Posted tagged ‘radiation poisoning’

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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