Nuclear bomb attacks are unlikely, but still they are a very real possibility. North Korea regularly threatens with development of nuclear weapons, Iran has broken the terms of a deal to limit its nuclear activities and continues to exceed the deal’s limits on its nuclear material stockpiles and increase its uranium enrichment and the US formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force treaty in 2019. There is also a small but significant threat of terrorist nuclear attacks if a terrorist organisation is able to obtain materials needed to assemble a nuclear bomb.
If you are outside the blast zone of a nuclear bomb, you have a good chance of being able to survive, as long as you know how to protect yourself from the fallout.
What Will Happen When A Nuclear Bomb Explodes?
A nuclear explosion causes six events: a blinding flash of light, a wave of burning heat, a wave of nuclear radiation, a fireball, a blast of fast-moving air, and radioactive fallout.
The flash of light, wave of heat and wave of nuclear radiation happen almost instantaneously. The fireball and blast of fast moving air follow quickly, and finally the radioactive fallout will arrive several minutes after the explosion and can continue for a very long period of time.
Most of the destruction caused by a nuclear bomb is due to the blast of fast moving air and the wave of heat that travel outwards from the explosion. The danger to people from a nuclear bomb explosion is not only from the destructive effects of the air blast and heat wave, but also from the wave of nuclear radiation and the radioactive fallout.
The blast of air and wave of heat from the nuclear bomb explosion causes very severe damage close to where the nuclear bomb exploded, but the severity reduces as the distance from the nuclear bomb explosion increases. The intensity of the wave of radiation also decreases as distance from the nuclear bomb explosion increases, however the radioactive fallout can travel long distances and can be dangerous for a very long time. The damage caused by a nuclear bomb explosion is classified in to three zones: severe, moderate and light damage zones.
The severe damage zone is the closest area to the nuclear bomb explosion, and will extend up to approximately half a mile in each direction from the centre of the explosion for a 10 kiloton nuclear bomb. Most buildings within the severe damage zone will be reduced to rubble, and people in this zone will be exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. Survival within this zone is unlikely unless well protected in a substantial or underground structure.
The intermediate damage zone of a nuclear bomb explosion is a ring outside the severe damage zone, and will extend for around another half mile in every direction outside the severe damage zone. This zone is subject to very large amounts of thermal damage caused by the wave of heat from the nuclear bomb explosion, with the air blast effects reduced from the severe damage zone, but still significant. Radiation exposure in this zone will still be at very high levels, although survival is more likely if protected within a substantial and ideally below ground structure.
Outside the intermediate damage zone, the light damage zone can extend for several miles. This zone will still see destruction and damage from the nuclear bomb explosion, but less than in the intermediate damage zone. Survival of the nuclear bomb explosion in this zone is likely within structures and protected from fallout.
In addition to the destruction and radiation exposure caused by the nuclear bomb explosion, the nuclear bomb explosion will also generate radioactive fallout. Radioactive fallout is material that is thrown in to the air by the nuclear bomb explosion, including particles from the remnants of the bomb itself as well as irradiated soil particles thrown up by the explosion. The radioactive fallout will begin to fall to the ground several minutes after the nuclear bomb explosion. It may continue to fall to the ground for days and months after the nuclear bomb explosion, however the most dangerous period is the 72 hours following the explosion. Radioactive fallout is extremely dangerous, and can lead to lethal doses of radiation even many days after the nuclear bomb explosion.
The radioactive fallout travels with the wind, and so will not fall to earth in a symmetrical pattern around the site of the nuclear bomb explosion, but instead will fall to the ground in an area generally downwind of the nuclear bomb explosion. Some of the radioactive fallout will travel very high in to the atmosphere, so the area affected may be spread very widely and in different directions if the air is moving in different directions high in the atmosphere compared to at surface level.
How To Survive A Nuclear Bomb Explosion
The most important thing anyone can do to survive a nuclear bomb explosion is to shelter. If there is a warning before the nuclear bomb explodes, there will be more time to find a good place to shelter from the effects of the nuclear bomb, however even if there is no warning and you are outside the immediate blast zone of the nuclear bomb, finding shelter as quickly as possible will protect you from the lethal effects of the radioactive fallout.
Dense material provides the best protection from the effects of the radiation, so sheltering in the basement of a large building will provide the best protection. If there is no basement, the next best option for shelter is the centre of a large building, such as an office building with several storeys, or an apartment building. The centre of the lowest floor, in a room with no windows and away from external walls provides the best protection from the effects of the nuclear bomb, including the radioactive fallout.
A car provides no protection from the radiation, so you should never attempt to escape from a nuclear bomb by car, or out in the open. Getting to a shelter as soon as possible is the only way to protect yourself from the lethal effects of the radiation.
The radioactive fallout is at its most dangerous during the 72 hours after the nuclear bomb explosion, so to survive the fallout, stay sheltered for at least 72 hours, preferably longer. If possible, wash yourself and change in to clean clothes that have not been exposed to any radioactive fallout. This will remove any radioactive particles from your skin and clothes.
Prepping For A Nuclear Bomb
As with all disaster scenarios, prepping for a nuclear bomb should start with a plan.
Identify locations where you would shelter if a nuclear bomb explodes. These should be places that are suitable for sheltering from a nuclear bomb; large buildings with either a basement, or rooms at the centre of the ground floor with no windows and away from external walls. If there are no large buildings like that where you live, even a house provides better protection than nothing – the lowest floor, away from windows is the safest place. Your nuclear fallout shelters should also be locations that you can get to very quickly, within no more than a few minutes walk (and a minute or two run) from home, work or any other places you spend a lot of time. Make sure you know the routes to the buildings, and practice the routes with your bug out bag so you know you can get to your shelter quickly.
You will need to remain in the shelter for at least 72 hours after the nuclear bomb explosion to avoid the worst effects of the radioactive fallout. Therefore, you will also need to be able to survive for 72 hours with only the supplies you can take with you and anything that is already in the shelter. A good bug out bag should include enough to be able to survive for 72 hours, apart from clean water. Most bug out bags rely on water purification methods rather than carrying large amounts of water. In the case of a nuclear bomb explosion, you should only be travelling a very short distance to the best nearby shelter, so carrying clean water is less of a problem than if you had to travel further. Store a large container of water next to your bug out bag so that you can grab it and take it to your shelter in the event of a nuclear bomb.