A nuclear war would be disastrous for humanity, but for those who know how, it’s possible to survive. The threat of nuclear war is increasing, with warnings from Russia and increasing nuclear arsenals in North Korea, India and Pakistan.
At ukprepper.life, we all hope that it will never happen, but we also want to know how to survive if it does. Here is our guide to how to survive a nuclear war.
Likelihood of Nuclear War
A nuclear war is unlikely, because any country that uses nuclear weapons would also be attacked with nuclear weapons. The threat of mutually assured destruction has long been a reason that nuclear weapons have not been used in war since WWII.
However, the risk of a nuclear war is increasing. In early 2022, Russia’s President threatened the use of nuclear weapons against any nation interfering with his invasion of Ukraine. His mental state has been questioned by many observers around the world. This prompts the worry that he may be prepared to use nuclear weapons without caring about the consequences.
If Russia used nuclear weapons, they would most likely be targeted at Europe and North America. Europe and the USA would retaliate with nuclear weapons aimed at Russia.
Will Nuclear War Kill Everybody?
Many people think that nuclear war will kill everyone on earth, however that isn’t true. While nuclear war will cause a vast amount of death and destruction, there will also be many survivors. Most people in the blast radius of a nuclear bomb will be killed, but for those outside the blast, nuclear fallout is the greatest danger. Prepare to survive the fallout and you can survive a nuclear war.
Where Will Be Targeted With Nuclear Weapons?
When a nuclear war starts, it is most likely that military installations will be the targets. This will include ports with naval vessels, air bases and civilian airfields that could be used by military aircraft. Government facilities would also be targets, along with large and important cities. Many military and government facilities are in or close to cities, which makes the cities very vulnerable to attack.
What Happens When A Nuclear Bomb Is Detonated?
Understanding what happens when a nuclear bomb detonates helps to understand how to survive it. A nuclear blast can occur in one of four different ways: high altitude burst, air burst, surface or ground burst and sub-surface burst.
Each of these types of nuclear bomb detonation causes different amounts and types of damage.
High Altitude Burst
A high altitude burst is where the nuclear warhead detonates at an altitude greater than 100,000 feet. The fireball from a high altitude blast expands very quickly, but does not come anywhere near the ground. This type of nuclear blast can cause an EMP that affects a huge area, but causes little other damage.
In a nuclear war, a high altitude burst would knock out infrastructure by causing a widespread EMP.
An air burst is where the nuclear weapon detonates below 100,000 feet, but still high enough that the fireball does not touch the ground. The shockwaves and heat from an air burst can cause damage over a large area, including burns to any exposed skin.
In a nuclear war, air bursts would destroy soft targets, such as air bases and ground forces.
A surface burst is where the nuclear weapon detonates at the surface, or close enough for the fireball to reach the surface. A surface burst creates very high amounts of damage to the area close to the detonation. The damage caused by the blast, heat and initial nuclear radiation is less widespread than a similar sized air burst. However, the nuclear fallout caused by a surface burst is much greater than an air burst.
In a nuclear war, surface bursts would destroy specific military targets.
A sub-surface burst is where the detonation happens below the earth’s surface. There may be little damage at the surface if the blast is deep enough. If the blast reaches the surface, damage will be similar to a surface burst but with a smaller magnitude.
A sub-surface burst is more likely to be used for testing than in nuclear war.
Nuclear fallout is radioactive particles that gradually fall to the ground after a nuclear explosion. It is made up of the leftover fragments of the bomb after it has exploded, and in a surface burst, the radioactive earth thrown into the air by the explosion. Surface bursts have a much higher amount of fallout than air bursts and high altitude bursts. This is because of the huge amount of radioactive soil thrown into the atmosphere by the explosion.
Fallout particles range in size from a few millimetres across down to microscopic particles. The majority of the larger particles will fall to the ground within minutes of the explosion. However, the smaller particles will be carried in the atmosphere for many miles, and will fall over hours and days, or longer. The majority of the fallout will fall to the ground downwind of the nuclear blast, however winds can be in different directions at different altitudes. The fallout may not all travel in the direction of the wind at ground level.
The majority of the radionuclides produced by a nuclear bomb decay rapidly. This means that the majority of the fallout is highly radioactive for a relatively short time period. After 48 hours, most of the fallout will no longer have high levels of radioactivity.
There will, however, still be highly radioactive hotspots and these could be well outside the blast zone. The hotspots are areas contaminated with long-lived radioactive isotopes like strontium-90 or cesium-137. They will remain dangerously radioactive for many years, and the effects would be concentrated in any food grown within hotspots.
Nuclear bombs generate a huge amount of heat, and can easily start fires that will spread outside the blast zone. Fire is the biggest danger after fallout for those who survive the nuclear blast itself.
How To Survive A Nuclear War
Preparing To Survive A Nuclear War
There are many things you can do now to be prepared in case a nuclear war ever happens. Plan what you and your family are going to do now, so that when nuclear war starts you know exactly what to do. Prepare all the equipment and supplies that you need so that it’s ready to grab at a moment’s notice.
Don’t Live Next To A Nuclear Target
Survival within the blast radius of a nuclear bomb is unlikely. Therefore, people living close to likely nuclear bomb targets are very unlikely to be able to survive a nuclear war.
Targets for nuclear bombs are likely to be military and government facilities, as well as large and important cities. Living in areas close to any of these will be very dangerous during a nuclear war. Survival within the immediate blast zone is unlikely unless you have a very substantial underground shelter.
If you consider nuclear war to be a threat, and you want to survive, move to an area well away from likely nuclear targets.
Know Where To Shelter From Nuclear Fallout
The greatest danger to people who survive the initial nuclear bomb explosion is radioactive fallout. This is the millions of tonnes of tiny particles thrown up into the atmosphere by the nuclear bomb explosions. The nuclear explosion makes the dust particles radioactive and deadly for the first 48 hours after the explosion.
Sheltering somewhere that can protect you from the radiation is the only way to survive fallout. You can build a nuclear fallout shelter. Alternatively find a suitable location to shelter very near by that you would be able to access quickly.
A nuclear shelter needs to be able to reduce the amount of radiation reaching its occupants. Thick concrete or a large amount of earth stops the majority of radiation from fallout reaching the inside of the shelter.
If you can’t build your own nuclear shelter, the best places to shelter are underground below a large concrete building, or in the centre of a large concrete building away from windows and external walls.
Find your shelter location now. When nuclear weapons start falling, you’ll only have minutes to get there. If you already have a plan and know exactly where you’re going, you have a much better chance of surviving. A good map (or here for USA maps) of the local area will help you identify potential shelters and routes to get there.
Have Enough Water And Food
When you reach your shelter, you need to stay inside it for at least 48 hours after the last nuclear blast, and ideally longer. The longer you can stay, the lower the danger will be from radioactive fallout.
Make sure that you have enough food and clean water with you to be able to survive for this duration in your shelter. You will also need extra water to wash if you are exposed to fallout before entering the shelter.
Buy A Geiger counter
When you come out of your shelter, you need to be able to measure radiation. Buy a Geiger Counter radiation detector. Keep it and spare batteries in a Faraday Cage bag so that it is protected from the effects of an EMP.
You can use it to measure radiation levels when coming out of your shelter. Also use it when entering any new area, because there may be hotspots that remain highly radioactive for many years.
Be As Self-Sufficient As Possible
Many preppers see themselves as being totally self-sufficient in a post-apocalyptic world, but are not at all self-sufficient now. The only way that you will be able to be self-sufficient after the apocalypse is by starting now.
The post-apocalyptic world will be very different to the world now. It will not be as easy to start to become self-sufficient. However if you are already able to produce enough food and obtain enough water now, it will be easier to survive after a nuclear war.
Plant fruit trees, grow vegetables, build and maintain a seed bank, learn to grow foods that can survive in different conditions e.g. mushrooms. Doing all of these things as soon as possible means that you’re building up your own self-sufficiency.
What To Do First When Nuclear War Breaks Out
Shelter is the only way to survive nuclear war. When nuclear war breaks out, or you have warning that it is about to, get to your shelter immediately. If a nuclear weapon explodes, the fallout can travel miles within minutes after the blast. You need to be in your shelter before the fallout arrives.
How To Survive Nuclear Fallout
Radioactive fallout is extremely dangerous. If you are outside your shelter when the fallout arrives, you will start to be affected by the radioactivity. The longer you are out of your shelter, the more the radioactivity will affect you.
If the fallout arrives before you get to your shelter, go to your shelter immediately. Remove all your clothes and wash skin and hair to remove any radioactive particles that may be on you. Everything that you had outside will be contaminated with radioactive particles. Do not take anything into the shelter without washing it thoroughly first to make sure you have removed any fallout particles.
Remain in your fallout shelter for at least 48 hours after the last nuclear blast. This will give the radiation levels time to drop. When the time comes to leave your shelter, use your Geiger counter to monitor radiation levels. Avoid hotspots where radiation levels are higher.
Long Term Survival After Nuclear War
Once you have survived the nuclear war itself, and the nuclear fallout, you will have to survive in a radically changed world. Being prepared for this well before it happens is the best way to ensure your long term survival.
Our article How To Survive The Apocalypse In Eight Easy Steps takes a look at short and long term survival after a major disaster has wiped out civilisation.