Let’s start off with the obvious. Nuclear war is horrible. It will kill millions of people and devastate the planet.
Even a “local” war…say between North and South Korea or India and Pakistan…will put a blot on life for years, throw the world economy into chaos, and introduce horrors we have yet to even dream about.
Global Thermonuclear War between Russia and the United States where hundreds of missiles fly through the air and hundreds if not thousands of warheads bloom across the Northern Hemisphere will be literal Hell on Earth. Millions of degrees of heat will vapourise military installations, infrastructure, and people. But on the bright side, it will be a dry heat.
And then there is the debris all those explosions will toss into the atmosphere. If you have lived near a volcano, you know what that can be like.
Who could possibly survive all that?
Well, if you listen to conventional wisdom, no one. Or very few. And those who do survive will wish for death.
This sentiment is commonly echoed in the news, various media, and pretty much everyone else.
It’s also completely untrue.
You can survive nuclear war, and it isn’t difficult.
Mind you, if you’re sitting on the proverbial bull’s-eye, yes you need to have your will made out. Nothing survives a direct hit unless you’re NORAD.
But let’s look at the various arguments against survival and take them apart.
The first is that you can’t survive the bomb. You will die in the fireball.
Sure, again if you’re sitting on that target. Rule One of nuclear war is Get Out Of The Cities. That’s Rule Two and Three as well.
But nuclear weapons don’t have the devastating range people think.
The largest weapon of choice against a city will likely be the 800 kiloton Topol SS-25 (or near equivalent) for Russia or the maybe the 1 megaton Minuteman I for the United States.
Now, it’s highly improbable that large of a weapon will be used against a city. More likely they’ll use the 300KT variant. You actually get more bang for your buck with smaller weapons. You just use more of them. But we’ll use the larger weapon so we get a bigger area of devastation with a single hit.
So, picking on the SS-25 (because why not? Someone has to be the bad guy here) air burst over a city (because city attacks will always be air bursts), we have the following data:
The fireball radius is 0.88 kilometres. (That’s slightly more than half a mile for you Americans who can’t seem to adapt to the metric system.) If you’re further out than that, you survived the fireball.
Moderate blast damage radius is 6.53 kilometres. (Just above 4 miles.) Anything to that point will suffer severe damage and injury. You’d be lucky to survive unless you are in a basement or reinforced building.
Thermal radiation radius is 11.1 km. (Just short of 6.9 miles.) If you’re unlucky enough to be directly exposed to the blast, you’re looking at third degree burns. If you’re in a building, around a corner, or otherwise protected (even light-coloured clothing will protect you), your chances of coming out of it increase dramatically.
Lastly, there is the Light Damage radius, coming in at 18.4 km (or less than 11 ½ miles). Windows will break and there will be some structure damage in less-sound buildings, but otherwise eminently survivable (unless the Universe has it out for you and something falls on you).
So, discounting the Light Damage radius, if you’re seven miles away from the centre of the blast, you survived the attack! And remember, this was a pretty large bomb we looked at. Bombs used on cities will be much smaller. (But there will be more of them.)
The next argument is radiation and fallout.
If you look at nuclear planning maps put out by the United States, you’d think the entire country would be a radioactive wasteland. That makes for cool video games but isn’t real life.
These attack maps were made during the deep Cold War when it was assumed the entire country would suffer 20 megaton bomb surface bursts all over the place.
That won’t happen.
That isn’t wishful thinking on our part. That is the practicality of nuclear weapons.
As said above, you get more bang for your buck with smaller weapons. And you get a larger area of effect with an air burst rather than a surface burst.
Consider the scenario we just ran. An 800 kt weapon air burst over a target produces significant damage over 6.53 kilometres. Now let’s look at a W-78 Minuteman III, which clocks in 350 kilotons of destruction. That’s less than half of the weapon we calculated previously.
The 350 kt nuclear warhead will devastate and area 4.95 km (just above 3 miles). That is less than half the power but only a quarter less destruction.
This is why the bad guy is going to hit a city with two or three low-yield weapons rather than one large one. You will destroy more of an area that way.
That isn’t the end of nuclear weapon efficiency, however. And that is good for us…if the word “good” can be used in context of nuclear war.
The higher a nuclear weapon is detonated, the larger the area of devastation you get. (To a point, of course.) There is some nice math that works in there where there is an optimum height you want to explode your device.
Fortunately, that optimum point for cities is pretty high and yields little fallout.
Surface bursts are extremely powerful, but have a smaller footprint, which is why city-killer missiles are exploded high in the sky. Surface bursts are reserved for dug-in targets: NATO, hardened missile silos, airports with long runways, etc. Surface bursts produce a ton of radioactive fallout.
So going back to those old attack maps. They are outdated and presume an attack that won’t happen the way they think it will. Times change.
Any country under full scale nuclear attack is going to get a whole lot of air bursts and some surface bursts, limiting the amount of fallout.
This doesn’t mean you can go out and play after a nuclear attack. But we’re also not talking movies like On The Beach where the world was soaked in radiation, either.
The world will not be covered knee-deep in fallout.
Radiation from fallout also expends a great deal of its energy very quickly. Meaning the worse of it doesn’t last very long.
There is a rule called the Seven/Ten Rule when it comes to fallout. Get ready for a little math, but we’ll make it easy.
The Seven/Ten Rule states that for every factor of seven-fold increase in hours, the amount of radiation is reduced by a factor of ten.
That means that after seven hours, fallout has lost 90% of its energy, or is 90% less radioactive. If you start off with 100 rads of radiation per hour, seven hours later, you’re down to 10 rads/hour. (100 divided by 10) Still not healthy, but that’s a significant drop.
49 hours after detonation (7 x 7), you’re down to 1 rad. (10 divided by 10 divided by 10.) Much better.
After 343 hours from detonation (7 x 7 x 7), now your down to 0.1 rads. (100 divided by 10 divided by 10 divided by 10.) That’s two weeks, the minimum recommendation for staying in a shelter.
So this is why radiation drops off so fast, but the residual takes so long to decay. The next 10-fold drop in radiation (down to 0.01 rads/hour in our example) clocks in at 100 days after detonation.
Remember, we’re talking survival. Not going to Disneyland.
But as you can see, you won’t be trapped in a shelter forever.
The next argument against survival is Nuclear Winter, a popular school of thought that supposes the amount of debris sent into the atmosphere from a nuclear war will send temperatures plummeting, making farming near impossible in the Northern Hemisphere and maybe even introducing a mini-Ice Age.
Again, popular media plays fast and loose with the facts.
Science…real science…is still debating nuclear winter. The pendulum has swung from Nuclear-Winter-Will-Kill-Us-All to Nuclear-Winter-Is-A-Fallacy almost back to Kill-Us-All. The fact is: we don’t know.
The eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 put about 540,000,000 (that’s 540 million) tons of debris into the atmosphere during its nine hours of active eruption.
A nuclear weapon airburst over a target produces about 100 tons of radioactive material per megaton of yield.
A ground burst produces 200 tons of radioactive material per kiloton. (Or 200,000 tons per megaton if we want to keep things even.)
Let’s say that every single weapon in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenal is detonated. Improbable due to reserves, malfunctions, and destruction. Plus about a quarter of this arsenal is retired and out of service. But let’s go worst case scenario.
So that is 12,175 bombs going off. 5,800 for the U.S. and 6,375 for Russia. (Yeah, Russia wins!)
Let’s further say that 10% of those weapons will be surface burst while the remaining are air burst.
To make things simple, we’ll average everything out and say that air burst weapons are 500 kilotons while surface burst weapons are 1 megaton.
Doing the math (there’s that math again), 10,958 air burst weapons will produce a total of 547,900 tons of debris.
Ground burst weapons will produce a monstrous 243,400,000 tons of debris.
That’s a whopping total of 243,947,900 tons of debris tossed up into the atmosphere.
Or 45% of the debris Mt. St. Helens put out when it erupted.
So much for nuclear winter.
Now remember that is 243 million tons of radioactive material. St. Helens didn’t do that.
But remember what we learned about radiation.
Fires started by the explosions will also pose a threat. Aside from igniting and spreading away from the target area, fires also send quite a lot of ash into the atmosphere. Anyone who has lived near a wildfire can tell you what it’s like to try and breath that stuff and how it can turn mid-afternoon into dusk.
It’s impossible to guess how much ash the fires will send into the air as it is impossible to know how much fire there will be or what will burn. Certainly firefighting efforts will be near non-existent.
So we’re not even going to try and guess. We can say that in 2020, over 10 million acres burned from wildfires in the United States alone.
To survive nuclear war, it does take planning. You can’t go about your life and the day before the bombs fall collect your packets of Kool Aid and think you’ll be okay.
A fallout shelter will be needed. Radiation sickness is one of the worst ways to die. If you’re one of those people who are bound and determined to go out when the bombs go off, you’d better hope you picked your standing area correctly, because if you guessed wrong and you’re without a shelter, you are looking at a grisly end.
Fortunately, fallout shelters are not exclusive to the wealthy. A fallout shelter can be constructed by anyone with even a modicum of skill in your house.
There is a book out there that is 100% no-joke, no-trick, absolutely free called Nuclear War Survival Skills. In this book are plans to build a fallout shelter for anyone. It also includes a list of supplies you will need.
Again, this book is FREE. Search for it on the web. If a link is charging you for it, go somewhere else. The DEFCON Warning System (www.defconwarningsystem.com) has a link to it if you want to get it from there.
Supplies are also necessary. A shelter without supplies isn’t a shelter but a tomb.
Start now. Just buy one thing next time you go grocery shopping. Store it. Do the same thing next time you go. Long term food. Bathroom tissue. Band aids. Anything with a long shelf life.
Containers for water. You can’t have enough water. Read that again: You can’t have enough water! You only need the containers. Fill them up when you start seeing things go south, but don’t wait until the last minute.
You will be surprised what you will have after a short time.
But don’t listen to the doomsayers.
Nuclear war IS survivable. You can do it. You owe it to your family.
When disaster comes, don’t be the one who has to look your loved ones in the eye and tell them you didn’t prepare.