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A Nuclear War Might Seem Implausible, But How Many Of Us Expected A Global Pandemic?
In the category of disasters, natural disasters are all too common. There’s rarely a year where we don’t hear about hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, wildfires, and now a pandemic. But manmade disasters seem to be less frequent and often under-reported.
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In actual fact, there are random wars and civil wars going on right now all around the world. Terrorism appears to be on the rise and we’re on the brink of a significant economic crisis. Against that background, it’s hard to believe a nuclear war could enter the equation, but if one thing has become apparent across 2020, it’s that anything is possible.
But Nuclear War?
It’s fair to assume that most preppers are prepared for a range of disasters. But there are some preparations that are unique to a nuclear event but not common to most disaster planning. And this isn’t about constructing a bomb shelter. We’ll cover that in another article.
This is about understanding what supplies and equipment you might need and how to use them if confronted with a nuclear event.
And It’s Not Just About War
We live in a nuclear world. Every developed nation has nuclear power plants. Many countries have nuclear arms stockpiled. Bombers patrol the skies routinely carrying a full load of nuclear arms, and so do just as many submarines. And that’s a problem.
The Past as Precedent
It doesn’t take a nuclear war to create a nuclear disaster. There are too many events from the past where a nuclear threat has emerged, often by accident. Here are just a few to make the point.
The Goldsboro North Carolina Broken Arrow– 1961
In 1961, a B-52 bomber broke up over North Carolina. It crashed on a farm. The crash caused two hydrogen bombs to fall on the area. They did not detonate. One of the bombs was recovered intact. The other bomb was only partially recovered. Its nuclear core is still buried under 200 feet of dirt and mud.
After a military study, they found that one of the bombs—hanging from its parachute in a tree—had advanced through 6 of the 7 steps to detonation. Only one trigger stopped the detonation and that trigger was set to ARM.
According to Robert McNamara the Secretary of Defense at the time, “Only by the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross – a nuclear explosion was averted.” The fallout would have been devastating to the East coast.
According to the Pentagon more than three-dozen accidents in which bombers either crashed or caught fire on the runway resulted in nuclear contamination from a damaged, destroyed, or lost bomb.
Three-Mile-Island 1979, Chernobyl 1986 and Fukushima 2011
Nuclear accidents at nuclear power plants represent another level of nuclear threat. Whether the accident was the result of faulty equipment, incompetence, or a natural disaster like a tsunami, the impact of a nuclear accident represents a threat to people in the surrounding areas both short-term and long term.
The only good news is that these events tend to be somewhat localized and long-term solutions usually require the permanent evacuation of people living in the surrounding area, or the reassurance that the threat has been neutralized.
Unfortunately, neutralization of a nuclear threat is a highly generalized promise and Japan continues to release radioactively contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima meltdown.
And It Doesn’t Stop There
There have been numerous close calls where a nuclear war was almost initiated by accident as a result of mistakes at early warning sites, misunderstood military acts and exercises, and even the innocent launch of a scientific satellite. With so many fingers on the nuclear trigger, it’s a minor miracle that we haven’t had a catastrophic nuclear event.
Related: How to Avoid Radiation Poisoning When the Unthinkable Happens
The Risks are Significant and Severe
Most natural disasters are predictable. We can see them coming and evacuate. Those people who do are fortunate.
Most manmade disasters are less predictable, but they do seem to evolve, giving people time to bug out. Those people are sometimes referred to as refugees.
Nuclear events are rarely as predictable. They tend to happen suddenly without warning, and the results often make rapid evacuation highly dangerous if not impossible. In that event, those people are trapped.
Complicating matters would be any attempts for last-minute preparations for a nuclear accident or war. If you think toilet paper was hard to come by this last Spring, try and find a Geiger counter after a nuclear event occurs.
The 5 Imminent Nuclear Risks
Any nuclear incident delivers imminent threats that are not only severe but also unseen and hard to detect. The effects of these threats are what you need to prepare for both in terms of knowledge and supplies. All 5 occur after a nuclear detonation, and others can occur after smaller-scale events like an accident at a nuclear power plant.
A nuclear bomb represents the worst-case scenario. The destructive force of a nuclear detonation goes well beyond the blast of the explosion. When a conventional bomb explodes, what’s done is done for the most part. When a nuclear bomb explodes, the devastation comes in waves and the effects spread and linger.
1. Flash (Thermal Radiation)
The flash from a nuclear detonation is the first threat and travels at the speed of light. The thermal radiation that accompanies the flash causes intense heat. Anyone exposed to the flash could suffer first, second, or third-degree burns depending on their location and exposure. Anyone looking at the flash could be permanently blinded.
The flash is so intense that even everyday objects in Hiroshima left permanent shadows on walls.
2. EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse)
An electromagnetic pulse also travels at the speed of light. It destroys electronics unless they are shielded in a specific way (Faraday cage). It does not affect humans directly but can have a significant effect on things around you that you need to survive.
This includes all electronics whether operational, idle, unused, or powered off. Electronics with circuit boards are the most vulnerable. Computers fall into that category.
The result could be total grid failure and failure of all electronic communication across a wide area. To make matters worse an EMP can stretch for hundreds and hundreds of miles, well beyond the blast zone.
Related: EMP Prepping: How To Build A Reliable Faraday Cage
3. Radioactive burst
It’s not just about the fallout. An atomic explosion sends out a burst of radioactivity that destroys cells and typically leads to cancer even in small doses due to its effects on DNA. This burst of radioactivity accompanies the flash, and anyone exposed to the initial flash will receive a dose of radiation as well.
4. Shock Wave
Any bomb delivers a shock wave. The shock wave from a nuclear detonation is exponentially greater.
The affected distance is less than the first three threats, but exposed people and structures up to 5 miles away will suffer from total destruction to severe damage following a 5-megaton blast.
Most atomic bombs today would probably arrive on missiles and they tend to be smaller, up to about 450 kilotons, although it’s sobering to consider that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was small by comparison at 5 kilotons
The most insidious stage of a nuclear detonation. It’s caused by radioactive, particulate matter thrust high into the atmosphere, usually caused by a ground burst and carried by prevailing westerly winds spreading radioactivity far beyond the blast zone. It will cause radiation burns and damage to both cells and DNA.
And it’s not just about radioactivity from a nuclear explosion. We’ve done it to ourselves from Chernobyl to Fukushima to Atomic testing in the southwestern United States—radioactivity has been a regular companion.
General estimates indicate that people should remain sheltered for at least 24 hours to 14 days if the fallout is in the area. That time frame can vary widely depending on a number of factors.
Radio alerts from CONELRAD and measurements from your Geiger counter can help you evaluate this determination. The standard recommendation is that you only go outside when absolutely necessary and try to limit your time outside. That all depends on the extent of the event.
Nuclear Specific Supplies
Here are some of the supplies that are unique to surviving a nuclear event. There are also a couple that you may already have on hand that can perform a unique function in the event of a nuclear disaster.
A basic Geiger counter to measure radiation. It doesn’t have to be industrial strength. There are economical models that measure radiation accurately. You use it to Identify fallout threats in your immediate area. Fallout is essentially dust in the wind, and it can diminish or concentrate in one area to the next.
Phone Solar Panels
There is also an App for the iPhone that will turn your phone into a Geiger counter. Phone service is another question, but regardless, you should take the time to get the app and make sure you have a solar recharger for your phone.
Personal Dosimeter Meter. These are usually small, pocket-sized meters that have a clip and attach like a pen. It measures an individual’s total exposure to radioactivity over a period of time. It’s not always possible to accurately assess radiation in an area, let alone total exposure. A dosimeter tells you when you or someone else is approaching dangerous over-exposure to radiation. You should have one for each member of your group.
Hazmat Suit. Don’t leave home without it. Especially in the weeks and even months following a nuclear detonation or accident. You should also take the time to understand how and where to store it, what to do after you return home, and before you come in contact with others (hose it off thoroughly), and its limitations.
It does not protect you from intense radiation, so make sure you read about it and understand its potential and use.
Hazmat masks. This isn’t about the masks we wear to the grocery store during the pandemic. These are designed to filter out all particulate matter (fallout) and anything else in the air that could introduce radiation to your mouth, nasal passages. or lungs.
Knowing how and when to change the filters is also important so do some homework. Even without a full hazmat suit, they’re a good idea outdoors after any nuclear event.
Potassium Iodide Tablets. Also known as radiation pills, but be forewarned. These are not magical pills that protect your entire body from radiation. They protect the thyroid gland where radiation (radioactive iodine) tends to congregate after any exposure to radiation.
You should take them regularly even in protected areas, and especially children. Here again, do some research to understand dosage, usage, and side-effects.
Expedition Level First Aid Kit
Expedition Level First-Aid Kit. This is a serious first aid kit. It has to be. After a nuclear event, it is quite likely that hospitals and medical professionals will be overwhelmed. It may take a long time to get medical attention, if at all. You may need to administer first aid beyond the usual, everyday injuries.
Also, keep an eye on how many injuries a kit can treat. Some kits have items for one-time use. It may be a while before you can restock anything, so think ahead. You should also take some time to learn some advanced first aid skills and have a first aid book dedicated to nuclear incidents and their treatment.
First Aid Kit
First-Aid Burn Kit. Radiation burns are a common injury after a nuclear detonation. They can also occur as a result of conventional fires from the shock wave. This should also be an expedition level kit that allows you to treat multiple burns over a period of time.
First Aid Eye Care Kit
Eye First Aid Supplies. Eye injuries are also common after a nuclear detonation from the flash of the detonation to dust and other particulate matter lingering in the air and on the ground from the blast. Double-check to make sure there are enough supplies to treat multiple eye injuries over a period of time.
Activated charcoal tablets. A standard treatment for radiation sickness caused by over-exposure to radiation. It offers only symptomatic relief can remove toxins from the body over time. It’s available as an over-the-counter medication at most pharmacies or can be bought online.
Solar Hand Crank Radio
A radio that can be recharged with both solar cells and a hand-cranked generator built-in. It may be your only source for news and information. Make sure it has a CONELRAD setting which can provide updates on fallout and local status.
Duct Tape Roll
Duct tape. Common and a standard item for preparing for anything, but duct tape is the best and fastest way to seal seams and gaps around doors and windows to prevent dusty fallout from seeping into your home.
It can also be used to seal or repair seams around a hazmat suit. If you plan to seal your entire home, make sure you have enough.
Faraday boxes. A Faraday box protects electronics from an electromagnetic pulse. They’re easy to make. Just line a large, metal garbage can with sheets of cardboard. Put electronics in the can and cover with the lid. You can also buy Faraday fabric for custom constructions.
The Internet was originally designed to survive global thermonuclear war, but just in case–you might want to have some of these books on hand.
Nuclear War Survival Skills for all of the possibilities.
The U.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Survival Manual in case you’re wondering how the pro’s do it.
Surviving Nuclear Radiation Fallout: A Handbook for dealing with the long-term effects of any nuclear incident.
Burn Care: Recovery, First Aid, Preventing including treatments for severe burns.
It’s All A Matter of Degree
How much you prepare and how much you spend for nuclear war survival is directly proportional to your location, budget, and your personal level of concern. Cities are more likely targets for a nuclear detonation, but fallout can travel far and wide on prevailing winds.
There’s also a question of whether you choose to build a dedicated bomb shelter and whether or not you’ve assembled other supplies to survive other types of disasters. These are basic budgetary considerations and you can go broke trying to prepare for everything.
Then again, disasters do happen and the current pandemic caught more than a few people by surprise. Can a nuclear war occur? Hopefully not. But if you look at it from a statistical standpoint in the category of others disasters, it begs an old and painful question. Is it a matter of “if” or a matter of “when?”
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Illini Warrior says
a hazmat suit and detecting radiation won’t mean a thing if you can’t decontaminate yourself after venturing outside >>> think about prepping materials to DIY construct a 3 stage decontamination shower and changing area …..
Bruce Smith says
Great post, I hadn’t even considered accidents and plane crashes in this scenario. Wasn’t aware of the incident in the 60’s either until now, food for thought.
I recently bought the GQ GMC300E Radiation Detector and I really hope I never need it, though I suspect by the time I realise that I do it need it….it might be too late.