Nuclear War Survival - Part 2 - How To Survive a Nuclear War - Nuclear Bomb Attack, Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Fallout

Nuclear War Survival — Part 2 — How To Survive a Nuclear War

See also: Nuclear War Survival — How to Survive a Nuclear War, Preparing for an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse), What To Do About the Upcoming Economic Crash, Why the Global Economy is About to Crash, Books About Survival in the Future Hard Times, Arithmetic, Population and Energy (Video).

Since the original Nuclear War Survival page was already plenty long enough, I've added some new information on this second nuclear war survival page. Since nuclear war is such a prominent topic in current (as of late September 2022) world news, here is some extra info.

Note also (as before) that nearly everything on these nuclear war survival pages is technical, rather than political — and the most of the technical aspects of nuclear war survival don't change that much over time. Which means that most of these pages' content is still just as relevant now, and in future (even if I don't have time to update the page as often as ideal).

This page describes some of the things you can do to survive a nuclear war, or other attack by nuclear weapons (such as from a terrorist organisation or rogue state).

NOTE ALSO that the Nuclear Bomb Explosion Simulator should now be fully working again (again, as of 25 September 2022).

This page will cover a few extra topics. For now, these are mainly: (1) updated overall summaries of key topics (including that nuclear war survival is actually possible), (2) details about Russia's current nuclear weapon arsenal, and (3) nuclear war survival information based on being closer than "ideal" to nuclear detonations and/or not being in an "ideal" off-grid location.

What's On This Page

More Quick Facts
Summary of Reasons Why Nuclear War Survival is Possible
Nuclear Bomb Explosion Simulator (As before, but it's working currently)
Russia's Strategic Nuclear Arsenal
Survival Somewhat Close to a Nuclear Detonation
Recommended Reading (As before)

Important IMPORTANT: Please read the legal section and disclaimer before attempting any of the skills or practices shown in this website.

More Quick Facts

A few of the key points are repeated from the previous page's list — this list is version two.

  • Nuclear war is much more survivable than you probably realise.
  • Nuclear war can escalate much faster than you probably realise.
  • As of 2022, there are around 3500-4000 active (as in ready to be used) nuclear weapons in the world (across all countries).
  • There have already been about 500 atmospheric (i.e. not underground) nuclear bomb tests (as in actual nuclear full-scale explosions detonated).
  • This means that we have already detonated approximately one-tenth (this is a ballpark figure) of the nuclear weapons (and overall radioactive products released) that an all-out nuclear war would release across the Earth.
  • These atmospheric nuclear tests did damage some people (and the environment), but the ~500 previous actual nuclear weapon detonations did not result in anything like the death of one-tenth of all of life (or people) on Earth.
  • Depending on exactly what ends up getting targeted in Australia — possibly for most Australians overall, and definitely for most non-urban Australians, the biggest challenges from nuclear war will be the difficulty of living without modern technology and modern Western civilisation (as opposed to the most commonly-expected directly-nuclear effects such as fire, blast, and fallout).
  • The one directly-nuclear effect which is almost certain to apply to all across Australia is EMP. Even if you live far away from any detonations and from any heat, blast, and fallout danger; a nuclear EMP can permanently destroy electronics 2000 kilometres away from a detonation.
  • Nuclear fallout (from nuclear bomb explosions) differs in key respects to nuclear waste from power plants and pollution from power plant accidents. The main differences are (1) the initial rate of nuclear radiation from weapons falls off much quicker than for power plant waste (or power plant accidents), and (2) there is far less overall radioactive material in weapons (a few kilograms per weapon) than in power plants (a few tens of tonnes of waste per plant per year).
  • The level of nuclear radiation from bomb fallout decays much faster than what most people think.
  • To survive high levels of nuclear fallout (as would happen close to nuclear detonations) you will need some sort of physical protection, such as a fallout shelter.
  • The "Duck and Cover" videos from the cold war days, which are sometimes regarded as laughably inadequate, are actually a really good idea — if you're close enough to a detonation to experience some of the heat flash and blast wave effects, and not so close as to be instantly fried no matter what you do. For much more detail on the exact distances involved here, you can check out various locations using the nuclear explosion simulator (see below).
  • A nuclear war will obviously cause massive disruption to the modern economy and our way of life, but this is guaranteed to happen anyway, sooner or later, irrespective of whether there is a nuclear war. This web page focuses on problems specific to nuclear war.

Summary of Reasons Why Nuclear War Survival is Possible

Nuclear War Radiation Decays Relatively Fast

The graph below shows the rate of decay (i.e. decrease) of radiation from nuclear fallout over time.

Most people viewing this graph for the first time will probably be quite surprised as to how quickly the levels of radiation decay.

Decay of Nuclear Fallout - Nuclear War Survival - How To Survive a Nuclear War - Nuclear Bomb Attack, Nuclear Weapons


Decay of the radiation from nuclear fallout (Source: Nuclear War Survival Skills)

Notice that the horizontal scale on this graph is in hours after the explosion. As you can see, even after 7 hours, the danger level has dropped dramatically to only 1/10th of the level one hour after the explosion. By 48 hours (two days) the radiation level has reduced by another ten times to 1/100th what it was at one hour after the explosion.

Note that the "low" levels at the right of this graph are still quite dangerous, and you would need to be in a shelter for about two weeks (for most of that time), to survive this scenario (more detail here). However, the levels in this graph are for locations close to nuclear detonations, not for people located far away where there would be little or no (depending on distance and weather/wind) danger from fallout.

Slow Mixing of the Earth's Atmosphere Between Hemispheres

There is much less transfer of air (due to wind currents) between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres than there is from east-west or west-east within each hemisphere.

Nearly all the warheads in a nuclear war would be detonated in the Northern Hemisphere. This means that in the Southern Hemisphere, down here, we are much safer from nuclear fallout which spreads over a really large area, as it would in a global nuclear war.

There is a region of very limited wind near the equator, called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). It's known by sailors as the doldrums. Wind-powered sailing boats can get trapped in this zone for days or weeks (since there is so little wind, i.e. air transfer, across the equator). This region was extremely dangerous in the days when wind-powered sailing boats were the only means of international transport, and there was no radio equipment to signal distress, or motor-powered rescue vehicles.

In terms of nuclear war survival, however, the zone is a blessing for the Southern Hemisphere — as it means nuclear fallout from the North will take much longer to get down here. According to the ABC, "There is some exchange between the two [hemispheres], but the process takes a year or two, versus about a week for air to circulate within a hemisphere."

When you consider how the radioactivity of fallout decays over time, as seen above, this is an absolutely massive advantage for those who live in the South. By the time fallout from the Northern Hemisphere reaches the Southern Hemisphere, it will have had about a year to decay.

Reduced Global Stockpiles of Nuclear Weapons

Although the chance of nuclear war is now high again, the overall amount of damage that would be done by a global nuclear war is much less than it was historically, due to the smaller number of nuclear weapons that are now operational. This means that a nuclear war is much more survivable now than it would have been during the cold war. The graph below shows this for the USA and Russia. Other countries contribute only a very minor addition to this total.

Nuclear Weapon Stockpiles - Nuclear War Survival - How To Survive a Nuclear War - Nuclear Bomb Attack, Nuclear Weapons


There are far fewer nuclear weapons in the world now than during the cold war. (Source: Wikipedia)

Since 2010, the total number of nuclear weapons has not changed much. It's slightly less in 2022 than it was in 2010. A recent graph is shown below.

Estimated World Nuclear Weapon Stockpiles - Nuclear War Survival - How To Survive a Nuclear War


Since 2010, the total number of nuclear weapons has not changed much. It's slightly less in 2022 than it was in 2010. (Source: OurWorldInData.org)

The peak numbers, and the number of about 10,000 at the far right of this graph, are larger than on the previous (2010) graph because that graph counts each country as a separate graph/number. This one shows the total for the world added together.

We Have Already Detonated About a Tenth of the Total Nuclear Weapons That Would Be Used in an All-Out Nuclear War

There are claims by some people that an all-out nuclear war would result in the death of all life on Earth, or at "least" the death of all of humanity. (And that perhaps not much more than cockroaches would survive.)

Consider that 500 atmospheric nuclear detonations have already occurred (in tests). Compare this number of about 500 to the total number of currently deployed nuclear warheads (about 3500-4000). We are nowhere remotely close to all dropping dead from these tests of actual real full-scale nuclear weapons. Or even one-tenth of us.

For obvious reasons, a real nuclear war would focus more of the detonations close to population centres (like military bases and cities) than as happened in the nuclear tests — however the overall spread of fallout over the planet (for those not close-up to detonations) would be similar to the also-far-away tests. The point of this section is that overall damage to the planet, as a whole, and its life forms, would likely be about ten times as bad as we have already experienced from nuclear tests.

Here you can see real photographs of American cities with nuclear bombs (from tests) exploding on the horizon. And, clearly, not everyone in these cities died from nuclear effects.

The book Maralinga describes how air force pilots were ordered to fly right through the middle of mushroom clouds, and some of them were still alive decades later to tell their story.

There may be some additional effects due to a larger number of weapons detonated over a much closer timeframe (like weeks, days, hours, or less) as compared to the couple of decades of atmospheric nuclear testing. However even this seems unlikely to result in anything like the catastrophic predictions made by many.

Note also, especially, that many of these dire predictions were made at the peak of the cold war, when there were a lot more nuclear weapons to be detonated than there are now (as shown in the graph above).

Note that if you consider the size of the bombs (in terms of megatons of yield), a similar result of approximately 1/10 is still found. More detail here.

Nuclear Bomb Explosion Simulator

The nuclear bomb simulator shows three main dangers from a nuclear war — fire, blast, and fallout — as the three tabs across the top of the map. Try it out by typing the name of your closest large town or military base. Note that the "Fallout" button works on a random wind direction, and clicking on it repeatedly will give different fallout maps based on a different direction of wind.

NOTE that the Nuclear Bomb Explosion Simulator (at the link below) should now be fully working again (as of Sunday 25 September 2022). Google change their programming interface from time to time, which means that the page breaks until I update it to work with the latest version of the Google Maps interface.

The main purpose of the simulator is to show that the greatest danger from nuclear attack is found close to where any bombs are detonated. It loads with a randomly selected Australian location. The simulator was developed by Carlos Labs and modified for this web page by survival.ark.au. I haven't checked the distance calculations in detail, though they seem to be realistic. The fallout would eventually spread over a much greater area in real life than shown on the map, and would depend on whether it was an air burst or ground burst detonation. The fallout map in this simulator is for a ground burst, and shows the possible dispersion of radioactive isotopes after six hours of the explosion, assuming a constant gentle breeze.

Important NOTICE The Nuclear Bomb Explosion Simulator has now been moved to an improved version at www.prepping.com.au/nuclear-bomb-simulator.html

Russia's Strategic Nuclear Arsenal

You can use the numbers below to get some idea of the danger to Australia (and other countries) from a nuclear war involving Russia. For example, the blue column shows the number of kilotons of explosion yield (in equivalent of TNT, i.e. a 100 kT warhead makes about the same amount of pressure damage as 100,000 tonnes of TNT explosive). These numbers can be used in the simlator above to estimate the danger zone/radius/distance from any location (anywhere in the world) that you select on the simulator map. (The simulator will be modified soon to include an 800 kT warhead.)

Also, the numbers can help get some idea of the likelihood of Australia (and various locations within Australia) being targeted in a nuclear war — if you consider this is approximately the total amount of weapons available to be used against (presumably) much or all of the entire Western world and allies. Also consider the very large number of military installations and cities in other Western (and Western-allied) countries, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, for this number of weapons to be used against.

Distance numbers indicate that Australia is in range (just) of some Russian-launched ICBMs, and maybe borderline-in-range for some others. e.g. the Sydney to Moscow distance is 14,500 km. SLBMs (Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles) can be located anywhere in the world's oceans, and (using distance info from the table below) can launch warheads with a range of up to about 8000 km — though the yield/size of the explosions are smaller than the high-end of the large currently-deployed ICBM warheads.

Russian Nuclear Submarine - Nuclear War Survival - How To Survive a Nuclear War - Nuclear Bomb Attack, Nuclear Weapons


A Russian Nuclear Submarine. (Source: Pomorzev at Shutterstock)

Missiles in the table with more than one warhead per missile are known as MIRVs. MIRV stands for Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicle. The term "Re-entry vehicle" is used in the same exact sense as it is in the space program — these missiles are literally "space rockets", in every sense of the phrase.

The missiles typically take about 30 minutes from launch to reach their target. (Even at distances across much of the world).

The warheads in a MIRV can spread over a limited geographic area. The limit depends on the size of the missile/rocket and the details of each warhead, among other things, and is usually a few hundred km — though can be as much as 1500 km if all the targets are close enough to the same line-of-flight of the missile itself.

Most of this table is taken from the table on page 91 (of the journal, which is page 3 of the PDF) of this document from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2021. Range info and some other info from here, and here. Satan II info from Wikipedia. Some of the range info was taken from random Google searches leading to pages which looked likely to be legitimate sources of information.

The table below counts only "strategic" nuclear weapons, and not nonstrategic / tactical or defensive weapons, as these are generally regarded as being small and usually short-range (and Russia is a long way from Australia). Also (from the Journal PDF mentioned above), "All nonstrategic warheads are thought to be in central storage" [i.e. not currently deployed].

China is believed to have about 350 nuclear warheads in their arsenal as of the year 2020, and likely a few more since then. North Korea is believed to have about 30-40 nuclear warheads also as of 2020, increasing by about 6-7 per year (Wikipedia). In 2016, India signed a treaty declaring it to be a Major Defense Partner of the United States, though there seems to be some doubt (perhaps, only a little) as to which side India would take in a world war. India has (estimated) about 160 warheads as of 2022, and Pakistan has about 300 (also est. as of 2022, both from Wikipedia).

Russia's Strategic Nuclear Arsenal (Most statistics from ~2020).


  NATO Reporting Name Russian Name Year First Deployed Range (km) Number of Vehicles* Warheads x Yield (kT) Total Warheads
ICBMs
SS-18 M6 Satan RS-20V aka R-36M2 1988 16000 46 10 x 500/800 460**
SS-19 M4 Stiletto ? (Avanguard) 2019 10000 4 1 x HGV 4
SS-25 Sickle RS-12M (Topol) 1988 11000 27 1 x 800 27
SS-27 Mod 1 (mobile) RS-12M1 (Topol-M) 2006 11000 18 1 x 800? 18
SS-27 Mod 1 (silo) RS-12M2 (Topol-M) 1997 11000 60 1 x 800 60
SS-27 Mod 2 (mobile) RS-24 (Yars) 2010 10500 135 4 x 100? 540
SS-27 Mod 2 (silo) RS-24 (Yars) 2014 10500 20 4 x 100? 80
SS-X-29 (silo) Satan II RS-28 (Sarmat) 2022 18000 ? ( New / Currently increasing) 10 x 500? ?**
Subtotal       310   1189
SLBMs SS-N-18 M1 Stingray RSM-50 1978 6500 1 / 16*** 3 x 50 48
SS-N-23 M1 RSM-54 (Sineva) 2007 8300 6 / 96*** 4 x 100 384
SS-N-32 RSM-56 (Bulava) 2014 8300 4 / 64*** 6 x 100 384
Subtotal       11 / 176***   816
Bombers Bear-H6/16 Tu-95MS6 / MS16 / MSM 1984 / 2015 11500 55 16 missiles 448
Blackjack Tu-160/M 1987 / 2021 12300 13 12-24 missiles / bombs, dep on type 132
Subtotal       68   580
TOTAL         554   2585****

* "Vehicles" means the number of rockets (i.e. missiles) for ICBMs (which are land-launched); the number of subs / the total number of missiles for SLBMs, and the number of aeroplanes for Bombers.

** Warheads are assumed to be undergoing gradual transition from the Satan aka R-36M2 Voevoda aka SS-18 Mod 5 and Mod 6 (possibly and/or other locations and/or newly constructed warheads), to the newer and more powerful Satan II missiles.

*** For SLBMs (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles), this number represents the number of submarines / the total number of missiles over all submarines.

**** Only about 1600 of these nuclear weapons are understood to be currently deployed (i.e. ready for immediate or almost-immediate use).

Survival Somewhat Close to a Nuclear Detonation

Nuclear war is one of those topics that can completely freak people out — often to the point of thinking "why even bother?". So the first thing to know about nuclear war is actually good news: Nuclear war is much, much more survivable than what most people believe.

I'll repeat this point since it goes so strongly against what is often presented in the media and in popular culture, and it's an important starting point:

Important IMPORTANT: Nuclear war is much, much more survivable than what most people believe.

HOT:Survival, Self Sufficiency and Sustainable LivingThe One-Paragraph Solution

The paragraph below is a repeat from Page 1, and outlines a quick summary of basic advice. This is an idealised summary — you may be able to break some of these "rules" and still survive. Note that this strategy relies on (1) being far enough away from nuclear detonations, and (2) being able to survive completely "off-grid".

Realise that surviving nuclear war is possible. Be in the Southern Hemisphere. Be at least 50-100+ kilometres, ideally a few hundred or more kilometres, from where any nuclear warheads are detonated. Don't look at the fireball/flash, even from far away. Be able to survive without needing anything from the modern economy or "the grid". EMP-protect anything electronic you want to still work afterwards. Have some (EMP-protected) radiation monitoring equipment, and either a pre-made shelter or the knowledge to construct an expedient shelter if required. That's pretty much it.

Rural Off-Grid Location - Nuclear War Survival - How To Survive a Nuclear War


A rural location like this, far away from nuclear detonations, would be a good option for surviving a nuclear war. (Source: Konstanttin at Shutterstock)

Note also that if you're far enough away from any nuclear detonations (and ideally in the Southern Hemisphere), you may not need a shelter or radiation monitoring equipment at all. If you're too close to a nuclear explosion, there will be a wave of extreme heat followed by a shock (blast) wave — and other advice, such as descibed here below, will be required. And obviously if you're very much too close, it won't matter what you do.

What are the Dangers of Nuclear War?

The four main dangers of nuclear war (in order of time from when the bomb explodes, and also in order of geographical distance from "ground zero") are fire, blast, fallout, and nuclear winter. Another danger is EMP, or Electromagnetic Pulse, which is harmless to life forms, but could potentially destroy almost all modern electronic devices, even at very long distances from the nuclear detonations(s).

There are still many claims that EMP cannot cause a great deal of damage (especially at long distances from the explosion). This is despite hard scientific evidence from real actual nuclear EMP tests done by the military of the USA and USSR. For example:

"The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) [from the Soviet Operation K nuclear EMP test on 22 October 1962] fused all of the 570-kilometer monitored overhead telephone line with measured currents of 1500 to 3400 amperes during the 22 October 1962 test. The monitored telephone line was divided into sub-lines of 40 to 80 kilometres (25 to 50 mi) in length, separated by repeaters. Each sub-line was protected by fuses and by gas-filled overvoltage protectors. The EMP from the 22 October (K-3) nuclear test caused all of the fuses to blow and all of the overvoltage protectors to fire in all of the sub-lines of the 570 km (350 mi) telephone line. The EMP from the same test caused the destruction of the Karaganda power plant, and shut down 1,000 km (620 mi) of shallow-buried power cables..."

The effects of fire, blast, and nuclear fallout are very well known and understood, largely thanks to the nuclear tests done during the cold war. Of these three, the danger that will affect the most people, and is the most preventable, is nuclear fallout. Because of this, originally I focused on it first (and then added more info about the other dangers later on...)

Nuclear fallout is covered on the first nuclear war survival page.

Survival Closer to a Nuclear Detonation

In the cold war there were many government-made videos about how to survive a nuclear war. An example is Duck and Cover, from 1951, with Bert the Turtle. Many people think of this strategy as laughably inadequate, e.g. "Oh this is so stupid... you would instantly die... so what ever would duck and cover do?" However, outside of the radius of the actual fireball (and possibly even within it if you're in enough of a hardened/underground/etc location), but close enough to be within the radius of the heat wave and/or blast wave, this advice would save very many lives.

The content below (except for the images) is a copy-and-paste from www.ready.gov/nuclear-explosion (it's public domain), with a few edits (mostly not made yet but to be added soon). Any nontrivial edits will be shown in square brackets. Eventually much of this will probably turn into more of a paraphrase than a quoted section:

[Beginning of section from www.ready.gov]:

Nuclear explosions can cause significant damage and casualties from blast, heat, and radiation but you can keep your family safe by knowing what to do and being prepared if it occurs.

A nuclear weapon is a device that uses a nuclear reaction to create an explosion.

Nuclear devices range from a small portable device carried by an individual to a weapon carried by a missile.

A nuclear explosion may occur with or without a few minutes warning.

Fallout is most dangerous in the first few hours after the detonation when it is giving off the highest levels of radiation. It takes time for fallout to arrive back to ground level, often more than 15 minutes for areas outside of the immediate blast damage zones. This is enough time for you to be able to prevent significant radiation exposure by following these simple steps:

GET INSIDE

Get inside the nearest building to avoid radiation. Brick or concrete are best.

Remove contaminated clothing and wipe off or wash unprotected skin if you were outside after the fallout arrived. Hand sanitizer does not protect against fall out. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, if possible. Do not use disinfectant wipes on your skin.

Go to the basement or middle of the building. Stay away from the outer walls and roof. Try to maintain a distance of at least six feet between yourself and people who are not part of your household. If possible, wear a mask if you’re sheltering with people who are not a part of your household. Children under two years old, people who have trouble breathing, and those who are unable to remove masks on their own should not wear them.

STAY INSIDE

Stay inside for 24 hours unless local authorities provide other instructions. Continue to practice social distancing by wearing a mask and by keeping a distance of at least six feet between yourself and people who not part of your household.

Family should stay where they are inside. Reunite later to avoid exposure to dangerous radiation.

Keep your pets inside.

STAY TUNED

Tune into any media available for official information such as when it is safe to exit and where you should go.

Battery operated and hand crank radios will function after a nuclear detonation.

Cell phone, text messaging, television, and internet services may be disrupted or unavailable.

HOW TO STAY SAFE IN THE EVENT OF A NUCLEAR EXPLOSION

Prepare BEFORE, Ideally NOW

Identify shelter locations. Identify the best shelter location near where you spend a lot of time, such as home, work, and school. The best locations are underground and in the middle of larger buildings.

Identify Underground Locations - Nuclear War Survival - How To Survive a Nuclear War


Identifying suitable underground locations close to where you spend a lot of time, before an impending nuclear situation, could be life-saving. (Source: BrunoWeltmann at Shutterstock)

While commuting, identify appropriate shelters to seek in the event of a detonation. Due to COVID-19, many places you may pass on the way to and from work may be closed or may not have regular operating hours.

Outdoor areas, vehicles, mobile homes do NOT provide adequate shelter. Look for basements or the center of large multistory buildings.

Make sure you have an Emergency Supply Kit for places you frequent and might have to stay for 24 hours. It should include bottled water, packaged foods, emergency medicines, a hand-crank or battery-powered radio to get information in case power is out, a flashlight, and extra batteries for essential items. If possible, store supplies for three or more days.

  • If you are able to, set aside items like soap, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, disinfecting wipes, and general household cleaning supplies that you can use to disinfect surfaces you touch regularly. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Don’t forget the needs of pets. Obtain extra batteries and charging devices for phones and other critical equipment.
  • Being prepared allows you to avoid unnecessary excursions and to address minor medical issues at home, alleviating the burden on urgent care centers and hospitals.
  • Remember that not everyone can afford to respond by stocking up on necessities. For those who can afford it, making essential purchases and slowly building up supplies in advance will allow for longer time periods between shopping trips. This helps to protect those who are unable to procure essentials in advance of the pandemic and must shop more frequently. In addition, consider avoiding WIC-labeled products so that those who rely on these products can access them.

Disaster Preparedness Items and Checklist - Nuclear War Survival - How To Survive a Nuclear War


A checklist, and a collection of essential items useful to help survive a disaster such as nuclear war. (Source: speedshutter Photography at Shutterstock)

Survive DURING

If warned of an imminent attack, immediately get inside the nearest building and move away from windows. This will help provide protection from the blast, heat, and radiation of the detonation.

  • When you have reached a safe place, try to maintain a distance of at least six feet between yourself and people who are not part of your household. If possible, wear a mask if you’re sheltering with people who are not a part of your household. Children under two years old, people who have trouble breathing, and those who are unable to remove masks on their own should not wear them.

If you are outdoors when a detonation occurs take cover from the blast behind anything that might offer protection. Lie face down to protect exposed skin from the heat and flying debris. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, if possible. If you are in a vehicle, stop safely, and duck down within the vehicle.

After the shock wave passes, get inside the nearest, best shelter location for protection from potential fallout. You will have 10 minutes or more to find an adequate shelter. [The exact time will depend very much on your distance and the wind speed and direction, etc.]

Be inside before the fallout arrives. The highest outdoor radiation levels from fallout occur immediately after the fallout arrives and then decrease with time.

Stay tuned for updated instructions from emergency response officials. If advised to evacuate, listen for information about routes, shelters, and procedures.

If you have evacuated, do not return until you are told it is safe to do so by local officials.

  • Make plans to stay with friends or family in case of evacuation. Keep in mind that public shelter locations may have changed due to COVID-19. Check with local authorities to determine which public shelters are open.
  • If you are told by authorities to evacuate to a public shelter, try to bring items that can help protect yourself and your family from COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, cleaning materials, and two masks per person. Children under two years old, people who have trouble breathing, and people who cannot remove masks on their own should not wear them.
  • Review the CDC’s guidelines for “Going to a Public Disaster Shelter During the COVID-19 Pandemic."

Be Safe AFTER

Immediately after you are inside shelter, if you may have been outside after the fallout arrived.

Remove your outer layer of contaminated clothing to remove fallout and radiation from your body. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, if possible.

Take a shower or wash with soap and water to remove fallout from any skin or hair that was not covered. If you cannot wash or shower, use a wipe or clean wet cloth to wipe any skin or hair that was not covered. Hand sanitizer does not protect against fall out. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, if possible. Do not use disinfectant wipes on your skin.

Clean any pets that were outside after the fallout arrived. Gently brush your pet’s coat to remove any fallout particles and wash your pet with soap and water, if available.

It is safe to eat or drink packaged food items or items that were inside a building. Do not consume food or liquids that were outdoors uncovered and may be contaminated by fallout.

If you are sick or injured, listen for instructions on how and where to get medical attention when authorities tell you it is safe to exit. If you are sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for instructions. If you are at a public shelter, immediately notify the staff at that facility so they can call a local hospital or clinic. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 and let the operator know if you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If you can, put on a mask before help arrives.

Engage virtually with your community through video and phone calls. Know that it’s normal to feel anxious or stressed. Take care of your body and talk to someone if you are feeling upset. Many people may already feel fear and anxiety about the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). The threat of a nuclear explosion can add additional stress. Follow CDC guidance for managing stress during a traumatic event and managing stress during COVID-19.

Hazards related to nuclear explosions

  • Bright FLASH can cause temporary blindness for less than a minute. [It can also have much worse effects, including "serious permanent eye injury" (external link to US Military PDF report about nuclear flash blindness) if too bright/too close. Do not look at the fireball/flash, even from far away, and especially not if you are close. If you do experience blindness though, be somewhat reassured that it's more likely to only be temporary and/or only permanent to part of your vision, not all of it.]
  • BLAST WAVE can cause death, injury, and damage to structures several miles out from the blast. [Use the Pressure Map tab on the simulator here for a better idea of damage at various distances.]
  • RADIATION can damage cells of the body. Large exposures can cause radiation sickness.
  • FIRE AND HEAT can cause death, burn injuries, and damage to structures several miles out. [Use the Thermal Map tab on the simulator here for a better idea of damage at various distances.]
  • ELECTROMAGNETIC PULSE (EMP) can damage electrical power equipment and electronics several miles out from the detonation and cause temporary disruptions further out. [A detonation 400 km above the ground, which would be deliberately exploded that high to maximise EMP, could cover most or all of Australia in EMP with the one missile. Tests in Russia in the early 1960s, when electronics were vastly less sensitive than now, set power plants on fire and destroyed hundreds of kilometers of cables, even underground ones. This is verifiable data from previous tests and not speculation.]
  • FALLOUT is radioactive, visible dirt and debris raining down from several miles up that can cause sickness to those who are outside.

[End of section from www.ready.gov]

Recommended Reading


Nuclear War Survival Skills, Updated and Expanded Edition, 
Cresson H. Kearny. Nuclear War Survival Skills, Updated and Expanded Edition, Cresson H. Kearny. This is the "bible" of how to survive a nuclear war. Reading just a small amount of this book will have you convinced that the possibility of surviving a nuclear war is in fact much, much greater than most people believe — provided that you follow a few simple but necessary steps. It explains the basic things you need to to do to protect yourself, especially in the critical first few days after the explosion. The techniques are meant to be used by ordinary people, with access to simple household items, not requiring huge budgets and high-tech shelters.

Nuclear War Survival Skills can be read for free online on the author's website. The online version is the 1987 edition, which is the same as the current 2001 edition except it does not have the addendum on hormesis. Hormesis is the idea that extremely low doses of radiation are not only unharmful, but stimulate the body's defence mechanisms in a way that improves their tolerance to higher doses of radiation that may follow. The addendum is only one page long but it is a good read and adds a positive tone to the end of the book.

It can be downloaded for free from survival.ark.au here.

This book is so good that at the time I originally wrote this, out of 19 reviews, every single reviewer on Amazon.com has rated it 5 out of 5 stars. This is almost never seen. Since then the very few poor reviews are mainly complaining that the book is too old. Hydrogen bombs have been around since the 1950s and things have not really changed that much in terms of how to protect against fallout, blast, etc.

There's also a DVD series by Cresson Kearny, the author of this book, available from here. I have seen the DVDs and they are also extremely good, it's $149 USD for the 8-DVD set. Two or three (possibly more which I haven't found) of the clips from them are available on YouTube (see here).

Click here to purchase from Amazon Green cover version.

Below is the red cover version, recent 2016 printing.

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Below is the slightly older 2012 "Red Dog" edition which confusingly has a black cover. This version has a smaller page size and more pages than the original.

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U.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological And Chemical Survival Manual: Everything You Need to Know to Protect Yourself & Your Family From the Growing Terrorist Threat, by Captain Dick Couch and Captain George GaldorisiU.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological And Chemical Survival Manual: Everything You Need to Know to Protect Yourself & Your Family From the Growing Terrorist Threat, by Captain Dick Couch and Captain George Galdorisi. 242 pages. The author Captain Dick Couch is a retired Navy SEAL, combat veteran and CIA case officer. The book covers protection from nuclear, biological, and chemical attacks. The chapter on nuclear agents is only 22 pages long, plus another 19 pages of appendix about the effects of nuclear agents (like radiation sickness). The rest of the book, covering biological and chemical threats is still very good though.

There's a chapter covering a comprehensive family action plan. A quote from the retired Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, referring to the threat of nuclear weapons, says "In some wartime situations a reasonable Civil Defence program could do more to save lives than many active defence measures". The author then says "In fact, I would submit that the threat of attack is higher today than during the Cold War with the prospect of Soviet atomic attack. A Family Emergency Action Plan will do more to save lives than almost any activity carried out by the government". Which is one of the rare cases where the bold font I've used in the quote was not added by myself, but part of the original text.

From the publisher, "It contains the best practices of the United States' military, completely edited and adapted for civilian use. For example, readers will learn how to: Gain knowledge of an impending chemical attack using a simple warning system; Protect against biological threats such as anthrax with a series of inoculations; Guard against fallout from a terrorist nuke; Achieve basic protection during chemical or biological attacks with a simple mask; and Administer first aid after nuclear, chemical or biological attacks with a simple first aid kit. It's all here. This handbook is the single most effective tool for civilians to protect themselves and their loved ones against the threat looming over our homeland."

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Disaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks and Solar Storms (Expanded Edition) by Arthur T. BradleyDisaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks and Solar Storms (Expanded Edition), by Arthur T. Bradley. This book will help you to prepare for two end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it (TEOTWAWKI) events: the EMP attack and the solar storm. Each threat is carefully studied with analyses of its likelihood and potential impacts on our nation’s critical infrastructures. Practical preparations are outlined, including steps to meet the fourteen basic needs in the absence of modern utilities, and the use of Faraday cages and uninterruptible power supplies to protect personal electronics. Several techniques for constructing ad-hoc Faraday cages are presented.

The shielding effectiveness of homemade Faraday cages is measured and compared, including metal garbage cans, foil-wrapped boxes, fire safes, anti-static bags, ammo cans, microwave ovens, and full-sized protective rooms. These are really good, I think just the pages of tables showing test results of different methods of EMP shielding alone is worth the price of the book.

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Maralinga: The Chilling Expose of Our Secret Nuclear Shame and Betrayal of Our Troops and Country, by Frank Walker(The) Effects of Nuclear Weapons, edited by Samuel Glasstone. This is a very long, technical book containing an amazing amount of information, mostly derived from scientific analysis of cold war bomb tests and the Japanese bombings. It's published by the U.S. Government and is in the public domain. Very comprehensive. Although it's more about what the title says than specifically how to survive the use of nuclear weapons, it still contains a lot of very useful information for those who are interested in the details.

The third edition from 1977 is available free online here.

The recently printed (2013) amazon versions are printed from the "revised" (i.e. second) edition from 1962, not the third edition. This seemed odd to me though I read that later versions of the book are more noteworthy for what got taken out than for what, if anything, got added. Which suggests that perhaps they used the older edition because they thought it was better (since the newer one is also freely available and it seems that they could have used it if they wanted to). They are somewhat expensive considering it's public domain, but they are well bound on quality paper.

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Maralinga: The Chilling Expose of Our Secret Nuclear Shame and Betrayal of Our Troops and Country, by Frank WalkerMaralinga: The Chilling Expose of Our Secret Nuclear Shame and Betrayal of Our Troops and Country, by Frank Walker. While not a book about how to survive a nuclear war, this detailed record of the only nuclear weapons detonated on Australian mainland soil contains a great deal of useful information. Most of all, it will highlight how possible it is to be quite close to nuclear explosions and still survive. Which helps to counter the modern Western idea that everyone will suddenly drop dead the instant that nuclear weapons are detonated, and therefore there is no point in trying to do anything but lie down and wait to die. Of course not all of them did survive, but some of the things I read in this book I would not previously have thought possible to live through. I felt less frightened about nuclear war after reading it. See here on the Nuclear War Survival Part 1 page for a more detailed description.

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One Second After (A John Matherson Novel), by William R. ForstchenOne Second After (A John Matherson Novel), by William R. Forstchen. This is a fictional account of what may happen in a small town in the USA in the year following an EMP event. It's quite realistic in that almost everything (perhaps everything) not only could actually happen, but is one of the most likely scenarios.

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Going Home: A Novel (The Survivalist Series), by A. AmericanGoing Home: A Novel (The Survivalist Series), by A. American. Another really good fictional account of events following an EMP event. This is a much different focus to "Going Home", it's mostly about the journey of one man from where his car stops working to his home town.

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Recommended Products

See also

Preparing for an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse)
What To Do About the Upcoming Economic Crash
Why the Global Economy is About to Crash
Books About Survival in the Future Hard Times
Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course Directory
The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil (Video)
Arithmetic, Population and Energy (Video)
What is Peak Oil?
World Scientists' Warning to Humanity
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