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If you’re reading this, you must have survived. Soon you’ll realize that those who didn’t survive were the lucky ones, obliterated in an instant flash of light or shattered to bits by a tremendous shockwave rippling outward from the epicenter of a thermonuclear detonation.
Who knows what the rest of the country looks like, and you’ll have no way of finding out.
OK, so the above situation is more hypothetical than historical. But with current events making people wonder if we’ve regressed to the 1960s, we take a look at that time period’s worst fear: nuclear winter. Is it possible to survive after a nuclear war? What would your world look like if you did? And what sort of preps can you make now?
What better way to be prepared for the future than to research the past. After all, George Santayana warned us that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Atomic Age began with a bang in 1945. Although the United States hoped to have a monopoly on its newest technological terror, stolen secrets spread around the globe. The USA tested its first nuclear bomb in July 1945, and the Soviets followed with its own tests four years later. The U.K., France, and China joined the Atomic Age by the early 1960s.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996 curbed some countries from developing nukes, but spurred others — India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Israel — to pursue nuclear programs. Stockpiles of nuclear weapons, which today are at an all-time low, hit a high-water mark during the Cold War with 70,000 warheads and a variety of delivery systems.
According to data from the New START Treaty of 2015, together the USA and Russia currently deploy 3,179 strategic warheads on 1,300 bombers and missiles — far more than is needed to completely annihilate the globe.
Dr. Ira Helfand, chair of the security committee and co-president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, writes: “If only 300 warheads in the Russian arsenal got through to targets in American cities, 75 million to 100 million people would be killed in the first 30 minutes.”
In 1983, a group of scientists wrote that an all-out nuclear war would easily doom humankind, and in doing so they coined the phrase “nuclear winter.” What would follow, they suggested, would be a winter so severe that the living might well envy the dead. Beneath the sun-blocking dome of dust, surface temperatures would plummet, conceivably by as much as 60 degrees F. Plant and animal life would die, and crops would wither. With only a 10-percent drop in worldwide crops, famine would spread across the globe.
Alan Robock, a professor at Rutgers University and the country’s foremost authority on the aftermath of a nuclear confrontation, says, “There are now nine nuclear-weapons states. Use of a fraction (only 1 percent or 50 Hiroshima-size bombs) of the global nuclear arsenal by anyone still presents the largest potential environmental danger to the planet by humans.”
There’s no need to detonate 50 warheads to understand what happens when millions of tons of dust are hurtled into the atmosphere. One must merely look to history, specifically at the 1815 volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia.
Lord Byron wrote in his 1816 poem, Darkness, about an “icy earth” and “the sun being extinguished” based on his observations while on the other side of the globe in Switzerland. Thomas Robbins, a reverend in Ohio, wrote in his diary about the “year without a summer,” remarking on June 9, 1816: “The cold and wind still continue. The last three days have been extraordinary. It is said that there was snow at the northward last Thursday.” On August 22, there was frost on the ground.
Imagine this on a scale 100 times larger, due to the black soot particles thrown into the atmosphere from a nuclear event.
Dr. Luke Oman, a physical scientist at Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics Laboratory at NASA, explains, “Whereas sulfate particles from a volcano might warm the air of the upper atmosphere by a couple degrees, black carbon absorbs heat from the sun and can lead to much more atmospheric warming. Black carbon particles are smaller than sulfate particles and can be lofted much higher by solar heating, where their influence on climate can last up to a decade.”
Well, the short answer is probably not. If in a full-scale nuclear war between superpowers you’re located anywhere near a largely populated city or a military installation of any kind, you’re at ground zero. The blasts will probably kill you.
“One of these false beliefs is that nuclear war would be such a terrible catastrophe that it is an unthinkable impossibility,” says Cresson H. Kearny, who wrote Nuclear War Survival Skills. “If these were true, there would be no logical reason to worry about nuclear war or to make preparations to survive a nuclear attack.”
However, the long answer is that anything is survivable if you’re very prepared … but most of the world is not prepared.
Dr. Helfand explains: “The entire economic infrastructure, on which we depend to sustain our population, would be destroyed. The transportation system, the communications network, the public health and banking systems, the food distribution network — all would be gone.”
Provided you survived the initial attack, there are other dangers to follow (before the advent of nuclear winter). Radiation from fallout (if it’s a surface blast) will return to the earth within a few days unless it’s carried aloft by winds in the upper atmosphere. This not only leads to nuclear winter, but also contributes to radiated fallout to be spread farther away.
The area just outside the blast and shockwave radii is in danger of fires and building collapses. Fires will spread rapidly due to broken gas lines, damaged structures, etc.
Not a danger, but certainly a hindrance to your gear, is the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that can be emitted during a nuclear detonation. This EMP could potentially damage sensitive electrical equipment for hundreds of miles around the blast.
One would want to plan for such a terrible situation for the same reason one would plan for any disaster: to survive. Therefore, the strategy is no different — plan ahead.
In 1983, Carl Sagan and his peers predicted the conditions you may face: “For many simulated exchanges of several thousand megatons, in which dust and smoke are generated and encircle the Earth within one to two weeks, average light levels can be reduced to a few percent of ambient, and land temperatures can reach -15 to -25 degrees C.” According to their estimations, there will be a 75-percent drop in rainfall worldwide and a 90-percent drop in visibility in the highly affected areas.
Today, scientists continue to debate the level of severity predicted by Sagan’s initial theory — some say this nuclear winter would be more like a nuclear autumn. However, most researchers agree that even a small-scale nuclear exchange would eventually have a dramatic affect on the global climate.
Keep on hand appropriate winter clothing and emergency sources of heat, such as gas-fueled heaters and stoves with a surplus of firewood. Wear clothing in layers; consider materials like wool that not only wick away sweat, but still insulate when wet.
Winterize your home or shelter with the best methods possible. Upgrade the insulation factor in your attic and basement, while making sure your windows and doors seal properly. Keep in your cache of gear a few cans of insulation foam/sealant in case drafts are discovered. Not only will this keep out the cold, but it could also keep out any extra radiation (though your house isn’t a good barrier from radiation to begin with).
And though it might be perpetually cloudy, you’d still want to lather on sunscreen. The ozone would be effected, greatly increasing levels of ultraviolet radiation from the sun (even in the shade of high-atmosphere dust clouds). UV light can cause serious damage to your skin and corneas, leading to blindness and cancer.
Starvation will be the real killer. Though it might seem impractical to keep a year’s supply or more of non-perishable food on hand for each person, it’s not impossible. There are many companies selling 365 days’ worth of meals that offer variety, nutrition, and ease of preparation.
If you have to live off of the land, root vegetables (like carrots, potatoes, and radishes) are the safest because they’re protected by the earth. Animals can be harvested and eaten, but leave about 1⁄8 inch of meat on the bone because radiation builds up in the skeletal system. Avoid fish and birds completely, though depending on the severity of the nuclear winter, both might end up in short supply.
Always available will be insects, as they’re likely to survive any level of nuclear attack. Crickets, grasshoppers, and many beetles have a great deal of protein, essential minerals, and vitamins.
Growing vegetables in low light (obstructed sun) can be difficult, but not impossible. Leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and cabbage don’t require a great deal of light (equal to about two hours of sunlight a day). Getting creative with light-colored walls, reflective mulch (or tinfoil around each plant), and even mirrors can increase the amount of light in your garden. Barring that, consider a hydroponic system in your basement or shelter (if it’s large enough); you can grow as much (and as many varieties of) food as you need without the worry of the lack of sun or contaminant-free soil.
For most urban-dwellers, clean water will be the biggest challenge. For example, storing 1 gallon of water for four people (for example) per day for one year equates to 27 55-gallon drums of water — impractical to store in most people’s homes. Having a deep-drilled well on your property and a mechanical way of retrieving it is your best bet to get safe water for a long-term scenario. Besides that, safe water can be found in underground springs (in caves), water stored in underground tanks or pipes, snow taken 5 or more feet from the surface, and water from fast-flowing rivers.
If you have to get water from outside surface sources, such as rivers, lakes, and even swimming pools, it’ll need to be filtered to remove not only the normal contaminants found in water (viruses, bacteria, etc.), but any potential radioactive material as well. An anti-radiation “total radioisotope aqua purifier” (TRAP) filter can remove radioactive particles from potential drinking water. Without this filter, distilling and reverse osmosis methods are both good at removing the contaminants.
Protect Your Family
With even a limited nuclear battle, the government will either be destroyed or too busy dealing with the threat to concern itself with your well-being. Expect social breakdown in the months to come, especially when nuclear winter dries up all the usual sources of food and water. Protect not only your family, but your resources as well.
Don’t advertise that you have these preps, and like the 1950s fallout shelter advertisements suggested, don’t tell all your friends you’ve got a fully stocked hideout.
You’ve prepared for a reason. In the event of nuclear winter, up to 1 billion lives will be lost. Don’t be one of them. Instead, take a few steps to ensure you have the knowledge, supplies, and foresight to protect yourself and your loved ones. The future of civilization might be in your hands.
Myth #1: The fallout would stay around for years and kill everyone.
False: The danger of radioactive fallout lessens with time. According to FEMA, the 7:10 Rule of Thumb states that for every seven-fold increase in time after detonation, there is a 10-fold decrease in the exposure rate. For example, two hours after detonation, the exposure rate would be 400 Roentgen/hour. After 14 hours, the exposure rate would be 1/10 as much, or 40 Roentgen/hour. For more on radiation sickness, see “Invisible Death” in Issue 16.
Myth #2: All of the food in a fallout area would be poisoned and inedible.
Mostly False: Food and water in dust-tight containers will be completely free of radiation particles. Peeling fruits and vegetables and removing the top several inches of stored grain will eliminate most of the radiated material. Tiny doses may still prevail.
Myth #3: Most unborn children would be genetically damaged from parents exposed to radiation.
False: Published in 1977, A Thirty Year Study of the Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki concluded that incidences of genetic abnormalities were no higher among children born from exposed parents as they were among children born from unexposed parents.
Myth #4: A full-scale nuclear war would completely destroy mankind.
False: Though many military facilities are within cities and surrounded by populations, much of the world is populated by people who have no military value whatsoever and are not on the list of targets from either side. Life will go on, just maybe not in your region.
By John Schwartze
The first prep that pops to mind when people say “surviving a nuclear holocaust” is a hazardous materials (hazmat) suit. As with any gear, having it and knowing how to use it are two different things. Hazmat suits are broken into several categories.
Level A: Fully encapsulating, vapor and chemical protective suit. Typically worn with SCBA-type (self-contained breathing apparatus) units with closed-loop, rebreather systems where air is scrubbed and recirculated. Used when working with substances that can be absorbed by or are hazardous to skin.
Level B: Non-gas-tight encapsulating suits. Mainly for splash protection; not ideal for radiation environments. Used mainly with open-loop SCBA or SAR (supplied air respirators) where air comes from a compressed cylinder and exhaled air is released to the atmosphere. Worn if substances cannot be absorbed by or are not hazardous to skin.
Level C: Similar material/protection level as B, but can be worn with respirators that filter outside air. Used when environmental contaminants will not harm or be absorbed by exposed skin.
Level D: No chemical exposure protection. Worn if atmosphere contains no known hazard and if work precludes splashes, immersion, or potential for unexpected inhalation with hazardous chemical levels. Worn mainly by hospital/medical personnel.
While these suits are available for public purchase, they do pose certain risks. For instance, Level A suits, which offer the best protection against nuclear/radiation threats, pose potential fatigue and overheating concerns. Someone wearing such a suit would need to be in good shape with no respiratory problems. There’s also a specific process to don and doff them safely to prevent contamination.
Level A suits are reserved for hazmat specialists in the first-responder industry and typically require at least 200 hours of training. These suits can cost thousands of dollars, so before buying anything, do your research to see if they offer the protection level you desire. Proceed with caution, though. For the same reason scuba divers get certified, training is imperative and people can die without it. Manufacturers may also limit their access due to potent liability. For other protective measures against radiation exposure, see our previous article on Dirty Bombs.
Heavy Metal Filter
The Seychelle filtration system included on this 28-ounce BPA-free water bottle removes up to 99.99 percent of toxic chemicals, contaminants, and pollutants found in fresh water, including Radon 222, DDT, arsenic, asbestos, detergents, aluminum, and other heavy metals. The filter can decontaminate up to 100 gallons of water before needing to be replaced.
Watch Your Radiation
The MTM RAD is a line of tactical watches that includes integrated Geiger-Müller tubes, measuring single-dose gamma ray levels, as well as cumulative exposure. The ultrasensitive detector tracks dose equivalents (a measure of tissue damage caused by radiation) from 0.0001 to 9,999 millisieverts, and the dose equivalent rate up to 4,000 microsieverts per hour. Users can set their minimum radiation threshold, and an alarm will sound when this level has been reached.
MSRP: $50,000 (one space in Indiana)
The Vivos Group offers a series of pre-built shelters around the world with locations in Indiana and in Europe, as well as a line of custom-built shelters for personal use. The Quantum Shelter package comes completely furnished, includes a primary and emergency exit, water and septic tanks, and backup systems. Shown is a proposed plan for the Vivos Trine, a scalable bunker for 200 people.