What it means to survive a nuclear bomb

Posted January 2, 2008 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Contamination, Survival

Tags: , , ,

I’ve been thinking about the word “survive.” For me, it means maintaining both my health and my quality of life.

If I’m close enough or downwind, physical health may be elusive. It’s one thing to cover my eyes (to avoid blindness) and hit the ground (to avoid the shock waves) and be able to wake up the next morning, but it’s another thing to avoid radiation poisoning.

Some unsettling words from the Centers for Disease Control website: “While severe burns would appear in minutes, other health effects might take days or weeks to appear. These effects range from mild, such as skin reddening, to severe effects such as cancer and death, depending on the amount of radiation absorbed by the body (the dose), the type of radiation, the route of exposure, and the length of time of the exposure.”

Hiroshima was a small bomb, a size that could be tactically detonated in the U.S. today. Estimates of 70,000 died the day of the blast and tens of thousands more died in the months that followed. The U.S. Dept. of Energy website states: “The five-year death total may have reached or even exceeded 200,000, as cancer and other long-term effects took hold.” The wikipedia notes that about nine percent of cancer and leukemia deaths from 1950 to 1990 have been attributed to the bomb.

While the biological effects of radiation are known, my actual exposure and the consequences are less clear. The two questions that will be on my mind the day after, which are bugging me today, are:

  1. Besides theoretical estimates based on bomb size and distance from ground zero, without a geiger counter around my neck is it possible to know the amount of radiation I was exposed to?
  2. Is it possible to know how sensitive my body is to radiation exposure (to determine my susceptibility to long term health problems)?

While radiation poisoning is a worst-case scenario, the other end of the spectrum—surviving in perfect health—is nagging me too.

Let’s say I’m in a city that gets nuked and I live. I not only live but I luck out with fallout and I get zero-exposure. And let’s say I followed most of my own advice and have survival gear and a month or more of food and water. What will life be like? What routine necessities and comforts will I still have to struggle for? Unlike Japan who was able to surrender, would we live in fear of future attacks?

How long will it be before life is normal again?

An editorial decision

Posted December 13, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: About

I received a comment to my post of 12/3/07 (“Bet on surviving a nuclear bomb and have a plan”), which I have pasted in below. This blog is set up with the option of approving or deleting comments. I don’t like to delete comments; it smacks of censorship. Yet online communities often need moderating for such things like keeping people on topic and weeding out malicious posts.

Even though it seems sincere, I’m deleting the comment because it’s off topic. I don’t want this blog to turn into a soapbox for people to voice religious beliefs. This blog is about how to survive the blast and radiation of a nuclear bomb, not biblical prophecies. That said, the writer makes a decent comment about the CBS show Jericho, a show about survival after a nuclear bomb, and I’ll talk about Jericho at some point.

My apologies to the comment-writer. Here’s his comment:

From a biblical perspective, the USA is not mentioned in the end times bible prophecy. When Israel’s enemies attack her as described in biblical prophecy, no-one comes to her aid, including the USA. Ever wonder why? Bin Laden is not supid. He knows that the USA protects Israel and a pre-requisite for destroying Israel is to disable or destroy her protector. If the USA was so focused on surviving and rebuilding from a nuclear attack, we may not be physically and militarily capable of coming to anyone’s aid. Public outcry would demand that we focus our resources to taking care of the USA before others.

The Jericho TV series on CBS provides an interesting scenario of what it may be like after an attack.

Remember the 3 B’s: Bibles, Bullets, & Batteries!


The comment-writer responded to my decision with this comment, which I approved (he awkwardly posted it in the contact link to my email address, which I have no control of):

I understand your editorial decision to remove my post mentioning biblical prophecy. I can’t say that I blame you, based on the focus of your site that you wish to preserve. Religious wackos could definitely hijack this blog, and they unfortunately taint the opinions of the more level headed evangelical Christians. Some sites have such ridiculous religous perspectives posted, they are a waste of time to read.

I just started subscribing to “Survive a Nuke Attack” a few days ago and enjoy the discussion. Nice site.



Journalist Paul L. Williams talks about an ‘American Hiroshima’

Posted December 11, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Probability

Tags: ,

My post of 10/25/07 (“How much is that nuclear bomb in the window?”) mentions award winning journalist Paul L Williams. He has a large body of work documenting attempts by terrorist groups to obtain enriched uranium and nuclear weapons and their conviction to use them. He was interviewed on 11/28/07 on a radio show called Third Rail Radio, which bills itself as “politically abrasive new media radio” talking about “the stuff that old media won’t touch.” He talks about nuclear terrorism and you can listen to the podcast here. It’s just audio and runs, I’m guessing, about 45 minutes.

Dr. Williams has an impressive bio. He was a consultant to the FBI. He has been a subject on PBS, History and Discovery channels and is a guest on Fox News, MSNBC and NPR. He won the National Book Award and has written numerous books on terrorism, the latest being, The Day of Islam: The Annihilation of America and the Western World.

‘…widespread panic, chaos and death is inevitable and will happen soon…’

Posted December 6, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Probability


When it comes to nuclear weapons, Iran still gets all the headlines. They cancelled their nuke program…blah blah…I get it. But google for the “International Conference on Illicit Nuclear Trafficking,” a meeting just two weeks ago, and there’s virtually no press.

If you follow the last link in my post of 11/30/07 (“Nuclear Terrorism News”) about a warning from a top UK official, you eventually get to a piece from Scotland’s Sunday Herald, “Top police officer warns that nuclear attack is inevitable.” The article is about the conference noted above, which took place in Edinburgh. It was hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency and was attended by 300 experts from 70 countries. I’m heartened to see the world taking action—wait, correction, I mean they’re talking about the problem.

Sorry to be cynical, I’m sure there’s action being taken. Wait, correction, I don’t know if there’s any action—I barely knew there was a meeting—but I hope there’s action. What I do know is that, from my perch, there’s a lack of information being published on nuclear terrorism.

Here are some excerpts from the Sunday Herald article that raised my eyebrows or dropped my jaw or made me spill my coffee:

A nuclear attack by terrorists causing widespread panic, chaos and death is inevitable and will happen soon, a senior Scottish police officer has warned.

Ian Dickinson, who leads the police response to chemical, biological and nuclear threats in Scotland, has painted the bleakest picture yet of the dangers the world now faces.

Efforts to prevent terrorist groups from obtaining materials that could be made into radioactive dirty bombs – or even crude nuclear explosives – are bound to fail, he said. And the result will be horror on an unprecedented scale.

“These materials are undoubtedly out there, and undoubtedly will end up in terrorists’ hands, and undoubtedly will be used by terrorists some time soon,’ he declared. ‘We must plan for failure and prepare for absolute terror…”

He said: “An incident will continue for days and all the public will see is people dying without reason. What will we do when our children come home from school with blisters on their skin and their parents don’t know what to do…”

Worldwide efforts to stem the spread of radioactive materials by the governments represented at the conference were vital, Dickinson concluded. “But the sad fact is that your work will fail.”

Dickinson’s nightmare analysis was backed up by Dr Frank Barnaby, a nuclear consultant who used to work at the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire. “The amazing thing is that this hasn’t happened already,” he told the Sunday Herald.

“We should expect it any minute. It’s an obvious thing for a terrorist to do. A primitive nuclear explosion would simply eliminate the centre of a city like Glasgow or Edinburgh….”

Richard Hoskins, from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Office of Nuclear Security in Vienna, revealed that there had been 1266 confirmed incidents in which radioactive materials had been stolen or lost around the world since 1993.

Bet on surviving a nuclear bomb and have a plan

Posted December 3, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Preparation, Survival


When I tell people that I’ve started a blog on how to survive a nuclear attack, the reception is stone cold. People think death is certain—they’re going to melt or fry or vaporize. People hope they die so they don’t have to deal with the day after; or, perhaps worse, a slow, hideous death from radiation poisoning. One friend said to me, “You know what my survival strategy is? Run for the light!”

While the Cold War created visions of cities bombarded by many large nukes, the greater risk today is from one, small bomb. Probably 99 percent of the people in the vicinity of a small nuclear explosion will survive. If you live or work near a possible target, I think a fatalistic, stick-your-head-in-the-sand attitude is…how can I say this…a bit irrational. A few hours of planning and preparing could vastly improve the quality of life immediately after an attack—and for the rest of your life. Plan a little, avoid contamination and decrease the risk of cancer. Get it?

Even if you think nuclear terrorism is remote, radioactive contamination is not limited to bombs. There can be problems at nuclear power plants as well as nuclear waste transportation accidents. Come on, from fires to floods to earthquakes to hurricanes to mudslides, from tornadoes and trunamis to all forms of terrorism, from epidemics to blackouts to…enough already. There’s a lot of commonality planning for any disaster and it’s the smart thing to do.

I’m not a survival nut (yet). I’ve not spent weeks and weeks and thousands of dollars preparing for Armageddon. Not me. But I doubled up on candles, canned goods, batteries and bottled water. I moved my camping gear from a distant location to a large, interior closet in my home. I bought a battery operated crank radio for $48, which will also charge a cell phone by cranking (I’ll talk about emergency radios in a future post). I bought some dust masks (potentially handy for fires and epidemics). I did a few more things that take little effort, which I’ll go into at another time.

But putting together survival gear is easy and commonsensical. What I felt was missing, and what motivated me to do this blog, was information. Things like: What’s a safe distance to live and work from a possible nuclear target? What do I need to know to help me decide whether to seek shelter or evacuate? How do I best avoid contamination from radioactive fallout?

Beyond the gear and information there’s something else. I wonder—remember, I live and work just three miles, in direct sight, from a known target—if I hear a loud blast and the ground shakes, will my instinct be to run to the window to look at the blast or will it be to duck and cover?

The stakes are high: If I look at the blast and it’s a nuclear explosion, I risk burning my retina and going blind.

Nuclear Terrorism News

Posted November 30, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Probability


I’m still debating (with myself) on content for this blog. The issue this week is whether to blog about news items. I think news about nuclear weapons is relevant as it relates to the probability of an attack. But if I mention an incident and link to it, chances are, unless you’re a news junkie, the source article is information overkill. Generally, the headline tells us 95 percent of what we need to know, i.e., the situation is getting worse. But this is the web so I have to include the link. If a link is worth checking out, I’ll say so and tell you why.

I’m getting most of my nuclear news from a free email service I signed up for on the homepage of National Terror Alert at nationalterroralert.com. If you’re looking for breaking homeland security news, I recommend their email alerts, which come about once a week. I’ll poke around the rest of their website later and let you know what I find as there seems to be some decent stuff, like a survival guide for different types of attacks and a survival gear store. I’ve placed their link in the blogroll.

Going forward, if their weekly email has news related to nuclear terrorism, I’ll post the headline, which will link to the article in the National Terror Alert website. Usually at the bottom of their one-page article is a link to their source article. Some good (read: bad) stuff this week:

Canadian Defence Minister – Dirty Bomb or Nuclear Device Greatest Threat To North America

Police Seize Suspected Enriched Uranium – 3 Arrested In Plot To Sell It In Slovakia

UK – Top Officer Warns Of Nuclear Terror Threat

Nuclear Weapons in the Wrong Hands

Posted November 8, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Probability

Tags: ,

Two separate pieces of news:

With the current upheaval in Pakistan, the fate of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is in the news (msnbc.msn.com). The fear is that forces sympathetic to al Qaeda could accomplish a “nuclear coup.” Pakistan is believed to have 30 to 45 nuclear weapons.

A dirty bomb, aka radiological dispersal device (RDD), could be used in homegrown, domestic terrorism. In Urbandale, Iowa, a man is being investigated (kcci.com).

Nuclear survival information at ki4u.com

Posted November 6, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Contamination, Preparation, Survival

Tags: , , ,

When you google for “survive nuclear attack,” the first hit is ki4u.com. Run by civil defense expert Shane Connor, it has very good information and I’ve placed the link in the blogroll. Here’s a six-minute CNN interview of Shane Conner (now on youtube) talking about the likely 99% survival rate of a 10-kiloton bomb (about two-thirds the size of Hiroshima). He smartly says that surviving the blast is not the problem; it’s surviving the next two weeks.

The “ki” part of the ki4u.com web address stands for potassium iodine. It comes from “KI,” which is the chemical symbol for potassium iodine, the substance used to iodize table salt. KI pills, which ki4u.com sells, are a common item in a nuke survival kit—they’re taken to saturate your thyroid gland with good iodine, thus preventing the absorption of radioactive iodine—and the homepage of ki4u.com is mostly about taking KI.

There are several other pages at ki4u.com that I find more interesting:

There’s a guide to “what to do if a nuclear disaster is imminent.” On one long web page, which is packed with about five pages of information, it has topics including the decision to evacuate (stay or go), things to do immediately after the blast, making shelters and contamination.

There’s a “nuclear blast & fallout shelters FAQ” in three parts. I was overwhelmed, both technically and imaginatively, with the amount of information on these three pages:

Nuclear Blast & Fallout Shelters Part I is about the affects, and survivability, of the actual blast.

Nuclear Blast & Fallout Shelters Part II is about radiation and the affects, and survivability, of nuclear fallout.

Nuclear Blast & Fallout Shelters Part III is about taking shelter from nuclear fallout.

There’s the classic book, Nuclear War Survival Skills, which is free online, courtesy of ki4u.com. It’s written by Cresson H. Kearny of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, part of the U.S. Dept. of Energy. Originally published in 1979, it’s a Cold War era book on how laypeople can improve their chances of surviving a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. While the geopolitics are outdated, a lot of the survival information is still relevant. There are a dozen glowing (pun unintended, I hate puns), five-star reader-reviews of this book for the two printed editions at amazon.com, the Nuclear War Survival Skills 1982 updated edition and the Nuclear War Survival Skills 1987 updated and expanded edition (they’re both out of print). At this moment, the best price for the 1991 edition is at ki4u.com.

Speaking of stuff for sale, in addition to the KI pills and the book above, ki4u.com sells a variety of radiation monitoring devices and nuclear survival manuals and DVDs. Here’s the ki4u.com order from and product page.

ki4u.com is a worthy site. In future posts I’ll dive further into the site and pull some pearls of surviveanukeattack-wisdom.

In general, most of the information I’ve seen on the web for surviving a nuclear bomb is technical and tedious (not to mention depressing). I’ll be sifting through this stuff and, in future posts, I’ll repackage the most important material and pump some life into it.

Nuclear Iran: Misconstrued and defending myself

Posted November 1, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Off Topic Rant

Tags: ,

My post from 10/25/07, “How much is that nuclear bomb in the window?”, was quoted in another blog, righttruth (about seven paragraphs into the righttruth post). That blog used my words, I think, as an argument for a hawkish resolution to the Iranian nuclear problem. It’s hard to tell; the writing is unclear to me. Plus, I was misrepresented because it gave the impression, by the way it was laid out, that I said something that Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher said.

If anything, my 10/25 post was attempting to show that the immediate nuclear danger is NOT from Iran. My post gave evidence of the existence of a nuclear weapons black market and of the existence of unsecured stockpiles of nuclear material around the world.

If a nuke explodes on U.S. soil in the next five years, I bet the uranium would NOT have been enriched in Iran.

Dept. of Homeland Security Steps Up Prevention of Nuke Attacks

Posted October 31, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Prevention

Tags: ,

Two separate pieces of news:

There was some buzz this week on DHS’s “Securing the Cities” project, a program designed to protect cities from nuclear and radioactive weapons by securing city perimeters. You can read about this week’s news at northjersey.com. Here’s a background article from 2/8/07 in the New York Times.

Small boat operators will come under increased scrutiny as DHS fears they could be used in an attack, including a nuclear bomb. That’s from this article today in USA Today.