Preparing for Nuclear war III

In the last articles (Preparing for Nuclear war II) & then Revised Scenario I outlined what I consider to be likely scenarios for nuclear war. In this article, I want to start looking at some specifics. In particular what can be done to improve our chances of survival.

The Flash: duck and cover

The intense heat of the flash, is the most obvious start of a nuclear event. It is also the one thing that we can do most to protect ourselves against, because it doesn’t need complex shelters. The reason it is critical to protect from the flash, rather than initial radioactivity, is because if you are in the area where the initial radioactive radiation causes serious injury, you are also in the area where you are very likely to die from the blast wave. So, protecting yourself from the radioactivity, doesn’t help you survive, when the blast wave will get you.

If you are in the area where blast wave is killing people, the flash will be intense, the radiation will be intense, and you will likely be buried in rubble and die. Everything is against you. So unless you are lucky enough to be an extremely well made shelter before the blast, in the area where the direct radioactivity is an issue you are highly likely to die in the blast or shortly after.

However, if you are outside the area where the blast kills, you will survive, unless you get serious burns by the intense heat of the flash or suffer fallout. But since fallout mostly affects people downwind, it’s the flash that is the one single biggest factor for most people.

Unfortunately, the flash will cause serious life threatening burns over an extremely large area with a radius of 10s of kilometres. Whilst bigger bombs affect a much bigger area, on the “plus” side, the bigger the blast, the longer the “flash” and the more simply hitting the ground (“duck and cover”) can reduce your flash burn injuries.

So learn to HIT THE DECK … DO IT NOW!

Still reading? You’ve just killed yourself!

Seriously, one of the tried and tested ways of reducing injuries, is to get into the habit of hitting the deck. That is what saved a lot of Japanese children when the US dropped, not just one, but two bombs onto unsuspecting civilians. It’s extremely embarrassing suddenly hitting the ground. I’ve tried it … totally alone in the room, and you still feel an ass. But it must be instantaneous.

So, set an alarm, get back to what you normally do, and then hit the deck when it goes off. It’s just not a normal thing to do. But, unless you get into the habit, you won’t do it fast enough,you will get serious burns and that is the difference between survival and death.

The fallout shelter

When I started looking at fallout shelters, I believed I could modify a part of the house. By the time I finished, I realised the only shelter worth having is one below ground. That is a problem where I live, because the water table is quite high and such a shelter is almost certain to flood. The only viable alternative, is to build a shelter above ground and pile up about 1m of soil all around. But here is where it gets complicated.

You will hear about shelters with air filters and all kinds of gimmicks. And, yes they appear to be a good idea. But no one really knows. Because at the time they were exploding bombs, they were using some pretty crude instrumentation (most people in the tests didn’t even have personal radiation monitors). They were not really thinking about shelters and even if they were, the type of bombs are very different now. I was trying to model radiation going into a shelter, and I started listing all the different ways that radiation could affect someone, and I very quickly got to 20 different ways (e.g. radiation lying on a branch, radiation in a gutter, radiation from the sky, radiation from clothing). Even if I knew how much dirt was on a normal pair of shoes, there isn’t the information to know how that relates to radiation levels. Basically, my model would be filled with wild guesses.

That is the state of knowledge on the subject of fallout shelters.

The only very clear thing, is that radiation fallout will land on the ground, and the radiation will affect anything directly to the side or above it. So, if you are in a normal house … you will get affected. But, if you are under the ground, the level of radiation drops dramatically.

As for timing. The fallout dust starts falling immediately, but only in the blast zone. Then the timing depends on how fine the dust is, and, because the wind is blowing it downwind, the timing is later and later, the farther away someone is. I did some calculations and the 15minute suggested as a maximum time between the blast and getting into a fallout shelter was reasonable, given that the most intense radiation happens, when the first dust settles.

Note, the radioactivity does NOT decrease exponentially. The radioactivity soon after the explosion is very intense, and it is that initial radiation you have to avoid.

So, don’t think: “It will only take half an hour to get to a good shelter”. That doesn’t work here. BAD IDEA! Most of the deadly damage occurs in the very first minutes, or hours (depending when you get the fallout). The only sensible course, is to get to whatever shelter is available BEFORE the fallout. Even a wooden shack, is better than being caught out in the open, and slightly better than a car.

Then if that shelter isn’t much good (a wooden house), there’s an optimum time to move to better shelter. But it’s a complex issue.

Food, Water, sanitation.

When I started looking at shelters, I took on board what the “survivalists” said: you can last 21 days without food … so, I was prepared to say: “you’re only staying a maximum of 14days, so you don’t need food”. Then I tried an experiment of living without food. I lasted three days.

If you starve yourself, the brain starts playing tricks when you don’t have food. Things that were never important before, suddenly gain an importance … strangely if they lead to food. Your judgement goes, and if you are hungry, it is very likely you will find a “reason” why you have to leave a shelter … which just happens to coincide with getting food. So, don’t let that happen, and give yourself plenty of food.

Water is something you cannot go without. Any tap water is going to be contaminated. Any ground water is going to be contaminated. Any lake, pond, stream, is going to be contaminated. Some radioactive nuclei will dissolve, so that even the best filter cannot remove. The only sure way to get clean water, is to put aside water before the explosion.

How much? It is essential you have about 2-3 litres of drinking water a day. The body can cope with less, but it isn’t healthy and the advice is higher (3-4litres per day). If you were camping, you would typically use around 5 to 10 litres per person per day, more in hot areas. If you have a good underground shelter for 3, and stay 14 days, you need 100 to 400litres.  That is a huge volume just for water (That is 50 to 200 4pint milk containers).  Placed on the ground, 100 milk containers will cover an area of about 1.5 square meters. That is a lot of your shelter turned over to water.

And, remember what goes in, has to come out – that is some serious waste disposal!

Dry, warm, sleeping & entertainment.

But, water is not the first priority. Ahead of water, comes warmth, because even if you are lucky enough to have a cellar, it is extremely unlikely you will have heating. And you need to have some warm place to sleep, and you will not stay in the shelter, unless you can keep your mind occupied.

Flies, Midges and Mosquitoes

There is a high risk that these will get to plague proportions with serious consequences, both to your resolve to stay in a suitable shelter and to your health.

First Aid

There is a high risk of injury from burns, trauma and infectious diseases due to lack of sanitation that would normally need hospital treatment. I haven’t started to work out a plan for this.

Getting out

It is extremely likely that the only person who is going to help you reach safety is you and those immediately in your shelter. People can walk 40miles a day along paths. People will realistically find it difficult to walk 6miles a day, through an area which has been devastated by nuclear blast. In a situation with multiple explosions, you could be walking for weeks to get away from the fallout zone to where people are able to help.

A way to gauge radioactivity would seem a priority because you do not want to walk into any radioactive hot spot such as through the area immediately down wind of a blast and its nuclear fallout. Unfortunately, there were NO SUITABLE DEVICES AVAILABLE when I looked. Hand held devices are designed for extremely low levels of radioactivity, not the deadly doses after a bomb. Some Ukrainian was selling old Russian equipment that was suitable … but they didn’t mention you needed a charge unit which cost hundreds of pounds and (if it still worked) needed mains. You won’t have mains.

Other priorities are:

  • A vehicle (but it is likely you will have to ditch it and walk)
  • Map and compass
  • Walking boots
  • Hiking equipment: Rucksack, tent, sleeping bag, outdoor clothing
  • Enough water (>3l per person per day).
  • Enough food

Back to water. 3 people, walking out for 7 days will require more than 60litres. That is too much even if everyone is fit and able to carry their share. Add to that food, water, tent, sleeping bags, and it’s a serious load.

Knowing where to go

If you are in a fallout zone, getting out the fallout zone is a good idea (at the right time). But without a way to measure radioactivity (which isn’t easy), you will not know if you are going out, or going into a hot area. Mobile phones will likely be dead … or even if they still work, the batteries will run out. The only semi-reliable way is a battery radio, with plenty of batteries


A lot is talked about the electro magnetic pulse. A lot of bullshit is talked about the electromagnetic pulse, because it is only theory. I could find no credible evidence for any such pulse ever having occurred in practice. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, it just never did happen with the small nuclear explosions.

That means, that electronic equipment could work without problem … but theoretically it could fail. You should plan for both options … but I’ve no idea how to work out where you’re going if you have no means to find out where the bombs fell.

Arguably, the one sure thing, where a lot of bombs fell, is that if you walk around enough, you will eventually enter a deadly zone. So arguably, you shouldn’t move at all. But you should move if you start in a radioactive zone, you just don’t know where to go and if all the electronics is down, you have no way to find out which way to go.

This entry was posted in Ukraine. Bookmark the permalink.