How To Survive The First Hour Of A Nuclear Blast / Fallout! DEBUNKED
“EMERGENCY ALERT: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” This message from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency flooded the cell phones of locals in Hawaii on January 13th 2018. Those listening to the radio or watching TV were told: “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.” Understandably, chaos ensued. There were reports of hotels evacuating residents, parents and children lying under mattresses in bathtubs, and people stuck in traffic abandoning their cars. Others ignored the advice to stay indoors Yet the seconds passed and there was no missile, no explosion, no nuclear annihilation. 38 minutes after the initial emergency broadcast, the following message came through: “EMERGENCY ALERT: THERE IS NO MISSILE THREAT OR DANGER TO THE STATE OF HAWAII. REPEAT. FALSE ALARM” The whole thing had been a mistake. Someone had selected the wrong option during a routine check, turning a test scenario in to a live scenario. But what if the alert was real? The situation has played out in TV and movies for years, but what will it actually be like and what should you really do? Will a nuke automatically obliterate your entire city? Will the flash incinerate your retinas? Where is the safest place to hide? Or should or you simply “Duck & Cover”? (Audio song from video) I’m Stu, this is Debunked, where we sort the truths from the myths and the facts from the misconceptions. Fortunately for most of humanity, nuclear weapons have only ever been used in warfare twice, back in 1945, when the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan at the end of World War Two. “ONLY A FEW HOURS BEFORE IT WAS WIPED OUT, HIROSHIMA WAS EFFICIENTLY PREPARING FOR AN AIR RAID.” “IN SURFACE SHELTERS THE PEOPLE CALMLY WAITED, ALL UNAWARE THAT ALREADY DESCENDING UPON THEM WAS THE ATOM BOMB!” The first bomb, that fell on Hiroshima, code named Little Boy, exploded with the force of between 12,000 and 15,000 tons of TNT, and immediately wiped out an area of 13 square kilometers. The fire ball it produced was 370 metres across, with a surface temperature of 6,000C – that’s about the same as the surface of the Sun. The results of both bombs were catastrophic, with an estimated 185,000 deaths as a result of the attacks. Perhaps the most miraculous story that came out of the atomic bombings is that of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who saw a Bomber in the sky while on a business trip in Hiroshima on August 6th 1945 when suddenly… “I THOUGHT THE SUN HAD FALLEN FROM THE SKY” He had just enough time to throw himself into a ditch, and, even though he was just 3km away from the centre of the blast, he survived, albeit seriously burned, temporarily blind and with burst eardrums. He returned home, to Nagasaki, just in time to live through the second atomic bomb three days later. This time he was in an office and, once again he somehow managed to survive, in part thanks to a reinforced stairwell that reduced the ferocity of the blast in the building. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether he’s the luckiest or unluckiest man in history. Yet, while Mr. Yamaguchi is the only recognised survivor of both attacks, a documentary made in 2006 discovered a further 165 fellow citizens who lived through both bombings. In fact, despite the death and devastation, the vast majority of people living in either city survived, with approximately 71% of the population in Hiroshima, and 76% in Nagasaki making it through the attack. This should give us all hope that should the unthinkable happen, we might just make it out alive. Now, some of you are probably thinking nukes have come a long way since World War 2. And you wouldn’t be wrong. The most powerful nuclear weapon ever created, the Tsar Bomba, was detonated by the USSR in 1961. The blast it produced was 50 Megatonnes, that’s more than 3,000 Hiroshimas, or 10 times the total munitions used in World War Two. Even if you’d stood 100km away you’d have got third degree burns. Now, I’ve got some very bad news and some slightly less bad news. The very bad is that Russia is currently developing a 100 Megatonne nuclear torpedo. That’s double a Tsar Bomba. If one of those nuclear torpedos hit New York city, then 8 million people would be killed. However, the slightly less bad news is that back in 2011, when the US government produced a report looking at how authorities should respond to a nuclear attack, and they weren’t concentrating on such overpowered weapons. Instead, their focus was on smaller, improvised nuclear devices or INDs, the sort of device likely to be used by a politcal or idealogical organization and, thus, one people like us are more likely to deal with. As the report itself noted: “A low-yield explosion from an IND is quite different from Cold War strategic thermonuclear detonation scenarios upon which much of our current understanding and civil defense planning are based” Ultimately though, your chances of survival boil down to two factors; The yield of the bomb being detonated and your proximity to Ground Zero. And your immediate response to the attack. Let’s examine each of these factors in turn. The yield of a nuclear weapon is a reference to the energy it releases, the bigger the yield the more powerful the bomb, usually given in kilotons or megatons of TNT. It’s the yield of the bomb that will decide how likely you are to die in an instant, or live to see Mad Max become your new reality. While we’re here, let’s take a moment to dispel a common misconception about the damage dealt by a powerful nuclear bomb. It’s logical to assume that a bomb 1000 times more powerful than another would do 1000 times the damage, but this isn’t the case. A bomb 1000 times as powerful as the one that hit Hiroshima, would produce equally serious blast damage over an area 130 times as large, not 1000 times as large. Of course, factors like weapon design, whether it explodes on the surface or in the air, the geography of the location or even just the weather, can have an impact on the ultimate outcome of the blast. Looking back again at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even though the second bomb was more powerful, the hills around Nagasaki helped absorb some of the damage, leading to fewer casualties. So, let’s take a look at the scenario considered most likely – the detonation of a 10 kiltoton nuclear device. For the sake of argument, we’ll say ground zero is here, Centre Point in London, and the bomb is detonated at surface level. The yellow circle is the fireball, which has a radius of about 200m for our relatively modest bomb. Remember, the surface temperature of the fireball is similar to that of our Sun and deeper inside that fireball, at the point of detonation, the temperature is actually millions of degrees Celsius. Needless to say, getting caught within this area means an extremely quick death. The red circle is what I like to call – the super shock wave. Here the pressure of the blast is so great that most buildings are destroyed, and while humans can physically withstand the pressure, the hurricane-force winds combined with flying debris mean almost all people in this area are killed. For our IND this is 470m from the centre of the explosion. Moving further out, we see the extent of the blue circle, which illustrates the medium strength shock wave. You’re likely to find most residential buildings have collapsed, numerous fatalities and extensive injuries amongst those who somehow managed to survive. We’re now approaching almost 1 kilometer from ground zero. At 1.25km we’re reaching the limit of the extreme radiation. Within this green circle, people are absorbing doses of radiation 800 times greater than the average American is exposed to in an entire year. What this means in practice, is death rates of between 50% to 90%, from radiation poisoning leading to painful deaths lasting anywhere from just a few hours to several weeks. Expect to suffer from nausea and headaches to begin with, followed by your hair falling out, bleeding and increased chance of infection if you make it beyond the first few days. Then, finally, the orange circle, which extends just over 1.4km from ground zero, shows the thermal radiation produced by the blast. “THE ATOM BOMB DESTROYS BY HEAT. PEOPLE CAUGHT IN THE OPEN MORE THAN 2 MILES AWAY SUFFERED ‘FLASH BURNS'” “YET, PROTECTION COULD HAVE BEEN EASILY ACHIEVED.” “HERE A BRIDGE POST A RAIL, SHIELDED THE SURFACE BEHIND IT. ANY SOLID MATERIAL AFFORDED SIMILAR PROTECTION.” The heat is so intense that third-degree burns are almost inevitable, these can be fatal in themselves or require amputation. Even beyond this area, first- and second-degree burns are likely due to the immense heat. All told, an area of 6.2 square kilometers would be have been decimated by the hypothetical IND. Approximately 30,000 people would have died with 75,000 more injured. Some estimates of the death toll in such densely populated areas are far more distressing, coming in at 100,000. According to Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, even at 13 kilometers there’s between a 10 to 20% chance of dying instantly from a 10 kiloton device. Let’s take a quick look at scenario 2, what would have happened if the Tsar Bomba had been detonated at the same place in London. Unsurprisingly, a bomb 5,000 times more powerful produces annihilation, with over 4.5 million estimated fatalities and 3 million injured. The thermal radiation from the fireball even gets close to Oxford and Cambridge. It’s probably best not to think what those doomsday torpedoes the Russians are currently working on could do. Regardless of how powerful the bomb is, if you get caught in this area your chances of survival are going to take a significant hit, with them reaching rock bottom if you happen to be unlucky enough to find yourself close to the fireball at ground zero. To make matters worse, we haven’t even looked at the effects of nuclear fallout yet, but fear not, because this is where knowing what to do in the first hour of a nuclear attack might just mean the difference between life and death. Right, so now it’s time to look at the second factor that will determine your chances of survival, how you respond to the attack. “AN ATOM BOMB DESTROYS OR INJURES IN 3 WAYS: BY BLAST, HEAT, AND RADIOACTIVITY,” “THESE THEN, ARE THE WEAPONS OF THE ATOM BOMB, THAT WE MUST PROECT AGAINST.” According to Jeff Schlegelmilch, deputy director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. “If you see a nuclear flash, the first thing to do is get behind a barrier in case the shock wave comes” – Jeff Schlegelmilch. Bear in mind, the shockwave is travelling at hundreds of kilometres an hour, so you won’t have long to find cover. When Yamaguchi took shelter in a nearby ditch however the shock wave lifted him up off of the ground spun him around like a tornado and threw him in to a nearby field. Radiation safety specialist, Brooke Buddemeier, recommends sheltering behind something that is structurally sound. “When I think of where I would go for protection from prompt effects, and from the blast wave in particular, I think of the same kinds of things that we do for tornadoes,” “Be in an area where if there’s a dramatic jolt, things aren’t going to fall on you,” If you do manage to survive the shockwave, things, sadly, don’t get much easy. It’s now a real race against time. Essentially, when the bomb goes off the explosion creates an immense amount of dust and debris, which combines with the radioactive products that result from the nuclear reaction at the heart of the bomb. This radioactive dirt is drawn upward into the sky by the intense heat, this is where you’ll usually see that distinctive mushroom cloud. However, as those radioactive particles cool they make their way back to the ground and that Fallout means trouble for you. “You will have some time to take action to keep you and your family safe. The biggest thing, get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned.” Lawrence Livermore National Lab The likelihood is that you’ll have somewhere between 10 to 20 minutes to find shelter To make matters worse, you might also be blind – turns out explosions that are basically miniature suns are a bit overwhelming for your eyesight. Fortunately, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s website, this lack of vision should only last about a minute. Unfortunately, if the attack happens at night and you’re out in the dark, the blindness might last up to 35 minutes. For the sake of argument we’ll say our hypothetical situation takes place during the day, since not being blind makes it a lot easier to find shelter. I’m also going to assume that you haven’t been preparing for the end of the world and built your own state-of-the-art fallout shelter. “SHOULDN’T YOU BE IN YOUR SHELTER-INIES BY NOW?” “WE HAVEN’T GOT SHELTER-INIES!” It’s a pretty safe assumption, even at the height of the Cold War, when nuclear obliteration haunted everyone’s lives… ‘IT SHALL BE THE POLICY OF THIS NATION, TO REGARD ANY NUCLEAR MISSILE LAUNCHED FROM CUBA, AS AN ATTACK, BY THE SOVIET UNION ON THE UNITED STATES” …less than 2% of Americans ever actually bothered to build a bomb shelter or create a safe space in their basement. Although that assumption doesn’t apply to Switzerland, which has built around 250,000 shelters – enough to accommodate it’s entire population. But for the rest of us, there’s a good chance you don’t have a spare bunker lying around, so where should you go? First off, don’t stay in your car. The metal doors and glass windows are going to be way too thin to protect you from gamma radiation. Mobile homes won’t offer adequate shelter either. Instead, try to find a basement or a larger multistory building, remembering the key factor is putting as many thick layers between you and the fallout. We’re talking concrete or brick here, so nice-looking glass skyscrapers or homes built of wood and plaster aren’t your best bets. If you want to block out 99% of radiation you need to shelter behind 12.5 centimetres of steel, 40cm of brick or 60cm of packed earth. If you’re in a city with a subway system, heading deep inside would also offer a decent level of protection. Assuming you’ve made it inside somewhere above ground, avoid the top floors, all the fallout is going to settle on the roof. and the whole point of going inside is to stay as far away as possible from those pesky dust particles that are emitting dangerous levels of gamma radiation, which could lead to radiation poisoning. Instead get to the center of the building. If there’s time try to close off areas where fallout might enter – doors, fireplaces, air conditioners, windows – then do it. Okay, let’s look at a slightly different scenario, one where things didn’t quite go so smoothly. This time we’ve abandoned our car and sprinted to the nearest sturdy-looking building, but fallout might be starting to land around you. If you think it is, the best thing to do is cover your nose and mouth with a rag, and close your eyes. Stumbling around like this won’t be easy, so in this example, it’s taken 15 minutes to actually get inside. CHARACTER TRIPS OVER, AND THEN MAKES IT INSIDE A BUILDING. Did any of that fall out land on you? Is it in your hair or on your clothes? It might be, which means you’re at risk of getting acute radiation poisoning. I don’t want to sound like too much of a pessimist, but a bad sign at this stage is if you’ve already started vomiting. Since your gut is highly sensitive to radiation, puking is a sign you’ve absorbed a pretty heavy dose of the bad stuff and the prognosis is probably death. If you haven’t started hurling everywhere, there’s plenty of things you can do to get rid of any fallout that might be on you. Carefully remove your outer layer of clothing – this can remove 90% of radioactive material – put it in a plastic bag and leave it somewhere far out of the way. Take your time, whipping your kit off too quickly might shake free any radioactive dust and that’s not going to help anyone. A shower would also be quite handy, by all means treat yourself to some soap and shampoo to help wash yourself off but avoid using conditioner. It’ll bind radioactive particles to your hair. I’m afraid your vibrant and glossy hairstyle is one of the many casualties of a nuclear disaster. Even if there’s no shower, wash your face, hands and any body parts that were uncovered using a sink, damp cloth or wet wipe. Again, the key is using plenty of water and taking your time – the last thing you want to do is scratch yourself and allow radioactive material to get into your skin. By now, it’s likely that an hour has passed, which means that the radioactive fallout outside has already decayed by 50%. Within the first 24 hours it will have given up 80% of its energy, going up to 99% after two weeks – but remember, if the radiation was high enough to begin with, that 1% could still be dangerous so staying indoors for as long as possible significantly reduces your chances of contamination. According to the US State Department, “The importance of sheltering in place, preferably inside a sealed room, for at least the first 48 hours after a nuclear detonation cannot be over-emphasized”. If you can, wait for government agencies to send help and listen out for their instructions before vacating your safe spot. If you are worried about Kim Jong-Un going nuclear, a homemade IND, or your virtual assistant becoming self-aware and starting World War III, then you might be interested in preparing a Basic Emergency Supply Kit. According to FEMA here are the items you’ll need. Chances are though, you’re not going to be carrying this with you when disaster strikes, so just remember this get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned and you might just make it.