View Full Version : Nuclear War Survival Skills

12-05-2002, 11:49 AM
We all know what to do if a terrorist/Iraq/North Korea sets off a nuclear explosion nearby, right?

You probably don\'t have a clue. The Bush Administration has been careful not to overstate the risks or inflame public fears about what America and the West faces. However, from my long study of nuclear proliferation, we targets - I mean citizens - need a bit of education just in case on how to handle ourselves and on what to expect from our government. I\'ll confine myself to the United States but the physics apply everywhere.

First, a terrorist or rogue state would be hard pressed to build anything more powerful that a Hiroshima-class weapon - 20 kilotons. Beyond that would be a big step up in difficulties in engineering and in necessary quantities of materials. Probably it would be smaller but 1 kiloton is hardly a fizzle and is pretty easy to do once the materials are in hand. That\'s relatively good news. The good news/bad news is that a ground burst is probably the method of detonation. That\'s good in that it substantially limits the radius of direct blast effects but bad news in that it will create a lot of lethal, local fallout. Fallout was not present at Hiroshima or Nagasaki because those weapons were dropped from airplanes and set off at a height that maximized the blast effects on the ground.

Let\'s talk about the initial blast. You probably won\'t have any warning. A device could be smuggled in via ship or truck so unlike a missile, would not be detected in advance. Your first awareness may be a flash of light brighter than any you\'ve every seen before. If you see such a flash, cover your exposed skin and fall to the ground. DON\'T look at it - it can permanently blind you at long distances, especially at night. That light can last a couple of seconds and can burn exposed skin at considerable distances. Fires will be started in paper and similar light flammible materials. A shock wave will follow that will send flying debris and can knock you off your feet and throw you hundreds of feet - or until you hit a wall at 30 mph. A 100 mph wind follows the shock wave at a 1 mile radius. \"Duck and cover\" means you\'ve covered your skin and hit the ground.

Assume you\'ve survived the initial radiations and blast - and you probably will if you\'re over a mile away. However you\'ll probably get radiation sickness from the 200 rem you get from the fire ball at one mile but that will take a week or two to present - with medical/nursing care you\'ll be OK in a month or two - the next thing to worry about is fallout.

A ground burst is the nasty way and the way a terrorist will find the easiest. The 700 ft diameter crater will of course be very hot so stay away - there will be few if any survivors to help within a half to one mile so don\'t be a fruitless hero. Of the 31,000 people within 0.6 mile radius of ground zero at Hiroshima, less than 2,000 walked away. Fallout can be lethal for many miles downwind so that is your next big concern.

Fallout is the dirt that is sucked up into the mushroom cloud then mixed with the condensation from the weapon debris. The weapon was vaporized and as it cools, it mixes with sucked-up dirt, coating it with intensely radioactive fission products - about 2.5 lbs (1.1 kg) - that will eventually fall back to earth. The closer (and faster) they fall, the higher will be the radiation dose rates on the ground. Some of the fallout will occur in a circle around ground zero (GZ) but most will be carried on the prevailing winds away from the point of detonation.

You can see local fallout - its dirt from the sky. If that\'s happening, move in a direction perpendicular to the winds. If you\'re east of the GZ and the winds are from the west, move north or south. It may only take a move of a few miles to get you out of the path of the fallout if the winds are steady at all elevations. You may be able to see the black cloud that is the source of the fallout but maybe not. If you\'re under fallout within 30 minutes of the explosion, you need to move - NOW. The dose rates will be so high that you could get a lethal dose from 15 minutes of exposure.

The US government has coverage 24/7/365 of a team that will make fallout predictions. The local emergency organization will be the first to notice the blast, of course, and they are supposed to call the state which in turn calls Lawrence Livermore National Labs (LLNL) with as much info as possible including making a guess on kilotonnage based on damage radius, etc. LLNL has continuous metrological data feeds and can come back almost instanteously with initial predictions. One should expect broadcasters to be able to get evacuation instructions out to the public within 1 hour. Therefore, as soon as the mushroom cloud forms, turn on a radio or TV and listen for instructions. Fallout that can give a one day lethal radiation dose could cover 50 to 100 square miles although it could be less. The National Guard has units in each region that have special training for such an event and will be on the scene within hours to get measurements and help with evacuations.

That\'s the simple version. A little knowledge helps to prevent the panic of the unknown so keep your cool and listen for instructions. Our government at all levels has made good preparations and will be converging on the scene to help within an hour but you will have to help yourself and your neighbors over the first day or so. No need to stockpile food or crawl into a hole in the ground for weeks - it will a lot different from the Cold War scenarios.

The books to read are \"The Effects of Nuclear Weapons\" by Glasstone - Government Printing Office and \"Nuclear War Survival Skills\" by Kearny. The former is a science and engineering treatise and the standard reference book; the latter is a bit dated and is focused on \"The Big One\" but has some things of interest in our different scenario.

http://www.ki4u.com/free_book/s73p904.htm (\"http://www.ki4u.com/free_book/s73p904.htm\")

12-05-2002, 05:55 PM
Good advice whitehall, very clear concise and helpful for anyone caught up in an terrosists attack. Survival can depend upon quick thinking of course those at ground zero will stand no chance but they will of course have quick painless deaths on the whole, but those within a zone further out will need to think quickly and get out of the area as soon as possible.
ANd it seems to be a very real threat given the current north korean/iraq environment.

12-06-2002, 11:08 AM
The notion that death from nuclear attack is quick and painless is largely wishful thinking. Sure, if you\'re close enough to be part of the fireball it\'s over before your nervous system can transmit the fact to your brain but for most victims, it\'s a miserable way to go.

Imagine being in a collapsed building, bleeding from the ears from the blast, blinded from the flash, puking your guts out and messing your pants from the effects of radiation, listening to the cries of others trapped near you while awaiting the approaching flames from the fire storm. Most people would die that way.

For those not trapped or greviously harmed at the instant of the explosion, there are things you can do to better your chances of survival. I\'ve tried to succinctly explain those in my original post.

The odds of a nuclear explosion in a city of the West are impossible to provide. There is plenty of SNM (\"special nuclear material\") out there and the overall technology is 60 years old. In Iraq, it\'s been 4 years since the inspectors left. In four years over WWII, the Manhattan Project in the US took nuclear physics from a few skimpy physics findings to a complete industrial and technological infrastructure for producing and delivering nuclear weapons. It would not be surprising if Iraq could reproduce a portion of that today based on technology developed 60 years previously.

In fact, if you got 100 lb of highly enriched uranium metal, one can make an effective weapon by simply dropping half of it onto the other half from a third story window!

I do think we need to pay more attention to the possibilities. There are capable people out there who do do not have moral scruples and who would delight in our suffering. There really is a war going on out there.

12-06-2002, 01:59 PM
Imagine being in a collapsed building, bleeding from the ears from the blast, blinded from the flash, puking your guts out and messing your pants from the effects of radiation, listening to the cries of others trapped near you while awaiting the approaching flames from the fire storm.

Wow, I just had a flashback to my honeymoon...*shudder* /ubbthreads/images/icons/wink.gif

12-06-2002, 02:30 PM
Ok, so the subject is a bit heavy and morbid for most of this crowd but it is a possible health issue.

Just trying to help my on-line buddies.

12-06-2002, 02:44 PM
Its good information and appreciated. I think most people would rather not think about it though.

Do you think a true nuclear blast is the most likely? I would have thought a \'dirty\' conventional bomb more likely. It could be moved in smaller pieces and takes far less skill to assemble and set it off. The results may not be as spectacular but it seems more doable.

12-06-2002, 02:59 PM
A \"dirty\" bomb has one major disadvantage - detectablity. Uranium and plutonium (the fuel for an explosive device) emit only weak radiations, easily shielded and difficult to detect. The radioactive materials in a dirty bomb are likely to emit hard radiations that are much more difficult to shield and much more easily detected, say, at a port or airport. Even overhead surveillance or street drive-bys would have some chance of finding the materials.

Also, a dirty bomb would not hurt very many people. It could play on people\'s fears and cause economic dislocation but it is in a completely different league from a nuclear explosion, even a small one. It\'s not something we want to let happen, but the consequences are relatively minor - a radiological weapon is not truly a weapon of mass destruction.

12-06-2002, 06:29 PM
Ive heard that Potassium Iodide can protect against nuclear radiation anyone heard of it?

12-07-2002, 01:27 AM
Yes it can. Iodide protects a certain gland in your throat that would be screwed first because of radiation. I know this is a bit vague, but I\'m not familiar with the right terminology to explain it correctly.

That\'s why it\'s better to use sea salt instead of refined natrium chloride because the fromer still contains Iodide. Living at the sea is very healthy because if the Iodide in the air.

12-07-2002, 07:46 AM
It will block the radiation that would otherwise be taken up by the thyroid gland. I only know this because I lost my thyroid to radiation exposure many years ago. It still would not protect you from other types of radiation damage

12-07-2002, 09:21 AM
I lost my thyroid to radiation exposure many years ago. That\'s awful! What happened?

12-07-2002, 09:25 AM
I was in the military when it happened. Some idiot made a mistake. Its not really as bad as it sounds. I just take a replacement drug.

12-07-2002, 09:58 AM
I\'m glad. Always shitty when someone else screws things up for you. In chemistry class, we had this idiot who spilt sulfuric (?) acid (H2SO4) in someone else\'s neck by making a mistake that could easily have been avoided. Result: severe burnings and a hoarse throat for a few weeks.

12-07-2002, 10:08 AM
For some reason, some people never get it through their heads that safety procedures are there for a reason. You can almost guarantee that when somebody gets hurt in a lab, it was because safety procedures were short-cut. There are exceptions, but not many.

12-07-2002, 11:52 AM
Whitehall, thank you, from both of us.

Woman and her S/O

12-08-2002, 01:38 PM
Just trying to help my friends and neighbors.

As to potassium iodide pills, they can only help a little. Radioactive iodine is one of the fission fragments from a nuclear explosion and it is very easy for the body to absorb this where it heads directly to the thyroid gland. Too much and the gland fails or dies, leaving one with a lack of natural thyroid hormones. With a little thyroid medicine, this is but a minor inconvenience and only fatal if not treated. The health effects of an overdose take a while to show up, maybe a few weeks it the gland is completely killed and many years if cancer happens there.

With all the fuss about stockpiling KI pills around nuclear reactors, you\'d think this stuff was some sort of radiation panacea but their usefulness is very, very limited. Most of the noise has been political.

In a nuclear attack, you have much more immediate threats to worry about. People far downwind might derive some benefit and maybe children especially. Take\'m if the government hands it out - the pills are pretty harmless.

12-15-2002, 03:28 PM
Yes it\'s most useful for children.
The idea is to reduce the amount of radioactive Iodine absorbed by the thyroid by overloading your system with good Iodine, thereby minimizing the amount of radioactive Iodine in your body in relation to the amount of good Iodine.

oh yeah - and I think you aren\'t supposed to take them if you\'re allergic to Iodine.

I never heard of someone\'s thyroid failing ... maybe they wouldn\'t be a bad idea for adults if that\'s a possibility.

12-29-2002, 04:59 PM
Whitehall: I agree with you I think 99%. Finally, somebody else speaks the truth about the tremendously overhyped radioactive dispersal device. Anybody who asks I tell them that one of those is much less dangerous than they think but a real fissile nuclear weapon is much worse than they think. To add to the problems of a radiological weapon: since it doesn\'t create any new radioactive material, when it is \"assembled\" and ready to use it is so radioactive that the terrorists would get sick and die really quickly just carting it around. Obviously they are willing to die but I think in their ideology they want to die in glory, i.e. knowing that they get to kill lots of Americans or Jews. Just dying somewhere alone, puking isn\'t very fun. And if Abdul goes to the hospital with acute radiation sickness you know somebody---let\'s hope the NEST is more competent than the FBI---will descend upon the region.

Regarding KI and nuclear plants----such plants have large repositories of old nuclear fuel. I-131 is dangerous because it is bioavailable, reasonably active and has a comparatively long half life.

From a fissile weapon there are lots of short-actiing products with hour half-lives. In the old nuclear fuel those things have decayed leaving lots of of a few biologically dangerous isotopes.

Everybody is talking about the danger from a terrorist plane crashing into a nuclear plant as if it is the reactor\'s active core which is the target. It isn\'t. They have very strong huge containment domes (meant though to contain stuff from the *inside*, not the *outside*) surrounding the reactor which is pressurized with steam and all the other equipment.

However, thanks to the whacko environmental-fringists combined with the NIMBYist of Nevada, there is no decent disposal site for nuclear power waste. The result is that every nuclear reactor basically lets many years of its waste sit right next to the reactor. That stuff is nearly as bad as the fuel that\'s in the core, and is entirely unprotected by containment domes or any such things. If somebody crashed an airplane into that there could be a really major disaster.
This is the only radiological emergency I can imagine that is remotely feasible and mass-casualty dangerous. Note that the total amount of long-term radioisotopes in such a thing is much larger than in a single nuclear weapon.

The KI does make sense even for nuclear weapons in a broad public health setting---protecting lots of people in the 10 to 50 mile zone from a long term significant health hazard. If you\'re close enough to really feel the blast then the KI isn\'t going to work, you have to either get out IMMEDIATELY or go underground for 5 days and don\'t come out.

Nobody knows what the transportation will be like in a city after such a blast. You might be able to get in your car and drive a little while only to reach massive gridlock when a collapsed building and overturned truck blocks the way. At that point the dirt and dust accumulating your car is intensely radioactive and you have to get out there right away. It will be the traffic jam of death as you fry there.

Remember that if you do get out, you will have to ditch your contaminated car ASAP as well as every item of clothing you wore.

12-30-2002, 03:36 AM
Very pragmatic advice.

We have lots of political, diplomatic and personal challenges ahead of us if we hope just to MINIMIZE the occurance of such scenarios. Arming ourselves, being intimidating, and going after the bad guys may be necessary at times, but it is not enough, to put it mildly. There are too many now, too many being born, and we can\'t just \"pick them off.\" Exhaustive mutual understanding among nations and cultures, while avoiding passivity and weakness, is a key precondition to real safety.

12-30-2002, 08:44 AM
Iodine-131 has a half-life of 8.041 days - the rule of thumb is five half-lifes and it\'s practically gone - that 2 to the negative fifth power or one thirty-second of the original amount after 8 x 5 or 40 days. Most US reactors are refueled over a 30 day period every 18 months. The result is that by the time the spent fuel gets settled into the pool, most of the I-131 is gone. To handle \"fuel handling accidents\" the plants have tight ventilation envelopes around the operations with special filter trains to remove iodine and ultra-fine dust.

As to radiological weapons, there are designs that use materials with low emissions of weak radiation - alpha particles. When the materials are forceably and intimately combined, say with an explosion, the combination makes a more hazardous radiation - neutrons. Examples are polonium/beryllium and antimony/beryllium - more practicable combinations exist but you don\'t need to know the specifics.

KI is stockpiled by the US government so I don\'t need to but again, if the government starts to hand it out, go ahead and take it. Still, don\'t expect to see much effect as the protection it provides is minor, very specific, and long-term.

I agree completely about the need for Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. I\'ve helped operate and engineer three spent fuel pools here in California and I\'m currently building three new ones under construction in Asia and designing a new one proposed in Europe - I KNOW nuclear waste! It\'s my bread-and-butter. None of these are in any way permanent solutions and all have definite weaknesses and limitations. Fighting to stop Yucca Mountain is absolutely self-serving and irresponsible. Constructive criticism is fine and we\'ll grit our teeth and welcome it and hopefully it will make a better design.

When the Senate voted to give the final go-ahead to Yucca Mountain, California was in Stage Two electricity shortage (we were in an unseasonable heat wave - can we say \"greenhouse gas?\") and all the major California cities were under air pollution alerts. Yet, our two senators (Feinstein and Boxer) both voted against it. Some people can\'t put two and two together.

12-30-2002, 01:06 PM
Yes, you\'re right about the I-131. My bad. I was thinking of something else.

But then why did studies of the Chernobyl downwinders show excess thyroid cancer in children? Was it just because the reactor had been recently operating?

If strontium is a problem, what about prophylactic calcium supplementation? Or doesn\'t that work?

Explain the polonium/antimony connection? I\'ve heard of polonium films being used as neutron initiators in early implosion fission weapon designs.

I\'m thinkiing that if you have enough manufacturing base to get the right isotopes of polonium & beryllium you have enough to make nukes to begin with.

to change the subject, do you think there is any truth that \"Red Mercury\" thing going around a few years ago?

The rumor that there was a special substance out of the USSR\'s nuclear labs (sometimes rumored to be both a very powerful chemical explosive combined with some weird nuclear materials, including antimony, and perhaps irradiated in some reactor or accelerator) that was a radical technique for making nuclear weapons, in particular small fusion weapons without a conventional plutonium implosion primary. I haven\'t the faintest idea how this would work. (The other explanations were either that \"red mercury\" was one of their code names for plutonium or that it was a complete hoax invented to swindle gullible bin Laden types)

I asked my physics professor once whether it is strictly necessary to have a fission primary for a thermonuclear weapon and he said something like \"No, all you need is alot of soft x-rays, but a fission bomb is a good way to get it.\" (he has clearances up the wazoo)

12-30-2002, 01:30 PM
At Chernobyl, the reactor had been ramped down in power immediately before the test at 8% full power. Hence it was about as full of I-131 as it could get. The accident itself then \"energetically diassembled\" most of its fuel rods - OK, blew up like a very low yield nuclear bomb, spreading the nasty stuff all around the neighborhood.

Actually, they were lucky. The blast and fire were so fierce that the bulk of the radionuclides in the reactor went straight up to be dispersed over much of Europe. Had the reactor just fizzled out the stuff, local fatalities would have been much worst.

When I first saw a photo of the plant after the accident but before I got the full details, I was horrified! My thinking had been conditioned for US designs and accident scenarios. The first photos showed apartment blocks surrounding the damaged reactor. US reactors fall by slowly fizzing as the meltdown and leak locally. The closer your are downwind, the higher the dose.

At Chernobyl, the local areas were relatively un-dosed as most of the bad stuff went straight up into the stratosphere.

Never heard of \"Red Mercury\" although the ore is distintly red.

For strontium substitution with calcium, sounds like it would work. Strontium is a bone-seeker like calcium so the same idea should work although kids would need supplementation for years and years - pregnant moms from start of pregnancy.

During the years of heavy atmospheric testing, the strontium uptake in large parts of the Northern Hemisphere were non-trivial.

12-30-2002, 02:14 PM
That would be scary to happen anywhere, although in australia we only have 1 nuclear facility that we could have blown up but that is on the other side of the country to me so luckily no danger here where i am.

02-13-2003, 11:17 AM
The latest news is the announcement that North Korea probably has missiles with enough throw-weight and range to deliver a nuclear weapon to the West Coast of the US.

It\'s been a good 12 years of not having to worry about another government intending to kill us.

Now, just watch, the Democrats are going to start raising a fuss about why the Republicans haven\'t got an anti-missile defense working yet!

02-13-2003, 12:16 PM
Thanks so much for the information. Couple of questions:
1. What makes a bomb dirty?
2. What IS the medical treatment should you survive a blast?
3. How quickly would the local ground water be affected?

02-13-2003, 12:37 PM
I read this in print, it\'s good.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2003-02-10-qna-usat_x.htm (\"http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2003-02-10-qna-usat_x.htm\")

02-13-2003, 12:41 PM
Question #1 - What makes a bomb dirty?

A \"dirty\" bomb usually means a radiological dispersal weapon. That\'s a high explosive wrapped with radioactive materials. When the convential explosion goes off, the radioactivity gets spread out. These are mostly for scaring you - they are not particularly effective weapons.

However, one could make a nuclear explosive even dirtier by either bursting it at ground level so that local fallout is much, much more severe or by \"salting\" the weapon with materials that become intensely radioactive from the nuclear explosion and make the fallout much worst, al la the \"cobalt bomb.\" Much effort has been devoted in the US to making a very \"clean\" nuclear explosive but to little avail.

Question # 2 - What is the medical treatment should you survive a blast?

Most weapon damage is from fire and blast - standard medical treatment are used. The special thing is radiation sickness. Too high a dose causes acute radiation syndrome. Treatment varies with dose. For moderate doses, control of fluids is important since nausea and dirrhea can be severe. The immune system is stressed and white blood cell production tanks so antibotics might be given. Heroic efforts might include bone marrow transplants but experience at Chernobyl was not good. Combine radiation sickness with blast and burn trauma and you\'ve got one sick puppy. The good news is that with the best, most intensive medical care, it takes a lot to kill you. With no care and with concurrent trauma, a much lower dose could do the job.

Question # How quickly would the local ground water be affected?

There is little data on this since most testing was done in the desert or on tiny islands. One thing I do know is that fallout will concentrate in stream beds after a rain and local hot spots would be expected there from runoff. The soil does a pretty good job of filtering radioisotopes and the hydrologic cycle has considerable retention times. It might take days or weeks for radiation in well water to be detectable. Sandy soils as in Florida pass water quickly and with little filtering - heavy clay soils are the other extreme. Fortunately, all US water systems have to test for naturally occurring radioisotopes regularly anyway so they should be on top of it.

02-13-2003, 12:51 PM
lucky what they do is use a high yield bomb(or other explosive such as plastics) and they \'spike\' it with \'waste\' material from some reactor or other process that produces nuke waste. it\'s not a \"atom bomb\" type weapon but will spread waste material and \'dirty\' the air with that waste material.
treatment would be the same as any other exposure to radiation.
you bend over and let me kiss your ass goodbye.
oh wait. thats a differant story.

02-13-2003, 12:58 PM
lol, well seems we posted almost togeather but whites is put much more eloquantly.

02-13-2003, 01:40 PM
Thanks for simplifying things for me. Really.

02-15-2003, 10:58 AM
Also check out my post in the \"off topic\" thread -- sorry for not posting it here. I didn\'t see this thread.

02-15-2003, 11:11 AM
rofl @ Wolfe

02-15-2003, 11:23 AM
i think you were the only one to catch that /ubbthreads/images/icons/smile.gif

02-15-2003, 01:47 PM
I got a good laugh out of that, thanks!

02-15-2003, 05:17 PM
HELP!!! A Dirty Bomb just went off in my pants!

02-15-2003, 05:58 PM
> ( HELP!!! A Dirty Bomb just went off in my pants!)
/ubbthreads/images/icons/smile.gif /ubbthreads/images/icons/smile.gif /ubbthreads/images/icons/smile.gif
Oh my god!!! hahahahahaha!!! LMFAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! your to funny....... /ubbthreads/images/icons/smile.gif /ubbthreads/images/icons/smile.gif