Nuclear War

Friday, 20 September 2013
At this writing (April 7, 2013) the situation in North Korea is extremely critical. Kim Jung Un, the child leader of that 4th-world nation, is threatening a nuclear strike on everyone in sight, in particular the United States. No one seems certain of just what his capabilities are, and the media keeps playing it down, but what does seem certain is that Kim is unstable and apparently believes his own brainwashing, i.e., that he can "destroy" the United States.

Kim can't destroy the United States, but if he does have the capability to fire a nuke over a great enough distance, he might succeed in killing a lot of Americans (and people of other nations such as Japan and South Korea). We know for a fact that he has successfully tested some short- and medium-range missiles, and he has detonated at least one nuclear warhead, so the threat is real. He has also nullified the cease-fire of 1953 that ended the shooting (but not the war) on the Korean Peninsula, so whether his threats are sincere or just a video game in his mind, he must be taken seriously. (There are also rumors that he has stealth submarines with nukes on board, but I haven't been able to verify that.)

This article is not to debate Kim's capabilities, but to give you a heads-up on what you can do if he actually does pull the trigger. Most people under fifty have probably never read up on what nuclear war is like, so you may not know what to do. I lived under the threat my entire life, so I've read quite a bit over the years. My purpose today is to SCARE you.

I and most of the people I know live on the West Coast of the United States; if Kim can reach the U.S. mainland at all, we will be the most likely target. Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle are the most likely choices for a nuclear strike, but North Korea's targeting accuracy might not be all that swell, so a missile launched from that country might land anywhere. No one is safe.

When I was a kid, growing up under the "Red Scare" (which today's sneering skeptics seem to think was a joke), we had air-raid sirens that would sound if Soviet nukes were detected; we also had CONELRAD, the equivalent of today's Emergency Broadcast System, that would interrupt radio and TV broadcasts if anything happened. Today I doubt if those sirens still exist, or would be used in the event of a nuclear strike, but we do have EBS... so you may or may not get any warning if a nuclear strike is inbound. It is very possible that the first warning you will get will be...


The nuclear flash is the brightest thing you will ever (hopefully never) see. It is so bright that everything vanishes for three to five seconds, then gradually color returns to the universe. I saw one once, in 1958, when atomic bombs were being routinely tested in Nevada; I was ten years old and got up early, before dawn, because we knew in advance that a test would be conducted. I lived about 300 miles to the west of the test, with the Sierra Nevada mountains in between, but the light was so bright it erased everything for a few seconds. And I was indoors at the time.

If you see the flash, and you are outdoors, DO NOT LOOK AT IT. Depending on the size of the bomb and your distance from it, just looking at it can melt your eyeballs in your head. Even if you survive, you will be blind for life. (Even if you are a hundred miles away, don't take the chance. Close your eyes and cover them with your hands if possible.)

Your chances of surviving a nuclear blast depend on many factors. The first and most important of these is your distance from the explosion. If you are within a certain radius (which varies depending on the type and size of bomb), you're doomed. Nothing can save you, so don't even worry about it.

But if you are still alive ten seconds after the flash, and your skin hasn't bubbled and blistered, you may still survive. Radiation might get you later, but your most immediate threat after surviving the flash is...


Again, depending on how far you are from the bomb, you may have a few seconds to a few minutes to get under cover. A nuclear explosion radiates outward from the epicenter. You've probably seen movies or documentaries of the cyclonic winds that are generated. You need to get under cover. If you are outdoors, try to find a gully, a ditch, a culvert, or at least a depression in the ground. Find a spot quickly and lie face down with your eyes closed and covered.

In an urban environment you may not have many options. Many tall buildings, especially masonry buildings, will topple. Those built to earthquake code may remain standing, but will be severely warped and damaged, windows blown out, etc. Your options are limited, but at the very least, KEEP AWAY FROM WINDOWS-flying glass will shred you. Basements, if available, may save your life, but you could also be trapped there if the building collapses and burns. As I said... your options are limited.

If you are on the street in an urban area, you might take cover in alleys or behind concrete-block walls, but again, buildings will collapse and you could be crushed. Your best bet may be the sewer, if you can reach a manhole cover.

Assuming you are still alive after the blast wave has passed, the next threat you will face will be...


From what little research I've been able to do, it doesn't appear that North Korea has thermonuclear weapons. The tests they have conducted so far seem to be with weapons that produce explosions measured in kilotons (as opposed to megatons); the Little Boy bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 was around 20 kilotons, which is a far cry from the hydrogen bombs that came later (and were part of the "Red Scare" of my youth), but a nuke is a nuke, and even a small bomb is a serious matter.

A thermo-nuke can wipe out, for instance, Los Angeles all by itself, leaving little more than a glassy crater, but a "simple" atomic weapon can still do a lot of damage. Hiroshima and Nagasaki both experienced "firestorms" after the blast, which means the fires were so extensive that they sucked the air toward them to feed the flames. A firestorm is a wind that blows toward the fire, and may reach hurricane force. In World War II, these were first documented in Hamburg and Dresden after massive Allied fire-bombing raids turned those cities into giant conflagrations; Tokyo and many other Japanese cities suffered the same effect in the months preceding the atomic bombs.

If you are on the ground and still alive after a nuclear blast, you need to get clear of the target area as soon as possible. If you are still in the vicinity of the fires that will consume what remains of the target, you can be literally sucked into the fire by high winds generated by the firestorm. If you are underground and out of the wind, you can still die by suffocation as the fire consumes the oxygen around you. Get as far as you can, as quickly as you can, from the target area.

This is not intended to be a tutorial on nuclear war, but just a warning. Heed these simple instructions and you might survive, but for more information I recommend you Google for information on How to Survive a Nuclear Attack.


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