Surviving a Nuclear Attack

In 1991 the Berlin Wall came down, signaling and end to the Cold War between NATO, backed by the United States and the Warsaw Pact forces, which mostly consisted of the now defunct Soviet Union. That was real cause for celebration, as the world had lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation for over half a century.

Those of us who lived through that time thought we’d never see such a thing again. Yet here we are, embroiled in another Cold War with North Korea. As soon as Iran managed to field nuclear-tipped ICBMs, we’ll probably be in one with them too. The threat of nuclear war is back.

From a personal point of view, there is little you and I can do about that potential for nuclear war. Such things are decided at a much higher pay grade than us. But that doesn’t mean that we have to accept whatever happens to us. Our survival in such a case will depend more on us, than it will on our government. I seriously doubt that FEMA will be able to meet the need should such an attack ever happen against American soil.

So, what can you can I do, so that we can survive a nuclear attack?

Location is Key

The first law of retail is said to be, “location, location, location.” Well, I’d have to say that the same law applies to surviving a nuclear explosion. Where you are when it goes off will have more to do with your chances of survival, than anything else.

What we’re looking for here is distance. The farther you are from the epicenter of the explosion, the greater your chances of survival. That’s because as powerful as nuclear bombs are, they are still limited. The blast from a 500kt nuclear weapon will:

  • Kill and destroy everything within a 1.5 mile radius
  • Cause moderate to heavy damage to commercial buildings, including fires, within a 3.6 mile radius
  • Cause slight damage to commercial buildings within a 5.8 mile radius

So, if you live only a mile from a potential target, your chances of survival are basically non-existent. But if you live more than six miles from it, your chances of survival are extremely high. When buying a home or starting a business, you might want to keep this in mind.

You can find a number of maps of potential nuclear targets online, including some excellent interactive ones. Different maps will show you different targets, based upon the number of nuclear weapons employed. Back in the old Cold War, we were talking about thousands of ICBMs flying across the globe, but today’s risk is dealing with mere dozens, so unless you are living near a high-priority target, you are probably safe from the blast effects of nuclear explosion.

Preparing to Survive

There are two parts of surviving any nuclear attack; surviving the blast and surviving the fallout. You will need some sort of shelter, preferably underground for both. It has to be close enough that you can get to it quickly and stocked well enough that you can survive there for a month.

The effects of the blast will be over in a matter of minutes. However, fallout from the blast can be a problem for a month. You will need to stay in that shelter, as protection from radiation, until you receive the all clear from the government. That’s why you need to have your shelter prepared for surviving a month.

This means preparing the shelter with:

  • Some means of keeping warm, if the heat is out and it happens in wintertime
  • Sleeping bags or bedding
  • A few changes of clothing
  • Food
  • Water
  • Chemical toilet
  • First-aid supplies, including potassium iodide tablets
  • A hand-crank radio or battery-operated radio, with extra batteries
  • Flashlights, with extra batteries
  • Something to keep you occupied
  • Radiation dosimeter

Of course, any other prepping supplies that you would normally use can be added to this list. This is merely meant to be the absolute necessities for your fallout shelter.

What to do in the Event of an Attack

A nuclear explosion puts out a number of different types of energy, including nuclear particles and rays. Those will be moving so fast, that you can’t do anything about them. They will probably hit your body before your mind can come to grips with what is happening. However, unless you are close to the blast, that is not your biggest concern.

The main blast force from a nuclear explosion is in the form of a hot wind that moves at 1,000 KPH. That works out to 621 MPH or just over 10 miles in a minute. So, if you live six miles from a potential target, you will only have 6/10 of a minute, or 36 seconds to make it into that shelter, before the blast force reaches where you are. That’s not much time.

If you are in your home and your shelter is in the basement, you’ll have enough time to make it. But if not, then you’ll need to shelter wherever you are. For that, you will need some sort of barrier, like a stone or cement wall, between you and the explosion. Lay down on the ground, snug up against that wall, so that it can protect you from that wind.

If you are out in the open, without any man-made structures around, look to see what nature has provided. Even being on the backside of a hill, with the hill between you and the blast can help. Lay down on the ground, with your feet towards the blast and make yourself as small as possible. If there are large rocks or trees around, hide behind them. They may not provide the best shelter possible, but they will provide something. At a minimum, they may block items that the wind has picked up, preventing them from striking you.

The first wind will be followed by a return wind, which will be nearly as bad. So once the wind passes, you will need to move as quickly as possible to the other side of the wall and lay down on the ground again, up against the wall. Of course, if you are indoors, that will be unnecessary, as you will have walls on both sides of you. Just pick a place where you have walls without windows on both sides, preferably in a hallway, as the walls will help protect you from any falling objects.

Sheltering From Fallout

Assuming that you are not in your fallout shelter when the bomb goes off, the first thing you’ll want to do, once you have survived the blast, is to make your way to your fallout shelter as quickly as possible. Get inside and stay there until you get an “all clear” from the government. That will probably come over all means of communications, which is why I recommended having a radio.

The fallout will be the worst downwind from the explosion. So knowing the prevailing winds in your area will help you predict how badly your area will be hit by fallout. Where I live, the prevailing wind is from the southeast. However, any nuclear bomb would probably be dropped to the east of us, or even slightly north of east. So, the wind would probably blow the majority of the fallout past us to the north.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t take any chances, but rather stay in my shelter until I was sure it was safe to come out. The only exception to that would be if a family member showed any symptoms of sickness. Regardless of the symptoms, there would be a chance that they had radiation sickness, needing immediate medical care.

If any family members show signs of sickness, try to contact the authorities for emergency evacuation. If you can’t call them over the phone, then leave your shelter to look for help. There will probably be National Guard or other military forces around, who will gladly transport your sick family member.

Dealing with Radiation Sickness

I mentioned earlier that you should have potassium iodide (KI) in your first-aid kit. This is used to help prevent radiation sickness. It cannot treat or cure radiation sickness, merely help prevent it.

The way that potassium iodide works is to provide the thyroid glands with iodine, filling their need to absorb it. Therefore, they will not absorb radioactive iodine, but rather reject it, allowing any which gets into the body to be evacuated, along with other excess minerals.

Do not take potassium iodide just because there has been a nuclear detonation, but rather, only take it if you receive official notice that you should. It can have harmful effects if you take it when you don’t need it. A normal dose is:

  • 1 – 130mg tablet per day, for adults, pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding
  • 1 – 65mg tablet (or ½ of a 130mg tablet) for children 3 to 18 years of age
  • ½ – 65mg tablet for infants
  • ¼ – 65mg tablet for newborns up to one month of age

Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding should have the priority for taking KI, as it will also help protect their babies.

A single dose of KI protects the thyroid for 24 hours. In most cases, the threat will pass within that time, meaning a repeat dosage will not be necessary. However, expect to receive information about this over the radio and follow those directions. You may be directed to take it for a few days. Pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding and infants should only take one dose.

Rich Murphy

Rich is a long-time survivalist, having gotten started in his youth, during the latter part of the Cold War. Yet the collapse of the Berlin Wall didn’t put an end to his survival instinct. He has since added military experience and a career as an engineer to his survival knowledge. This has allowed him to design and build his own survival equipment. He is an accomplished author, who has written over 100 books on all aspects of survival.

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