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What to do in case of nuclear?

What are the risks of nuclear disaster?

In the unlikely event of a nuclear disaster, either from an accident at a power plant or nuclear weapon, it is important to understand the potential risks and how to minimize exposure. The main risks from a nuclear event are:

  • Blast effects – Nuclear explosions release enormous amounts of energy which creates a blast wave that can cause injuries and destruction of buildings.
  • Thermal radiation – The extreme heat from a nuclear detonation can cause severe burns and start fires.
  • Radiation exposure – Nuclear blasts release gamma rays and neutrons which are harmful to living cells and can increase cancer risk.
  • Radioactive fallout – Fission products created in the explosion condense into fine particles that fall back to earth as radioactive dust. Exposure to fallout can lead to radiation sickness and increased cancer risk if precautions are not taken.

The extent of damage and radioactive contamination depends on factors like the weapon yield, weather conditions, and distance from the blast. Those closest to ground zero face the highest risks from initial blast effects, heat, and extreme radiation levels. Dangerous fallout can spread over large areas downwind, putting populations at risk.

Take shelter immediately

If there is advance warning of an imminent nuclear detonation, the most urgent action is to get inside a stable structure as quickly as possible and maximize distance from windows. Crawl into a basement if available. Putting heavy, dense materials between you and the outside will provide increased protection from the initial blast, heat, and radiation.

If no shelter is available, lay flat on the ground behind any solid object, covering your head and closing eyes to protect against the flash. Avoid being out in the open or looking directly at the blast, which can cause temporary blindness. Every bit of shielding will reduce exposure.

Continue taking immediate shelter until given an all clear notice or informed it is safe to exit. Fallout radiation levels will be extremely high after the detonation but decrease over time. Remaining sheltered for at least 24 hours will significantly reduce total exposure. Tune into an emergency radio or television broadcast for important safety instructions.

Distance from ground zero

The further away someone can get from ground zero in the available time frame, the lower the risks from prompt blast effects, heat, and direct radiation exposure.

According to the Department of Homeland Security guide for response to nuclear detonation (2019), being just a few miles away can make a major difference in survivability:

  • Within 0.5 mile almost all buildings are destroyed and radiation levels are lethal (>500 rems)
  • At 2 miles most residential buildings collapse and radiation is 100+ rems
  • At 5 miles most buildings experience moderate damage and radiation is 7-50 rems
  • At 10 miles light damage to some buildings and radiation drops to 2-7 rems

Beyond 10 miles, risks rapidly decline though fallout may still be a hazard. Taking quick action to maximize distance from the detonation will significantly improve the chances of surviving the initial effects. Have an evacuation plan and know the quickest route out of populated areas.

Limit fallout exposure

Radioactive fallout poses a serious long term hazard following a nuclear blast. Small particulates contaminated with radioactive isotopes from the fission reaction are lifted high into the atmosphere but then descend back to earth within 24-48 hours.

Exposure to fallout is most dangerous in the first few hours before it settles into layers on the ground, where it will continue to emit dangerous levels of gamma radiation. To limit exposure:

  • Stay sheltered in a basement or interior room for at least 24 hours.
  • Seal all doors, windows, and ventilation with plastic sheeting and duct tape.
  • Listen to emergency broadcasts for updated instructions.
  • Avoid consuming any food or water that may have been contaminated until safety officials advise it is safe.
  • If forced to evacuate, cover mouth and nose with respirators, goggles, and raincoats/ponchos to avoid fallout dust contact.
  • Decontaminate by showering and changing clothes after exposure.

Following official guidance to remain sheltered, limit exposure outdoors, and avoid ingesting potential contaminants will reduce long term radiation risks.

Have essential supplies ready

To hunker down safely following a nuclear disaster, it is vital to have essential supplies:

  • Water – 1 gallon per person per day minimum, ideally for 2 weeks
  • Long shelf-life foods – Canned goods, freeze-dried meals, powdered milk, granola bars
  • First aid kit – Bandages, gauze, antibiotics, prescription meds
  • Radio and batteries – Hand cranked or battery powered to receive emergency broadcasts
  • Flashlights – With extra batteries
  • Protective items – Respirator masks, plastic sheeting, duct tape, protective clothing

Rotate supplies to keep them fresh. Have everything ready to grab and go in a single location in case rapid evacuation is required. Be prepared to shelter in place or evacuate as instructed.

Maintain communication

With radio, TV, internet, and phones potentially disrupted, communication will be challenging but imperative after a nuclear detonation. To stay connected:

  • Keep an emergency radio to listen for official broadcasts and instructions.
  • Consider a satellite phone that does not rely on vulnerable cell towers.
  • Tell loved ones meeting locations in different situations (home, work, kids’ school).
  • Designate an out-of-town contact to relay messages.
  • Notify contacts of evacuation destinations and status via social media.

Communication allows coordination of evacuation meetups, informing worried loved ones, and gaining access to aid and recovery services. Maintain chatting capabilities as possible.

Summary of key actions

Here is a quick summary of the most important steps to maximize safety in the event of a nuclear explosion or radiation emergency:

Take instant shelter Get into interior rooms, basements, or underground areas. Distance and shielding save lives.
Get away Evacuate outside the effected zone as directed by officials.
Stay tuned Listen to emergency broadcasts and follow instructions.
Limit exposure Stay indoors, seal shelter tightly. Avoid contaminated food/water until given the all clear.
Have supplies Stock up on essentials like water, food, first aid, tools. Rotate as needed.
Stay in touch Use radios, satellite phones, social media to communicate with coordinators/loved ones.

Maintain proper mindset and hope

The sudden crisis of a nuclear detonation will be extremely frightening and stressful. Maintaining a proper mindset and hope will help you take the right actions and cope psychologically:

  • Stay calm yet vigilant – panic leads to poor decisions.
  • Believe in your ability to survive by smart preparation.
  • Focus only on actions you can control.
  • Rely on loved ones and your community for strength.
  • Pray or meditate if it provides comfort.
  • Keep perspective that nuclear risk remains extremely small.
  • Have confidence in human resilience, aid, and recovery.

With practical preparation and a resilient mindset focused on hope and community, the worst outcomes of a nuclear detonation can be avoided. Do not live in fear but be ready to react.

Locate nearby fallout shelters

In some areas, clearly marked and stocked public fallout shelters may still exist from the Cold War era. The National Shelter System was discontinued in the 1970s, but some shelters remain. To find nearby options:

  • Contact your local emergency management agency.
  • Search lists maintained by volunteers.
  • Look for the classic fallout shelter sign on old buildings.
  • Assess underground parking garages, subways, and tunnels.
  • Use smartphone apps that provide databases and maps.

While not purpose-built, basements, interior rooms, and underground metro areas also provide enhanced shielding. Know your options.

Learn first aid for radiation exposure

In addition to conventional first aid, specialized knowledge can help save lives if people nearby are exposed to significant levels of radiation:

  • Treat external burns and wounds first to prevent infection.
  • Give potassium iodide pills if available to block thyroid absorption of radioactive iodine isotopes.
  • Administer fluids and antibiotics to counteract radiation sickness andimmune system effects.
  • Decontaminate by removing exposed clothing and washinguncovered skin gently with soap and water (no harsh scrubbing).
  • Watch for signs of acute radiation sickness like nausea,fatigue, and dizziness which may manifest over hours/days.
  • Seek hospital care for severe radiation burns andillness, disclose radiation exposure for proper treatment.

Quick decontamination, treatment for burns, infection prevention, and supportive care can improve chances for those with significant exposure.

Have plans to reunite with family

A nuclear disaster will result in displacement of people and separation of families. To regroup:

  • Have a communications plan to notify location and status
  • Pick two rendezvous points, one nearby, one farther away
  • Ensure all family members know meeting sites
  • Designate an out-of-area contact to relay messages
  • Register with emergency reunification services
  • Create a written document with key contacts and information to carry

With mobility disrupted, clear rendezvous plans are essential. Coordinate in advance to enable rejoining after displacement.

Prepare go-bags for quick evacuation

If instructed to urgently evacuate or you need to flee rapidly advancing fallout, having go-bags ready can be a lifesaver:

  • Backpack/duffel bag with essentials for each family member
  • Food, water, flashlight, radio, batteries, masks
  • Medical supplies, medications, first aid, hygiene items
  • Change of clothes, sturdy shoes, blankets
  • Cash, important documents, contact info
  • Maps, chargers, whistles, flares, tools

Keep bags someplace easily accessible. Have vehicles fueled up. Gather pets. The ability to leave at a moment’s notice may be critical.

Learn about radiation and its measurement

Having a basic grasp of what radiation is and how it is quantified will help understand the risks:

  • Radiation is energy emitted from unstable atomic nuclei
  • It causes damage by ionizing cells and breaking chemical bonds
  • Absorbed dose (rad, gray) measures energy absorbed per mass
  • Equivalent dose (rem, Sievert) weights damage by radiation type
  • Standard radiation exposure is around 0.25 rem per year
  • Acute radiation syndrome sets in above 75-100 rem
  • Fatal within weeks for doses approximately 500 rem and higher

While any amount carries health risks, radiation exposure can be survived if not extreme. Staying sheltered limits absorbed doses.

Have contingency plans to escape affected zones

Those situated in highly populated metro areas or near key military facilities could have under an hour’s notice to flee before a nuclear strike. Prudent precautions include:

  • Scout potential evacuation routes in all directions beforehand.
  • Have bug-out locations identified outside the likely target radius.
  • Keep vehicles fueled and maintained in case of urgent need.
  • Renew passports and keep cash/documents accessible to depart immediately.
  • Transfer essential data/files so they can be accessed remotely.
  • Have arrangements for pets and loved ones needing assistance.

Hopefully escape plans never need to be enacted, but readiness provides more control in an emergency. Discuss scenarios in advance.

Nuclear emergency preparation checklist

Sheltering supplies Water, long shelf-life food, first aid, tools
Communication Radio, satellite phone, internet, social media
Protection gear Respirators, plastic, duct tape, clothing
Information Emergency contacts, maps, instructions
Evacuation readiness Go-bags, vehicles, fuel, meetup plans
Nuclear knowledge Radiation basics, fallout facts, risk zones
Contingency plans Shelters, evacuation routes, destinations
First aid skills Radiation exposure, decontamination, illness treatment


The prospect of nuclear disaster is frightening, but preparation and knowledge empower people to improve their chances and reduce risks. Having emergency supplies, understanding radiation and fallout threats, making evacuation plans, maintaining communication abilities, and learning first aid will all enable prompt, decisive action. While let us hope such events remain highly improbable, prudence dictates we take responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones. With practical precautions and a resilient spirit, nuclear catastrophes can be survived.