How much is that nuclear bomb in the window?

Posted October 25, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Probability

Tags: , ,

I scratch my head over the mainstream press when they debate whether Iran will get the bomb in two years or five years or 10 years. They’ve missed the big story: Nuclear bombs are available on the black market today!

The former Russian Security Council secretary, Alexander Lebed, said in an interview on 60 Minutes on September 9, 1997, that more than 100 suitcase nukes are missing from the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The situation is probably worse. In his book, The Al Qaeda Connection, Paul L. Williams speculates that even more nukes were at risk as they were transported from strategic sites to arsenals (arsenals that remain unsecured even to this day, see below):

“Yet the movement of the twenty-two thousand nuclear weapons occurred when everything in Russia was falling apart.…then secretary of defense Dick Cheney said that recovery of 90 percent of the nukes in Russia would represent ‘excellent performance’. Such an ‘excellent performance’ would mean that 220 weapons would have been lost, stolen, or otherwise unaccounted for.”

Mr. Williams continues at length documenting the history of the nuclear arms black market, including Al Qaeda’s attempts at purchasing them and their intent on using them. Two more passages from the book:

“In the first three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the black market in nuclear weapons and materials began to boom.”

“On October 11, 2001, George Tenet, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, met with President Bush to convey the news that at least two suitcase nukes had reached al Qaeda operatives within the United States… The news sent the president ‘through the roof’, prompting him to order his national security team to give nuclear terrorism priority over every other threat to America.”

Paul L. Williams is a journalist and formerly served as a consultant to the FBI and as an adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Scranton. Here’s the amazon link to this worthy book, which I’ll come back to at a later time.

Unfortunately, the unsecured Russian nuclear arsenals remain a big problem. I found little in the mainstream press on the subject so I dug up this press release from September 9, 2002, from California Congresswoman Ellen O. Tauscher of the House Armed Services Committee. Here’s an excerpt:

“Despite significant improvements, the most likely source for a terrorist to acquire nuclear materials is Russia. Everyone here knows that they have a vast nuclear complex with hundreds of tons of inadequately protected fissile material. We should assume that the world’s two most wanted men do, too. [This press release is from 2002 so the other most wanted man she’s referring to is Saddam Hussein.]

“Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda terrorist organization have made numerous attempts to buy stolen nuclear material and to recruit scientists to help them make a bomb….

“Through American nonproliferation efforts, Russia has taken steps to safeguard its nuclear arsenal, but they still have an insufficient inventory system and only 40 percent of their arsenal is truly secured.

“According to recent U.S intelligence, there have been numerous attempts in the last decade to steal fissile material from facilities throughout the former Soviet Union.

“According to the National Intelligence Council’s latest report to Congress, the Russian warhead security system ‘may not be sufficient to meet today’s challenge of a knowledgeable insider collaborating with a criminal or terrorist group.’

“According to the Energy Department, some 603 tons of weapons-usable nuclear material — enough to make over 40,000 nuclear devices — is located at 53 sites in the former Soviet Union that require security upgrades.

“To make matters worse, the recently-signed Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty will, ironically, make nuclear security problems worse because it does not commit either nation to actually destroying a single nuclear weapon. Instead, it will allow the United States and Russia to merely store weapons, like putting your car on blocks in a garage, leaving more nuclear parts in more locations where they will likely be less secure.

“The danger posed by unsecured nuclear material is not just a Russian problem. Enough civilian plutonium for many nuclear weapons exists in Germany, Belgium, Japan, and Switzerland, and some 20 tons of civilian highly enriched uranium exists at 345 operational and shut down civilian research facilities in 58 countries, sometimes in quantities large enough to make a bomb.”

Do you think this could get messy?

Cynicism and Irony

Posted October 23, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Off Topic Rant

Tags: , ,

Pardon this cynical and facetious thought but I have a solution to global warming: nuclear winter. A bunch of nukes would create an abundance of dust and smoke in the atmosphere, which would shade the earth from the sun and lower global temperatures. While studies of the affects of nuclear winter are theoretical, it seems to be widely accepted. Famous astronomer Carl Sagan, who was no chump, first proposed nuclear winter.

And note this irony: Nuclear energy has the potential to both destroy the earth and to save the earth. While a nuclear war would immediately kill many and slowly kill more (nuclear winter, cancer), nuclear power plants may be the only practical solution to global warming. Every energy source has problems and some are quite damaging—don’t get me started on coal—but nuclear power does not emit greenhouse gases. In fact, some well-known environmentalists are now pro-nuclear, such as Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore and British environmentalist James Lovelock.

Full Disclosure: I own uranium mining stocks in my investment portfolio. This is not a political statement as I invest only to make money.

Radioactive “Dirty Bomb” Exercise

Posted October 14, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Contamination, Probability

The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) is running a dirty bomb preparedness exercise this week, Oct. 15-19, called TOPOFF 4 (Top Officials 4). It’ll take place in Portland, Phoenix and Guam and will involve many thousands of people from all levels of the public and private sectors. Here’s the TOPOFF 4 link in the DHS website, although there’s not much there.

Training for people directly involved in disaster prevention and relief is important but what about you and me? A first responder is probably not going to be available in the first two minutes after an explosion to help me decide if I should seek shelter or evacuate. Everybody needs preparation.

Interestingly, dirty bombs use conventional explosives so it may not be apparent that a bomb is dirty (i.e., radioactive). One thing you can do if you suspect radiation is to shed your clothes, which you should always do if you’re contaminated, and save them in a sealed plastic bag for testing.

How easy is it to obtain radioactive material to create a dirty bomb? Here’s something from the book, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, by Graham Allison, founding dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary of defense under Clinton:

“The consensus in the national security community has long been that a dirty bomb attack is inevitable, indeed long overdue. The integration of various forms of radioactive material in modern life, from X-rays in dentists’ offices and hospitals to smoke detectors, has made control of such material impossible.”

This is a worthy book and I’ll come back to it at a later time. Here’s the amazon link.

Nuclear Fallout: Which Way is the Wind Blowing?

Posted September 27, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Survival

Tags: ,

The vast majority of inhabitants of a city will likely survive a nuclear attack. If a one kiloton suitcase nuclear bomb exploded in my area and I was a “safe” five or 10 or 20 miles away, one of the big questions on my mind would be: which way is the fallout blowing?

Fallout information will come from official broadcasts and from personal observations. I’ll get more into firsthand observation in future posts, but here’s some practical advice from the FEMA website: “Monitoring can project the fallout arrival times, which will be announced through official warning channels. However, any increase in surface build-up of gritty dust and dirt should be a warning for taking protective measures.” This makes sense as a bomb digs a creator in the ground and the soil gets sucked into the atmosphere by the blast. Thus, if the environment around you is becoming dirtier and grittier, there’s a chance you’re in the path of the fallout.

After FEMA’s hurricane Katrina performance, and because I may not have a working electronic device, I don’t want a survival strategy that relies 100 percent on broadcasts. But, for now, I’m curious how fallout information will be broadcast. Keep in mind that even if my TV is working, if I was only five miles from the blast I’m not sure if kicking back to watch TV will be my first impulse, but there will be some distance from the blast where getting information from TV and radio should be helpful.

The Emergency Alert System (EAS), jointly operated by FEMA, the FCC and the National Weather Service, is designed to broadcast emergency information. The FEMA website says to “Keep listening to the radio and television for news about what to do, where to go, and places to avoid.” I have a few questions:

  1. There may be an abundance of emergency information that needs broadcasting. Will fallout be at the top of the list, ie, how long will I have to listen before I get the information? Will the information make sense to me? I suspect time may be of the essence as I may be faced, depending on the direction of the fallout, with the choice of seeking shelter immediately or moving to a safer area.
  2. Can I get this information from my cell phone, which is the most likely device I’ll have on me? This assumes the cellular system is still working and is not jammed.
  3. If I’m a “comfortable” 50 or 100 miles away, is there a website that will track the fallout plume?
  4. If I live 500 or 1000 miles away, how concerned should I be? Given that winds tend to travel west to east, if a bomb goes off on the West Coast and I live on the East Coast, am I at risk?
  5. What shape is FEMA in? A nuke will put a lot more stress on them than hurricane Katrina, an event for which they had warning. What if more than one nuclear bomb goes off? What if a bomb takes out part of our intelligence network?
  6. The EAS was not activated during the 9/11 attack. One explanation is that the media coverage was pervasive and served as an adequate warning. If that’s true, do I really want survival information in the hands of the press and, if so, which network will be the most reliable? If that’s not true, ie, the EAS failed, is it now ready to handle the chaos of a NA?

As I try to imagine the immediate post-nuclear attack environment, I wonder about the nature of the fallout information that I’ll receive. If I’m told the fallout is moving, say, southwesterly, will I know which way is southwest? Something like a weather map would be a good presentation but what if I only have a radio? Maybe I’ll be told to avoid certain neighborhoods and towns but, even after living in my city for years, I still don’t know half the areas mentioned in traffic reports. Wind direction can change—will wind patterns be squirrely after a nuclear bomb and how often do I need updated information?

It would be nice to get cell phone alerts after a nuclear atack. (Again, even if I can receive emergency alerts via cell phone, I don’t know if the alerts will give fallout information and, if so, if the information will make sense.) The EAS entry in the Wikipedia mentions a couple of options that offer cell and email delivery: “A private website called the Emergency Email Network offers to send an email or SMS text message to registered users in the event of an EAS activation. Some desktop weather monitoring programs, such as WeatherBug, offer a computer alert during emergencies. Currently under development is new infrastructure called the Digital Emergency Alert System. This system would allow the transmission of emergency alerts directly to citizens and responders without the need for a special receiver. These alerts would be sent to users of computers, mobile phones, pagers, and other devices.”

I signed up for the Emergency Email Network (EEN), a private venture of Enotem (I googled for Enotem and came up with this link with more information). You sign up with your zip code and it would be great to receive zip code-specific fallout information. After all, what if you tune into the EAS after a nuclear attack and all you get is the President, in a national broadcast, telling us not to panic? I’ll ask the EEN if and how they intend to give fallout information.

I poked around the WeatherBug website and found no reference to them giving out non-weather emergency information. They have a variety of consumer products for computer and cell phone so I will contact them for clarification. Weather bureaus handle disaster warnings (hurricanes, tsunamis, etc), fallout is directly related to wind direction and weather maps seem to be a good way to display the fallout plume, so it makes sense that a weather service would be a good source for this information.

I’ve been clicking around the Internet but I’ve yet to find any websites claiming that they’ll provide real-time fallout information. I’d rather not have to google for a website in the middle of a nuclear disaster so I’ll keep searching. As I gather more information on any service that’ll dispense real-time fallout information, I’ll let you know and put important links in the blogroll. If any readers know of other sources for this information, please contact me or post a comment.

Question #4 above affects a lot of people so I’ll look into it. I think the gist of questions #5 and #6 are unanswerable as the only acceptable proof will be in the pudding of how well FEMA and the EAS handle the next disaster. The news networks are aggressive in putting reporters in the “eye of the storm” so I’ll look into it and let you know if any networks have been stocking hazmat suits and Geiger counters.

I hope I get fallout warnings and that they make sense but, unfortunately, hope is not a good survival strategy. I’m coming to the conclusion that individuals close to the blast will need to take a good deal of responsibility on their own in determining the direction of the fallout and how to react. In future posts I’ll look at issues like whether to stay put or evacuate, which direction to move if you’re evacuating a fallout area, what type of shelter to seek from fallout and what to do if you’re contaminated.

After the Bomb

Posted September 12, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Preparation, Probability, Survival

Tags: ,

Click here for an interesting New York Times op-ed piece from 6/12/07, ”After the Bomb”, by three retired bigshots, a former defense secretary, a former assistant defense secretary, and a former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

These gentlemen say the probability of a nuclear attack “is larger than it was five years ago.” They suggest the formation of a contingency plan for the inevitable chaos on the day after: “Sadly, it is time to consider such contingency planning. First and foremost, the scale of disaster would quickly overwhelm even the most prepared city and state governments.”

If a former secretary of defense and his colleagues are requesting the formation of a contingency plan, it makes me wonder, do we currently have a plan? Or maybe they think we have an inadequate plan. Or, maybe, because they think you can’t plan the day after, they feel a new plan should be devised to plan that the day after is unplannable. I’m getting the warm, radioactive fuzzies all over.

They give good survival info if you survive the blast. They bring up an important point, which is to know which way the wind is blowing to determine if you’re in the path of the fallout:

“Those lucky enough to be upwind could remain in their homes if they knew which way the fallout plume was blowing. (The federal government has the ability to determine that and to quickly broadcast the information.) But for those downwind and more than a few miles from ground zero, the best move would be to shelter in a basement for three days or so and only then leave the area. This is a hard truth to absorb, since we all would have a strong instinct to flee. But walking toward the suburbs or sitting in long traffic jams would directly expose people to radiation, which would be the most intense on the day after the bomb went off.”

More about determining wind direction in my next post.

They state there will be choices for individuals regarding what to do, which should take into consideration radiation exposure and the chance of long term health risks, specifically cancer:

“The choices would be determined by the dose of radiation they were willing to absorb. Except in the hot zone around the blast and a few miles downwind, even unsheltered people would not be exposed to enough radiation to make them die or even become sick. It would be enough only to raise their statistical chance of getting cancer later in life from 20 percent (the average chance we all have) to something greater — 21 percent, 22 percent, up to 30 percent at the maximum survivable exposure.”

Finally, they bring up a very interesting point. A nuclear attack in one city could inflict fear of more bombs in other cities and could incite the mass or partial evacuation of our major cities:

“Next comes the unpleasant fact that the first nuclear bomb may well not be the last. If terrorists manage to obtain a weapon, or the fissile material to make one (which fits into a small suitcase), who’s to say they wouldn’t have two or three more? And even if they had no more weapons, the terrorists would most likely claim that they did. So people in other cities would want to evacuate on the day after, or at least move their children to the countryside, as happened in England during World War II.”

I think this concept is a biggie in putting together a survival strategy: Everybody should be prepared to stay in their homes for an extended period of time without emerging; and everybody should be prepared to evacuate their homes immediately.

For some grim, depressing comments on this New York Times piece and what the day after would be like, click here for a column by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Although I agree that survivors in the immediate area will be too traumatized to act rational in the ensuing chaos, there will be a distance from the blast where people will not be as traumatized and will need to make immediate decisions. Common sense says that those who are prepared will fare best.

What’s a safe distance from a nuclear bomb? That will be the subject of numerous futures posts.

A Run on a Bank!

Posted August 18, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Off Topic Rant, Preparation

This is a little off topic, but I was stunned to read this headline from The Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Californians rush to pull money from Countrywide Bank.” The first sentence reads, “Anxious customers jammed the phone lines and Web site of Countrywide Bank and crowded its branch offices to pull out their savings because of concerns about the financial problems of the mortgage lender that owns the bank.” Click here for the full article.

Is this 1929 or 2007? How messed up is the financial system? How would the markets react to a nuke attack? Are your assets safe? At a later time I’ll talk about what I’ve done to disaster-proof my finances.

Security and terrorism website: DEBKAfile

Posted August 15, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Threats

The website that broke the NYC dirty bomb story is debka.com, I site I’ve browsed over the past few years. It’s a very good site and you’ll get stuff there that you won’t see in the mainstream American press or DEBKAfile gets it first. I’ve also placed the link in the blogroll.

Dirty Bomb Scare in NYC

Posted August 15, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: Threats

There was a dirty bomb scare in New York City a few days ago. Here’s the Reuters link.

According to CBS News there were checks points and travel was brought to a “near crawl”. The CBS article also stated, “First word of the threat came from an Israeli-based Web site quoting an alleged American member of al Qaeda predicting attacks in New York, Miami and Los Angeles.” But Miami and Los Angeles “made no adjustments to their normal security arrangements”.

I’m curious to know why NYC reacted cautiously and Miami and LA seemed to ignore the warning.

Thinking About the Unthinkable

Posted August 2, 2007 by surviveanukeattack
Categories: About

I live in a big city, three miles from a known terrorist target. I wonder and worry about nuclear terrorism.

This is what I think about: What’s the likelihood of a nuclear attack (NA)? What can I do to prepare? If I don’t die in the blast, how can I survive a NA and how do I deal with contamination? What will life will be like after a NA?

I don’t know a lot about surviving a nuclear bomb, but I’m curious. I have a lot of questions and, as I find the answers, I’ll be blogging about it. I hope others more knowledgeable will chime in.