Nuclear Strike: Reduce Harm by Following Simple Strategies

This article was heavily edited due to the emergence of new information.

Although you may be reluctant to read this article due to the unfathomable fear that a nuclear bomb induces, there are simple strategies to reduce harm.

Key takeaways:
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    A nuclear detonation will create a blast, thermal and radiation effects as well as a very bright light that can cause temporary blindness.
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    Find cover in a building immediately, in the basement or as close to the center of the building as possible and away from windows.
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    Good shelters are made of brick or concrete, such as office buildings or schools.
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    Crouch face-down protecting your hands and face from debris.

The threat of nuclear war has prompted concerns about how to respond in the event of a disaster.

If there is an advance notice of an impending attack, start by taking shelter following these precautions:

  • Get inside — go to a basement or the center of a building, away from windows.
  • If getting inside is impossible, shelter behind anything that can protect against the blast.
  • There will be a bright light that can cause temporary blindness up to 50 miles from the blast, particularly at night. This can be a significant risk if you are driving at the time. If you can, look away and cover your eyes. Be prepared for temporary blindness (up to a minute).
  • Crouch with your hands covered to protect yourself against flying debris.

Once the nuclear detonation has occurred:

It takes time for the salt and sand-sized particles in fallout to drift to the ground outside of the immediate blast areas. This gives you about 15 minutes to take shelter in a building. If you were already inside when the blast happened or was able to take shelter within 15 minutes, you likely avoided contact with the fallout.

If you take shelter more than 15 minutes after the blast, you should take a few key steps — such as brushing the fallout particles off and changing clothes — to reduce your immediate harm.

Stay sheltered if you are in a safe, robust structure. If your shelter is at risk from fire or building collapse, find a better shelter, while reducing your time outside as much as possible.

Stay tuned to information from authorities. Expect to stay indoors for about 24 hours. Radiation exposure will decrease significantly over that time, allowing authorities to plan for and communicate evacuation routes.

Can I eat packaged food?

Yes, you can eat items that were stored in your house, just avoid any items that were stored outside, uncovered. You should plan to eat items in your refrigerator that will spoil quickly if you lost power and save packaged, shelf-stable foods for when you run out of perishables.

What water sources are safe?

Tap water may become contaminated, but for a short time tap water should be fine to use. Bottled water is best as a backup supply, but you can also use water from the tank of the toilet (not the bowl) and water heater if your water supply is down. These alternative water sources can also be used to decontaminate people and pets.

How do I safeguard my indoor air quality?

Close windows and doors, turn off fans, heating, and air conditioning, and close vents throughout the house. Also, remember to close the fireplace damper.

Does rain carry fallout away?

Rain can carry fallout from the sky down to the ground (called “rainout”) and then could create hot spots where water collects, potentially far away from the blast.

Should I stay in my car or spend a few minutes finding a building?

It is better to get in a building than to stay in your car. Cars do not provide good protection from flying debris or radiation from fallout.

Should I pay attention to which direction the wind is traveling?

Yes, if you have a choice, move away from the direction the wind is traveling as fallout will be greater along the path of the prevailing winds.

Will a mask protect me from breathing radioactive particles?

The salt and sand-sized particles in the fallout from a nuclear bomb are different than the dust associated with a radioactive dispersal device (RDD, or “dirty bomb”). Fallout is less of a respiratory risk than aerosolized RDD dust, but covering your nose and mouth may reduce your exposure. You should also cover your mouth and nose with a mask, cloth, or towel while decontaminating other people or pets.

What should I do right away to decontaminate myself?

Blow your nose, wipe off your face, eyelids, and ears, and cover your mouth and nose with a cloth or mask while you help other family members get radioactive dust off.

Should I change clothes?

Taking off your outer layer of clothes will remove 90% of the radioactive dust. Put the clothes in a sealable container or bag and store them away from people or pets.

Is showering helpful?

While dry removal of fallout particles can remove most of the contamination, taking a shower, if available, can provide further decontamination. Cover cuts or scrapes before you shower to prevent the dust from getting past the protective outer layer of the skin. Do not scrub or scrape — just rinse yourself off with soap and water. Avoid using conditioner because it can cause dust to adhere to your skin and hair. Use a damp paper towel if showering is not possible.

Radiation monitoring

In the days to come after the blast, public health officials and emergency response personnel may set up community reception centers to help ensure people are decontaminated and answer questions. They will have radiation detection equipment with them and can screen people standing in line to look for those who are contaminated as well as people in need of special care, such as children, pregnant women, people with medical issues and those who have language barriers.

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