A Strange Thing That Might Save Your Life in A Nuclear Aftermath

Fergus Mason
By Fergus Mason August 21, 2017 08:24

A Strange Thing That Might Save Your Life in A Nuclear Aftermath

Surviving a nuclear attack means preparing in advance and protecting yourself from radioactive fallout for weeks after the weapons go off – but if you’re anywhere near the actual explosions, the actions you take in the first few seconds are going to decide whether anything else even matters. A nuclear weapon has great destructive power and can kill, injure and destroy over a huge area. If you’re inside its destructive radius, and you don’t know how to react, your chances of survival will fall dramatically.

Unlike a conventional explosion, a nuke doesn’t just create a blast wave that can either cause damage directly or throw projectiles out as shrapnel. It does create a blast wave – a massive one – but there are other effects to worry about as well. The first effect is the thermal pulse. This is a surge of electromagnetic radiation, including gamma radiation, X-Rays, UV, visible light and infrared, all traveling out at the speed of light. It carries an incredible amount of energy; close to the explosion it’s powerful enough to melt steel and literally vaporize a human body, and even miles away it can start fires and cause severe burns.

Related: The Best Way to Prepare Your Home for A Nuclear Attack

This is followed by the blast, racing outwards at high supersonic speeds. The blast pushes a wall of high-pressure air in front of it, creating violent winds. As it starts to run of steam it leaves a low-pressure area behind it; eventually the atmosphere will collapse in to equalize the pressure, creating a second, less intense blast front running in the other direction.

Finally, radioactive fallout will start to fall. Fallout is debris that’s sucked up through the fireball created by the explosion. Along the way it’s pulverized into dust, blasted with high-intensity radiation, heated to very high temperatures and mixed with highly radioactive plasma formed from the remains of the weapon – and up to 99% of the weapon’s mass will be left. If the weapon is an airburst there won’t be a large amount of fallout, maybe as little as a couple of hundred pounds in total. On the other hand if the warhead actually impacts, or even if the fireball touches the ground, there can be thousands of tons of it.nuclear fallout map

Fallout can continue to descend for weeks, becoming steadily less radioactive as time goes on. Most of the fallout is blown all the way up into the stratosphere, where high-altitude winds can carry it for thousands of miles. It will take several hours for any of this to make it to the ground. Your immediate problem is larger particles and anything that didn’t make it all the way to the top of the mushroom cloud. This will start coming down within a few minutes of the explosion.

So it’s obvious that, before you start worrying about surviving in the post-nuclear holocaust world, there are a few more immediate dangers to get through. It’s also obvious that there’s nothing you can do to guarantee your survival. If a one-megaton warhead explodes 500 yards from you, you’re dead. In fact you’ll be dead before you even see the flash: At that distance, the energy of the thermal pulse will turn you into plasma faster than a signal can get from your eyes to your brain. With any nuclear explosion there will always be a distance inside which survival is just not possible, and with the largest weapons that exist today that could be as much as two or three miles.

Related: What To Pack In Case of A Nuclear Attack

On the other hand there’s a wide zone between the distance at which a nuclear explosion will kill you and the distance at which it can kill you. For a one megaton warhead that zone might be seven or eight miles wide. If you’re in that zone you have a much better chance of surviving if you know the nuclear Immediate Action (IA) drill.

The IA drill is your response to a nuclear weapon exploding. You’ll know a weapon has gone off because there will be an extremely bright pulse of intense white light, lasting up to ten seconds. There’s no chance of you mistaking this for lighting or a camera flash going off; it will be far too bright and long-lasting. As soon as you notice the flash carry out this drill instantly:

  • Close your eyes. If you’re looking directly at a one-megaton explosion it can cause flash blindness as far away as 13 miles on a clear day; on a clear night, when your pupils are wide open to let more light in, you can be blinded up to 53 miles away. If you are looking in the direction of the blast you can be blinded instantly, but this will probably be temporary and could last anywhere from minutes to a week or two. You still need to avoid permanent damage, so shut your eyes immediately to keep out as much light as possible.
  • Turn towards the flash and drop to the ground, with your head towards the direction of the explosion. Anywhere between a couple of seconds and three or four minutes after the explosion, the blast wave is going to reach you. That brings two dangers. First, the air is going to be full of debris that could be moving at more than 2,000mph. A dime-size fragment of brick at that speed has the energy of a rifle bullet. Lying flat will keep you below most of the debris, because irregularities in the ground tend to catch a lot of the low-flying stuff; having the long axis of your body pointing at the explosion will minimize the area exposed to anything that is skimming the ground.
  • Keeping your head towards the explosion will also protect you from the blast wave itself. Most of your weight is towards the top of your body, and it’s also a more streamlined shape. As the blast wave passes over you it will tend to pin you firmly to the ground. If it catches your lighter legs first it’s much more likely to pick you up and carry you along, and if that happens you have no real chance of survival.
  • Tuck your hands under your body. It’s a natural instinct to shield your head with your hands. Don’t do it. Even a couple of seconds’ exposure to the thermal pulse can cause serious burns; at the very least you’re likely to get the equivalent of moderately bad sunburn. If you get your hands under your body as quickly as possible you’ll minimize their exposure to the pulse, and that’s important. Burns to the top of your head will be painful, but badly burned hands can be a death sentence. If you can’t carry out simple tasks because your hands are covered in third-degree burns, your survival chances drop like a stone. Having your hands under you also makes you more streamlined, and less likely to be picked up by blast.
  • Keep your eyes closed. The thermal pulse is energy radiated by the incredibly hot plasma fireball created by the nuclear reactions inside the weapon. It’s the first thing to escape the explosion, traveling at the speed of light. Inside a second or two the shock front of the blast expands out past the fireball, compressing the air until it’s dense enough to block the pulse. This means the glare of the explosion will fade, enough to be noticed through closed eyelids. Don’t open your eyes! In another couple of seconds the air density will fall and the fireball will be revealed again; this distinctive double pulse is one of the unique features of a nuclear explosion.
  • Wait for the blast waves. How long it takes the blast to reach you depends how far you are from the weapon. It can be as long as two or three minutes, bust resist the temptation to look for cover before it arrives. Stay flat, head towards the explosion, and wait for it to pass over you. When it does, stay down. Even if people are screaming for help nearby, don’t move. Wait for the second blast wave, coming from the other direction. This will be weaker, so there’s no need to turn towards it, but you still don’t want to be caught moving.
  • After the second blast wave, move! As soon as the inwards blast passes over you, get up. You may only have a minute or two before highly radioactive fallout starts coming down, so the priority is to get under cover. Don’t hang around to help people; find something that will keep falling particles off you. If you find something nearby, and you can quickly grab someone and carry them into it, fine – but if you stay in the open for more than a few minutes you’ll almost certainly catch a lethal dose of radiation.
  • If you’re within a minute or two of home go straight there. Take off your clothes and throw them out the door, brush your hair thoroughly to remove any dust, then go into your fallout room, put on clean clothes and get into your inner refuge. Stay in the refuge for at least 48 hours, and in the fallout room for two weeks.
  • If you’re further from home stay under cover for at least two hours. If you have a gas mask with you, put it on and keep it on. Without going into the open, scrounge up anything that will give you some protection. If you don’t have a mask, wrap clean cloth over your mouth and nose. Cover as much bare skin as possible. If you can find heavy boots or galoshes, put them on. Wrap any spare fabric round your feet and lower legs. Most of the radiation from fallout is alpha and beta particles, and thick cloth will block alpha radiation. That makes a big difference; it’s easier to block than beta, but if it does get though it does a lot more damage.
  • Get home as soon as you can. Go directly home. If you can get your hands on a vehicle that’s still running, shut the air vents and drive. If you can’t, try to avoid stirring up dust and walk. When you get home dump your clothes, clean away any dust and get into your inner refuge.

The Immediate Action drill is what you need to carry out if a weapon goes off without warning. What if your town has an air attack alarm and it goes off? There are a few things you can do in the minutes before the explosion. If you’re in a building that hasn’t been prepared, get out. The blast will collapse buildings a lot more easily than it will harm you if you’re flat on the ground; most casualties in urban areas will be injured or killed when a building collapses on them.

Related: The 7 Lost US Nuclear Bombs

There are some places it’s worth sheltering in. Subway tunnels will shield you from the effects of the weapon. Basements can be good shelters if the floor above them is concrete. Narrow trenches are also good, and so are deep drainage ditches. Anything that gets you below ground, but doesn’t risk having a building collapse on you, is good. But if you can’t find safe underground cover, get clear of anything that might be knocked down.

Head for open ground, and when you’re in the middle of it, as far from trees or buildings as possible, stop and wait for the explosion. If there’s water around get in it, and stay under the surface as much as you can. If there’s an obvious target near you, like an airbase or port, lie down with your head facing that way, your hands under your body and your eyes shut. If not, stand there and wait for the flash – then carry out the IA drill.

The nuclear IA drill doesn’t sound like much – lie down and close your eyes? Is that really going to help you when a nuke goes off? Yes, it is. If you’re far enough away from the explosion to avoid instant death, the IA drill will give your chances of surviving a massive boost. It’s also easy to remember. Not many skills are so valuable and yet so simple.

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Claude Davis here. I would like to start a new prepper project and I don't know which one to start. Maybe you can help me. In case of nuclear aftermath what do you think you will need the most?
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Fergus Mason
By Fergus Mason August 21, 2017 08:24
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  1. txrancher August 21, 14:06

    WOW, that’s pretty much the same drill I received when I first joined the army in the 50s. Great to see that it is still the best survival information around.

    Reply to this comment
    • RR August 24, 00:21

      Just act like it is danger close. After doing what the author says’ close all windows and shut all curtains :
      then take potassium iodide (not mentioned, if at home),
      then cover as much of your home openings with plastic ahd duct tape, the find the room with food and water and seal yourself in with as much coverings as possible. (ie spsce blankets) (but hey I’m just a dernned ole carpenter!

      Reply to this comment
  2. left coast chuck August 21, 16:22

    You might want to get in the habit of always wearing a hat while outside, even women. A badly burned head causes all kinds of problems. I have very thin (almost non-existent) hair on the top of my head and know whereof I speak from practical, bad experience. As an aside, why is it all life’s lessons seem to be hard ones?

    A hat will significantly lessen burns. It will also lessen the chance of your hair catching fire from a burning ember blown by the wind. It will protect your head somewhat from flying debris. A hat with a wide brim will also protect your face. An umbrella will help protect from fallout although it might look like an affectation in SoCal to be carrying a brolly in August.

    This article has some good, practical advice.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Miranda August 21, 17:35

    Can someone tell me how to protect my 2 toddlers i got. I got a 1 yr old and a 2yr old. I got survival skills

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck August 21, 22:21

      Where are you in relation to a major military installation, a large city, sea-going ship port or a nuclear generating plant? The steps you need to take really are target dependent. Once we have identified distance from target, one of us can better outline steps to take.

      Reply to this comment
      • Marlione August 21, 23:30

        What if you’re no where near a major military overlain

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        • left coast chuck August 22, 00:14

          Well, if you are not located near a major military installation, a major city, a major sea-going port nor a nuclear generating plant, then you are in hog heaven. All you have to be prepared for is the electric grid going down and any other natural events which interrupt life.

          There are some areas of the country where fallout from a nuclear attack will be minimal and by the time the fallout reaches that area, in all but a very few instances, it will have degraded to high but not harmful levels.

          We are all exposed to a certain amount of ambient radiation every day. Airline crews get more radiation than folks who rarely fly. I have read that the ambient radiation levels in the capitol building in Washington are higher than in other areas of Washington due to the granite the capitol building is constructed from which may explain the irrational behavior of so many of our elected and bureaucratic officials. They suffer from radioactive degradation of the brain.

          Everyone is all a dither about the crackpot in North Korea. Personally, I think that every time he fires a rocket, we have seen all of his stockpile. It’s not like you can go down to Costco and pick up a dozen ICBMs for a discount rate. ICMBs and other missiles are d’d expensive and tricky to make. We have had 60 years’ experience and still have rockets blow up. So I don’t think we will see a massive ICBM attack from Fatso.

          I do think we could well see a sneak attack from some unexpected direction from him directed at our electric system. That would be far more devastating, in my opinion, that four or five ICBMs delivering nuclear warheads.

          In my opinion, any country or entity launching an attack against the U.S. that would reach the levels of an overwhelming attack will want to hide their identity until that attack has had its full effect. It’s is hard to hide an ICBM launch these days. Any entity doing so against the U.S. can expect a massive response that will be the end of that entity. That’s why Fatboy folded when Trump raised the stakes. He knew he was only holding a pair of threes and Trump had a full house laying on the table in front of him.

          Reply to this comment
      • Bonnie August 22, 13:05

        I live I Caroline county VA near Fort A.P. Hill in between DC and Richmond. It’s a pretty rural area, but of what’s around it I’m concerned. What do you think? Oh and to top it off I live in a mobile home… Not a good combo huh?

        Reply to this comment
        • Left coast chuck August 22, 17:47

          The District of Corruption is a prime target. Not to denigrate Richmond, but in my opinion, it is not high on the target list. For an EMP attack, the prime location is Kansas. However, the blast/heat/radiation effect from an EMP bomb is reduced by the distance the EMP device will be set off. From what I have read, 350 miles above Kansas is regarded as the prime location for an EMP explosion. If you read the above article, 350 miles away pretty much lessens the blast/heat effect. Folks who happen to be outside at the time of the event will be seriously affected, anybody inside anything other than a tent will be pretty much safe from the radiation effect.

          In the event of an EMP event, we all will be affected. Texas may be spared. They are not tied to the grid that the rest of the country is connected to. They may be just far enough away for the effect to be minimized. Most of the suppositions about the effect of an EMP type blast are based on the device working as designed. We all know a lot of times, especially with weapons, the theory is strong, the application is weak. But assuming worst case, we all will be in the same sinking boat.

          While it is well to be aware of necessary steps to take in the event of a surface atomic device, I feel the chances of that are no greater than they have ever been. To have the stockpile that Russia, China and the U.S have takes a lot of money. North Korea doesn’t have a lot of money. Iran has a lot of money and potentially could build a dangerous stockpile of ICBMs. I don’t think they are there yet.

          Actually, Bonnie, if your mobile home is up off the ground as most of the ones I have seen are, you can shelter under your mobile home. I don’t know enough about mobile home construction to be able to intelligently tell you how to proceed and I don’t know if you own the lot or not, so that has a bearing. If you own the lot, I would see about excavating under the mobile home to a depth of about four feet. I would build berms around the edges of the mobile home to block air flow to the excavation. Now this is the tricky part. I don’t know if it is essential to have air flow under a mobile home or not. You really need to consult with someone who knows what he or she is talking about with regard to my so-called “advice”. BUT if I had a warning that a general ICBM attack was on its way, I would grab my entrenching tool and get busy under my mobile home as I outlined and not worry about building codes and proper ventilation.

          I don’t think a mobile home is a huge handicap. Sure, having 100 acres abutting a National Forest would be ideal, but most of us don’t have that luxury.

          Reply to this comment
          • Bonnie August 24, 19:19

            Thanks Chuck, I appreciate the advice. I don’t own the lot unfortunately. But my dad has a mobile on 10 acres about 10 minutes from me that has a concrete foundation around the bottom with a small doorway to get under to fix pipes and what not. Sounds better to me plus his is not as old as mine and a bit sturdier. So I’d probably head there. That and the fact he’s old school knows a lot of old school ways that I don’t. His grandfather born 1897 raised him on a farm. He’s well armed, an awesome mechanic can fix anything, and I know he’d protect me. He’s capable of just about anything. Much more armed and prepared for anything. With his mom and grandfather going through the depression and raising him dirt poor (he didn’t even have running water til he was out on his own at 19) I know he knows a lot. My grandma used to tell me what this and that plant was for. She instilled a love of plants in me taught me how to grow bout anything and why it was needed at a young age and it stuck. So I know he knows so so much more. If something like that happened he’d never leave his home. Again thanks for the advice. Now I know going to my dad’s is a good idea and what to do to do to prepare ahead of time.

            Reply to this comment
  4. Ready Lifestyle August 23, 02:34

    I recently wrote an article about surviving a nuclear attack. We have a few differing ideas (you can check it out here: http://readylifestyle.com/how-to-survive-a-nuclear-attack/) but the idea is the pretty much the same.

    One thing to note is the size of the fallout. Up close to the blast (several miles) you’re going to have all sizes of contaminated particulates raining down on you. After you get further out the size of the particulates will be larger (and heavier) meaning that it’ll be less likely to inhale them if you’re exposed to fallout in the 12-24 hour time frame.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck August 23, 04:42

      I read the reference you posted. Overall, it is well written with good common sense. There is one point I would like to make. If any of you have been to Hiroshima, the symbolic image of the atomic blast at the Peace Memorial was at or very close to ground zero. It wasn’t vaporized or even totally destroyed. It was heavily damaged but survived because it was steel reinforced concrete. One of the reasons why Hiroshima was so heavily damaged was because: A. The landscape encompassing Hiroshima is relatively flat, thus allowing more blast effect to spread. B. Japanese homes and many commercial buildings were constructed of light weight wood. This was a building choice used to lessen the chance of serious injury in the frequent earthquakes that occur in Japan. Interior walls in Japanese homes are usually paper. Those factors allowed far more damage from the blast effect. C. A considerable portion of the damage and burn injuries was subsequent fire in the wooden and paper buildings that totally overwhelmed the poorly equipped fire fighting forces in Japan. My wife lived through the fire bombing of Tokyo and Yokohama and residential fire fighting technique consisted of everyone in the neighborhood fighting the fires with mops and buckets of water. Another of the reasons why those two cities also suffered so much damage in the fire bombings.

      Any modern city in the U.S., other than a strictly residential city has far more modern buildings, constructed of reinforced concrete and structural steel. They will tend to ameliorate the blast and heat effect. On the other hand, we love our glass walls. The casualties from flying glass will be horrendous. What a Hobson’s choice, burned to death or cut to shreds by flying glass. Shattered glass will rip through offices like fire from the gatling gun in a C-47 or C-130. Nothing will escape the barrage.

      Good, well written article, Ready, thanks for posting the link. I hope to visit your website frequently.

      Reply to this comment
  5. DRM September 16, 14:46

    Curious; arse to the blast was at one time the recommendation, I believe, versus head to the blast. What would be your commentary on the aforementioned?

    Reply to this comment
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