How to survive a Nuclear explosion? Here is the Answer

How in the world do you really survive a nuclear explosion, and is survival even realistic? The good news is, it’s totally possible to survive a nuclear explosion. The bad news is that for most folks the explosion isn’t what poses the greatest danger, it’s the radioactive fallout. But let’s take this step by step and figure out how to save your life in the case of nuclear armageddon. The first key to figuring out your odds of survival is one critical question: was the detonation an airburst or a groundburst? It may seem like the height at which a nuclear weapon explodes is largely a moot point, nukes are after all the most destructive weapons ever created. 

But the truth is that the difference between a nuke blowing up at street level, or just a few hundred or thousand feet above street level can make all the difference. Cities tend to be lousy with buildings, and even when dealing with the titanic forces of a nuclear explosion, buildings can do a lot to seriously deflate the explosive potential of a nuke. Row after row of densely packed apartment complexes and office buildings can all serve to block the explosive power of a nuke, limiting its destructive potential by as much as fifty percent.

The fireball radius where material is instantly disintegrated can be as much as 25 percent smaller, but the radius where overpressure causes building collapse is much, much smaller compared to an airburst. Airbursts are designed for maximum destruction, with the weapon detonating just a few thousand feet above the target. This allows the explosive radius to extend much further as it’s not being blocked by buildings and other terrain obstacles. Deciding which is best for your survival is a bit of a Sophie’s Choice though, as airburst weapons may have a much larger explosive radius, but actually causes very minimal fallout.

By comparison, ground burst detonations have smaller explosive radius but contribute an order of magnitude more to radioactive fallout. The only reason Japanese citizens continue to be able to live in the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima is because the United States opted for an airburst over the target. Had the bombs been allowed to detonate on impact as some had wanted, those two cities would remain as uninhabitable as Chernobyl to this day. The reason for the disparity in fallout is because an airburst tends to actually discharge most of its radioactive products into the uppermost layers of the atmosphere and into space, while a groundburst instantly irradiates millions of tons of soil and debris which is vaporized and sucked up into the atmosphere, only to rain back down later like hell’s version of snow.

Your survival is thus going to depend on which type of detonation took place, and where you are when the attack happens. A modern weapon such as China’s Dong Feng-5 will have a yield of 5 megatons, creating a fireball radius of about 2.5 miles or 3 to 4 kilometers. Anything in this area has zero chance of survival unless deep underground, as the blast is so intense here that it instantly vaporizes all material. Past the fireball area, most buildings will be completely destroyed going out to a further 7.5 mile (12km) radius, as overpressure causes instant collapse of all but the sturdiest buildings. 

If you’re caught out in the open in this area it’ll be like getting Fus-Roh-Dah’d by an entire army of dragonborn, so enjoy your very sudden and very short life as a bird before you get squashed into the nearest brick wall. Out to about 15.5 miles (25km) there will be light building collapse, with most buildings surviving if not completely intact. If you happen to be caught out in the open though, you’ll instantly suffer third degree burns across any exposed areas of your body and your clothes will likely either melt to your body or burst into flames. Massive fires will soon start and spread very quickly, further complicating survival.

At 21.5 miles (35 km) from the blast zone, damage caused to buildings will be light, with mostly shattered glass and some roof collapse. This is the most survivable zone to be in, so if you’re going to be anywhere when Skynet takes over the world, this is where you want to be. So, how do you survive a nuclear blast? First, you should be aware that because light travels faster than sound, you’re going to see a nuclear explosion before you hear or feel it. If you happen to be within a few miles of the blast and are unlucky enough to be staring in its direction, your retinas will be seared like tuna steaks, and it’ll be the last thing you don’t see. 

If you’re further out and a blast happens, you may be tempted to immediately rush to a window and be a total lookie-loo, which would be a very bad idea. The overpressure wave will be rapidly moving towards your direction, and a few seconds after the blast it’s going to wash over you. If you’re on the other side of a pane of glass or standing outside, you’ll be showered in debris and shattered glass. You might be thinking about the old cold war-era civilian protection films from the US like the famous duck and cover film showing a turtle teaching school kids how to survive a nuke.

Well, it may be cheesy and corny, but the truth is that ducking and covering is the best way to survive a nuke- given you’re actually in a survivable zone. Ducking low to the ground will help you avoid flying debris if you’re caught out in the open, and covering yourself with anything available will help protect against debris and the thermal flash which will cook your flesh like barbeque. Finding a sturdy desk to hide under is your best go-to if you’re in doors, as the greatest danger in the survivable blast zone is building collapse. In essence, the same strategies to survive a major earthquake come into play with nuclear weapons- find something sturdy and get underneath it.

If you’re caught out in the open, cover your head and neck with your hands and bury your face in the dirt. Ideally you want to lay with your feet towards the blast, because your head is more important for survival than your feet. The real trick to surviving a nuclear attack though is not the initial blast, but rather the immediate aftermath. Depending on the type of attack- ground versus airburst- you’ll have anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes before fallout starts, well, falling out of the sky all around you. These fission byproducts are extremely dangerous, and will ruin your day faster than telling shaggy his meme is dead.

You might be tempted to run for it immediately after the blast subsides, just hop in your car and outdrive the nuclear fallout. Disturbingly, in some polls a great deal of Americans had the same idea. The problem is that roads are either going to be destroyed or choked with debris, or filled with thousands of people who all had the same idea you did. Also, atmospheric winds can move much faster than a car, giving you no chance of outrunning them if you’re traveling in the same direction. The best survival strategy is the same one the US government has been preaching for decades- shelter in place. You want to find a sturdy shelter and get inside it as soon as possible.

Something underground is ideal, but if your building doesn’t have a basement then simply try to put as much distance and barriers between yourself and the outside world as possible. Try to keep in mind the basic safety principle behind nuclear power: time, distance, and shielding. As you increase either of those factors, you increase your odds of survival. Gathering in the core of a large building will offer great protection from fallout, adding both distance and shielding. Surprisingly, if you live in a particularly tall building, the higher up you go the better your odds of surviving the fallout- if of course your building doesn’t have a basement.

This only works on buildings higher than 6 stories though, as they rise above the prevailing height of ground winds pushing atomized radioactive debris around. Once you’ve accomplished distance and shielding, the next step is time. You want to wait between 12 and 24 hours, but the longer you wait the better. That’s because the most dangerous radioactive isotopes have very short half-lifes and will quickly decay, so the longer you’re able to shelter in place, the better. Once it’s time to move out though, you’ll want to protect yourself from the greatest danger of a post-nuclear attack: ingestion of radioactive fallout.

This low-level fallout doesn’t pose any real threat to your health unless it is accidentally ingested, so try and fashion some protective face masks to filter out the air you breathe. Even just wetting a t-shirt and tying it around your nose and mouth can help keep this dangerous breathable fallout from getting into your body. Your best bet though is to avoid traveling altogether, adding further time to your safety equation. Shelter in place for as long as you can, which means that you need to be prepared for an emergency so you’re able to do so. The US government recommends having at least a few days worth of food and water.

Water, as you likely know, is far more important than food- while you can survive around a month without food, you can only go three days without drinking water. So keep an emergency stash on hand, remembering that the average human needs one gallon of water per day. Non-perishable foods can help you weather the immediate aftermath of a nuclear attack. Things like canned goods, dehydrated foods, and even pickled items can last a long time and make for great emergency rations. You can easily buy military MREs, or meal-ready-to-eat, online, and two of those contain more than enough calories to keep you going for a day- though these specialized meals are so energy rich that a single one is enough for the average adult human.

Next, the US government recommends that you have a way of keeping informed in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. The EMP blast will likely destroy any surviving cell or internet infrastructure, though you might be surprised to learn that the internet is humanity’s most resilient communications network given the fact that it’s so widely dispersed. However, huddling in your shelter still within the city limits of a nuclear attack, you’re far better served with a satellite or shortwave radio. It will be important to be able to get further instructions from your local government authorities, who will be coordinating a rescue and relief effort. Certain conditions like rain storms can actually make the fallout effect more dangerous, so even just having access to basic weather forecasts can be a lifesaver. 

Like many things in life, surviving a nuclear attack is largely a matter of timing and location. If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, there’s little chance of survival for you, but even as destructive as these fearsome weapons are, the fact is that most people would survive a nuclear attack on their city. In a city like Los Angeles for instance, a nuclear attack could kill 1.5 million out of a population of 4 million, but if your city is less densely packed, your odds of survival are much greater. Just whatever you do, don’t think you can survive a nuclear explosion inside a refrigerator. Want to know what a real nuclear war would look like? Then check out What if there was a nuclear war between the US and Russia, or perhaps you’d prefer this other video instead. Either way, click one now before Skynet destroys us all!

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