First, let me dispel two myths about a nuclear attack.
We won’t all die or wish we were dead if a nuclear strike occurs. The movies – as much as I love them – have done us a terrible disservice here. If you are at Ground Zero of an attack, there is absolutely nothing you can do. Everything will be vaporized and that’s that. However, if you are outside the immediate blast zone, it is completely survivable and I don’t mean survivable in the horrible, lingering death kind of way. I mean, unharmed. You just have to know exactly what to do immediately in order to protect yourself. More on that in a moment.
We won’t suffer a nuclear winter. Everything thinks it will be like the post-apocalyptic scenario in that horrible book/movie, The Road. People aren’t going to be trying to eat each other. In that particular plot, the nuclear war was so great that a huge cloud of ash covered the planet. In reality, it would take hundreds of nuclear strikes to cause something like that, which is unlikely to occur. This isn’t to downplay the horror and death of one strike, but to point out that the aftermath isn’t going to make the quality of life on Earth as terrible as what the movies portray.
Here is what would happen if a 10 kiloton nuclear strike occurred.
Contrary to popular belief, a nuke won’t kill everyone within hundreds of miles. If you aren’t in the immediate blast radius, a nuclear strike is absolutely survivable.
The one-mile radius around the blast will be virtually unsurvivable. Within two miles, people will suffer 3rd-degree burns from the intense wave of heat.
If you are within two miles of the blast, the winds will be coming at about 600 miles per hour. This will take down buildings and cause a tremendous amount of pressure. Some experts recommend that you keep your mouth open to try and reduce the pressure on your eardrums. Looking at the blast could cause permanent blindness.
According to the DHS, 10 kilotons is the approximate size of nuclear weapon we could expect.
Nearly everyone within a half mile radius of the point of impact would die and most of the buildings would be demolished. This would be considered Ground Zero.
The area within the next half mile would suffer extensive damage, fires, and serious injuries.
Areas within three miles could see minor injuries to people and slight damage to their homes.
The fallout would kill even more people. According to the DHS:
Within 10 to 20 miles of the explosion, radioactive exposure would cause nausea and vomiting within hours and death without medical treatment.
But for those near enough to the blast, experiencing more than 800R of radiation, not seeking shelter immediately would cause deaths with or without medical treatment, the study found.
People would not be able to evacuate this area as fallout would arrive within just 10 minutes.
People upwind of the strike and outside the 20-mile radius would be unlikely to suffer any effects. People downwind would need to take shelter. Deaths from cancer that is related to the fallout could occur for many years after.
Here’s what I’m doing to prepare for a nuclear attack.
As cool as it would be to have one, you don’t have to have a bunker to survive if you take the time now to get prepped. You can survive by learning everything you can to prepare for a nuclear attack.
So, here’s what I’m doing.
Every time a new threat rolls around, I discover that while I have many of my bases covered, there are a few things I hadn’t accounted for. A nuclear threat is no different. There were some supplies I had to pick up myself, particularly a bigger supply of no-cook food.
Part of your preparations will depend on where you live, so this will be different for everyone. Are you near any places that are likely targets? Places like Washington DC, Hawaii, New York City, Los Angeles, and large military bases are more likely targets than say, a low population area in the midwest. Of course, this doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Just that it’s less likely.
Are you in a house or an apartment building? What is the best place in your home to seek shelter? Plan all of this ahead of time. If you know exactly what steps you are going to take, you will be able to better perform them under pressure.
Here are some key points to consider.
You won’t have a whole lot of notice.
Scientists say that residents of Hawaii would have only 8-12 minutes notice if an ICBM was headed their way, and residents of New York City will have an hour. Clearly, there won’t be time to run to the store – and if you did, you’d be fighting it out with a bunch of terrified, panicked people – so get your supplies together now.
You could be in your car.
If you are in your car, make certain to turn the vent to recirculation so that you don’t bring any outside air into the vehicle. Your goal should be to immediately get to shelter.
Be prepared to go into lockdown.
In nearly every case, staying home is the best course of action. Imagine you are in New York City and this nuke is headed your way. If you try to evacuate, you are most likely to get stuck on one of the bridges on the way out of Manhattan and that would be far more deadly than hunkering down in your apartment and hoping you are outside the half mile radius of Ground Zero. Experts say that you should plan to stay sheltered for a minimum of 9 days. Our personal plan is 14-21 days, depending on proximity and wind direction. I’d rather err on the side of caution, personally.
During a talk on surviving a nuclear attack, professor Iwrin Redlener, US specialist on disaster preparedness, said: “In that 10 to 15 minutes, all you have to do is go about a mile away from the blast.
“Within 20 minutes, it comes straight down. Within 24 hours, lethal radiation is going out with prevailing winds.”
Prof Redlener said you should feel for the wind and begin running perpendicular to it – not upwind or downwind.
He said: “You’ve got to get out of there. If you don’t get out of there, you’re going to be exposed to lethal radiation in very short order.
“If you can’t get out of there, we want you to go into a shelter and stay there. Now, in a shelter in an urban area means you have to be either in a basement as deep as possible, or you have to be on a floor – on a high floor – if it’s a ground burst explosion, which it would be, higher than the ninth floor.
So you have to be tenth floor or higher, or in the basement. But basically, you’ve got to get out of town as quickly as possible. And if you do that, you actually can survive a nuclear blast.”
The most hazardous fallout particles are readily visible as fine sand-sized grains so you must keep away from them and not go outside if you see them.
While I’m not a professor, I would not be trying to run perpendicular. I’d be trying to get inside to shelter, ASAP.
Fortify your home against fallout.
Your goal is to put as much mass as possible between you and the radioactive fallout. Sandbags are a good way to quickly create mass. Take shelter in a basement if possible and fortify the windows and doors with as much mass as possible.
Use duct tape and tarps to seal off all windows, doors, and vents. Get a LOT of duct tape and tarps.
Turn off any type of climate control that pulls the outside air into your home. Expect to survive without heat or air conditioning for the duration.
Close off your chimney.
If someone enters the home, make certain that there is a room set up that is separate from other family members so that they can decontaminate. All clothing they were wearing should be placed outside and they should immediately shower thoroughly.
Make a breezeway for putting things outdoors (like pet or human waste.) Hang heavy tarps around the door and put on disposable coveralls, gloves, shoe covers, and masks if you have to actually go out. Disrobe, discard the disposable clothing by tossing it out the door, and shower immediately when you get back inside.
If you don’t have a basement, go to the most central part of your house and erect as many barriers as possible. If there is no central area without windows and exterior walls, go to the room furthest away from prevailing winds.
Have enough supplies on hand to wait out the danger.
As with many emergencies, you need to be prepared to survive at home without help from anyone. It’s unknown whether water and electricity will be running, and if the water is running, whether it will be safe to drink. Prep as though you won’t have access to these utilities and if you do, then it’ll be a pleasant surprise.
Stock up on emergency food. In our current home, all of my emergency cooking methods rely on me being able to go outdoors. Because of this, I have stocked a one month supply of no-cook foods that do not require refrigeration. Canned vegetables and fruits, canned beans, pouches of rice and quinoa, crackers, peanut butter, dried fruit. You get the idea. The eating may not be exciting, but we won’t starve to death.
Have a supply of water for all family members and pets that will last throughout the 9-day waiting period that you need to remain indoors. (Or longer, which is what we’re planning.)
Get paper plates and cutlery in the event that the water isn’t running so you don’t have to waste your precious supply washing dishes.
Don’t forget a supply of pet food.
Make certain you have a potassium iodide supplement on hand to protect your thyroid gland. (Here’s how to use it.) And here’s another source for it – supplies are going fast.
Be prepared for the potential of a power outage.
If you have pets, have supplies on hand for their sanitation – you can’t let them go outside because not only would they be exposed, they would bring radiation in with them. So, pee pads, cat litter, etc, are all necessary. Solid waste can probably be flushed.
Have the supplies to create an emergency toilet. (This one is cheap and simple.)
Make sure to have a supply of any necessary prescription medications that will last through the time that you hunker down.
Have a well-stocked first aid kit. It’s entirely likely that medical assistance will not be available, and if it is, you’ll put yourself at risk by going out to seek it.
Have a way to get the news from the outside world. An emergency radio is a must.
Learn everything you can.
This is an overview but there is much more to learn about a nuclear event and the more knowledge you have, the more likely you are to survive without any ill effects.
For some free additions to your nuclear library, you can print out this manual from the US government about surviving a nuclear emergency. It was written with first responders in mind, but much of the information would be applicable for us, too. The book, Nuclear War Survival Skills, by Cresson Kearney, is also available for free online.
The more you know, the better your chances are of unscathed survival.
You CAN survive if you prepare for a nuclear attack.
The only part of your survival that is in the hands of fate is whether or not you are at Ground Zero. The rest is up to you. You can’t expect the government to save you. You can only save yourself.
Get prepared. Today. Because we just don’t know what’s about to happen.
Good article. However, you wrote that 10 kilotons is the approximate size of nuclear weapon we could expect. The bomb the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki more than 75 years ago had a blast yield of 21 kilotons, and the most common strategic nuclear weapon in the U.S. in 2022 is the B83 with a yield of 1.2 megatons (or 120 times more powerful than you suggest we can expect). The U.S. had 650 of these B83s in active service, meaning they could be deployed immediately in response to a nuclear attack and it’s likely that Russia has a similar number of active megaton+ devices. The U.S. and Russia currently have a total estimated 12000 nuclear weapons now–that we know about, anyway, with some being smaller than the big strategic weapons we could expect in a nuclear war. This is easily enough weapons to achieve mutual destruction of our two countries and likely kill off much of the population of earth. If China and any of the other nuclear powers join in the fun, we really could expect a nuclear winter. But yes, if there were a limited nuclear strike, what you said makes sense, but in a wide-scale nuclear war, survival chances are greatly diminished. Thanks for your insights though. Good stuff.