elements:

  • Finding/building a good shelter.
  • Gathering food and water for about two weeks (this will be your emergency supply).
  • Putting together an emergency kit for everyone in your family.
  • Make sure you have access to communication.

The Shelter

The shelter is extremely important during the blast and the fallout (at least for the first two weeks) and it’s highly recommended that you plan ahead.

For the blast, the shelter it’s best to be somewhere underground like a basement or an official nuclear shelter. However, you don’t know when the explosion will happen so, as long as you can find cover and stay as far away from the impact zone, you should be able to survive it.

During fallout, the shelter doesn’t have to be underground, but it’s highly recommended that you find a building with thick walls made of concrete or bricks. Concrete is the most recommended because it has a dense structure that will absorb most of the radiations.

If you want to make sure your family is well-protected, I recommend building a special room or arranging the basement for such a situation. You can learn more about how to build a fallout shelter from this step-by-step guide.

Food & Water

Once you establish where you’ll spend the fallout, it’s time to put together your supplies. Keep in mind that it’s best to stay inside for at least 48hourse (and longer) if a nuclear attack happens. That’s why, it’s important to start stocking up on non-perishable foods such as:

  • Cereals (rice, wheat, oats, and so on)
  • Beans
  • Sugar
  • Flour
  • Honey
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Oils and fats
  • Dried fruits and vegetables
  • Canned foods (meats, vegetables, fruits, and combinations).
  • Dehydrated food – this one only needs a bit of water over a heat source and you can have a pretty nice meal.

The list can be as extensive as you need, but I recommend sticking to foods that have longer life shelves. It’s also recommended to rotate the supplies every six months – this means checking the expiration dates and the state of the foods that are non-perishable (when stored in the correct conditions). If any of the foods is close to expiring, it’s time to consume it and replace it with a new batch.

This way, when the disaster does happen, you will have fresh food available for at least a few weeks. So, you and your family already have increased chances of surviving a nuclear apocalypse scenario.

Besides foods, another important element for your survival is water. Actually, this is crucial so you must make sure to have at least 1 gallon of water for each person in your shelter, per day. Specialists recommend keeping water in food-grade plastic containers that were first cleaned with a bleach solution.

However, if it happens and you find yourself without water during fallout, you can purify the available sources using potassium iodide and household bleach.

Keep in mind: Never drink unpurified water after a nuclear blast! Sources close to the blast will be highly radioactive.

Finally, if you have pets, don’t forget to include them in the food and water planning.

The Emergency Kit

This is a kit that every person should pack for their own needs and it should include things like:

  • Medication (prescription and general)
  • A first aid kit (with elements specific for a nuclear fallout)
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Dust mask
  • Plastic bags and duct tape (plastic keeps the radioactive dust from creeping inside your shelter or settling on your clothes, in the situation when you need to get outside).
  • Personal sanitation items
  • Any other items one may need in a shelter.
  • Weapons for self-defense

Also, if you have pets, make sure to add the necessary items for them as well.

Besides the emergency kit, you should also prepare an EDC (or every-day-carry), in the case you will be caught outside or in a different location.


Given the fact that it’s not recommended to go outside, it’s important to have several communication devices that will keep you in touch with the authorities.

If you have access to a TV and the network is still working, you should follow the news and make sure you get all the emergency transmissions. However, in the case of an attack, and if you’re close to the point of impact, it’s very likely that all wired networks were destroyed. This means no television, internet, or cellphone and landlines.

Still, if you have an emergency radio, you can look for emergency frequencies and keep in touch with the outside world. I would also recommend getting a handheld ham radio – it will help you keep in touch with other survivor groups that are in the range.

How to survive the Nuclear Fallout

The worst has happened and now you are forced to survive one of the most dangerous situations possible. Will you be able to keep going? Well, the result only depends on your level of preparedness and knowledge.

For instance, you should know that the deadliest form of radiation in nuclear fallout is Gamma rays. Even more, this is the type of radiation that travels the farthest and can no surface is capable of completely blocking it.
However, the human body is capable of absorbing some level of Gamma rays without undergoing mutations (the main problem with this type of radiation) so, if you manage to protect yourself and your family, you will have a pretty good chance at survival.

When it comes to protection, there are three factors that matter the most:

  • Time
  • Shielding
  • Distance

Time is your ally in this situation as fallout radiation drops in intensity quite rapidly. So, if you can spend enough time inside, in your fallout shelter, you’ll be able to move around afterward. The most threat is in the first two weeks, when the radiation is concentrated. However, after this, the radiation level will drop to about 1% of its initial concentration which makes it safe to roam about.

Shielding makes reference to materials you can use to shield yourself from the radiation wave like think concrete walls, sheets of steel, soil, books, anything dense. That’s why, specialists recommend lining the walls of your shelter with dense materials in order to increase their thickness and power of absorption. The more space you put between yourself and the radiation outside, the better.

Also, you can use shielding as a way of keeping radiation particles away from your clothes and skin if it happens and you have to go outside. For his, you can use plastic bags, hats, gloves, goggles, rubber boots, and more in order to cover yourself from top to bottom.

Avoid getting your skin exposed for as much as possible!

The distance element is very easy to understand: the further away you are from the initial blast, the better. However, keep in mind that radiation travels with winds so you won’t be completely safe for several hundred miles around the blast.

I mention distance, because it is highly unlikely that a nuclear attack will happen all of a sudden. There will be signs and if you pay attention, you should manage to evacuate in time. For this situation, it’s best to put together a BOB (Bug Out Bag) and have it handy.

The World after a Nuclear Disaster

Imagine the following scenario: the nuclear war is over and you managed to survive. However, you are left with the damages and a world with high radiation levels, where both ground and air are contaminated. What sort of life can one have in this apocalyptical world?

Scientists already asked this question and, according to computer simulations, a nuclear war would throw us in a 20-years long winter. This will happen due to the black carbon that would be released into the atmosphere, blocking any sunrays from reaching the Earth surface. If you want to know more about this fascinating scenario, you can read the entire paper here.

So, any survivor will be met by below 0°C temperatures, a contaminated atmosphere, and worldwide famine (no crops would grow in this environment). Still, there should be plenty of food left from the ones who didn’t survive and the low temperatures will slow down the decay process.

Another negative aspect is the lack of energy such as electricity. It is safe to assume that power plants and the network used for transportation will be affected by the war. The same will happen with most electronic devices and a good part of mankind’s knowledge will be lost forever.

Without electricity, we won’t be able to heat and light up the structures that are left standing, there won’t be any more food produced, and the stations used for water purification will stop working.

But if you think that living in cold, without clean water and heat is the worst effect, you’re up for a surprise! The effects of radiation will be felt long after the world will be over as the processes put in motion will tear a hole in the ozone layer that protects us from UV radiation. So, when the weather will clear up and the Sun will shine again, we won’t be able to enjoy it because its rays will give us skin cancer.

Even more, because there is not more filtering of the UV rays, the crops won’t grow and many plants will die or suffer horrific DNA mutations that will allow them to survive. So how will we survive?

While it’s true that the conditions will be terrible, we have the necessary knowledge to survive. If we don’t allow ourselves to be thrown back into the Stone Age and use the knowledge we have today, the human race has a chance. However, this means that we need to master a wide range of skills and learn as much as possible about the world now, while we still have a chance!

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