Posted tagged ‘nuclear survival’

What it means to survive a nuclear bomb

January 2, 2008

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?

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Bet on surviving a nuclear bomb and have a plan

December 3, 2007

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.