With global tensions increasing by the day and some of the world’s largest nuclear weapon stores seemingly presided over by five-year-olds, there’s no time like the present to work out your survival plan. Here are some tips:
Keep an eye on the news, especially with regards to anywhere that has nuclear missiles. Watch out for signs that an attack may be likely such as threats, rising global tension, or a lack of resolution to problematic events. If you seriously think that a nuclear attack is imminent, GET AS FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE. Avoid anywhere likely to get involved in the missile frenzy. Stay away from likely targets, such as capital cities, military bases, and areas with large populations or strategic importance. Another celestial body might be preferable, although inhospitable (and the USA did once develop a plan to nuke the moon, so it’s not entirely out of the question).
Plan somewhere safe to shelter. If it seems tensions are rising but you’re not quite ready to grab your bags and head for the wilderness/jungle/Mars, or you have no way of getting there, having a shield from the radiation could be the difference between your future and imminent death. Go for somewhere with as much stuff between you and the outside world as possible – basements and places with thick concrete walls are best. Stash plenty of food, blankets and first aid supplies inside, because you could be there a while. A means of communicating with the outside world, such as a fully charged non-smart phone of the kind that have battery life that lasts for several days, is also a good idea, so that you can keep an ear out for what’s going on. Ideally, your shelter would be in a spot that you can get to quickly, such as your home or workplace.
If a nuclear strike is imminent – as in, the bomb is currently on its way, HEAD TO YOUR SHELTER POINT. If you’re unlikely to be able to get there before destruction strikes, find the nearest available shelter. The same basic principles apply as the spot you planned to shelter in: the more physical material between you and the outside world, the better. Nuclear strikes deposit a very large amount of energy onto a small area that then spreads very quickly through the surroundings, so more material between you and the strike point means more other stuff to absorb this energy – in the forms of both nuclear radiation and extreme heat, as well as objects displaced by the blast – before it gets to you. There’s a reason structures such as nuclear power stations and Margaret Thatcher’s Secret Nuclear Bunker are made of very thick concrete: it’s great at absorbing large amounts of energy without becoming structurally compromised or catching fire.
After the strike: stay put for an absolute minimum of 48 hours. The longer the better: radioactive isotopes decay with time, so more waiting equals fewer radioactive particles out there to harm you. The most dangerous product of a nuclear attack, Iodine, has a half-life of 8-9 days – meaning that after that time has elapsed, there will be half as many deadly iodine particles out there waiting for you. However, that’s still quite a few, and there are other highly dangerous explosion products that will still be out there. When you do venture back out into the world, cover up as much skin as possible to minimise contact with the radioactive particles and prevent burns. Limit your time outside to be as short as possible, to minimise your exposure to radiation. When collecting supplies, anything packaged is safe to eat as long as the container is intact. Plants are safe, especially those where the edible part is underground, such as carrots. Water is likely to have been contaminated by small radioactive particles, so only use water from underground sources or sealed tanks or the pipework of buildings. However you get your food and water, ration it out carefully so that your supplies last as long as possible: who knows when more will become available.
First aid: radiation sickness is non-contagious, so it’s perfectly safe to treat those who have sustained burns or sickness from the attack. Do not pop blisters or rip off cloth that is stuck to skin as this will slow healing and increase risk of infection – just disinfect as far as possible, and cover open wounds with a burn dressing or clingfilm.
Future attacks are likely to occur, although probably not in the same city. Pay attention to any news you can get hold of, and be prepared for another attack any day. Even if you weren’t personally in the city that was hit, if you’re in or near a major centre of population or area of strategic importance in that country or any of the allies of any nation involved, you’re at major risk.
In addition to these practical tips, it’s good to have some idea of what different radiation levels mean. There are three types of radiation:
Alpha particles: these are tiny particles which, although very dangerous if inhaled, can only travel a couple of meters through air, and are stopped by a single sheet of paper. Wearing a dust mask and normal clothing will keep you safe from these.
Beta particles: these can travel faster and further than alpha particles, and have an effect similar to bad sunburn.
Gamma radiation: this is literally a wave of energy that can travel through air and most materials. Gamma radiation causes the DNA in living cells to mutate, leading to radiation sickness and cancer. Gamma rays themselves can travel around a mile through air (although the further away you are from the source, the less energy they have by the time they reach you, so the less significant the damage), but also spread as radiation-emitting particles are blown by the wind or carried by water sources.
Radiation is measured in Grays (Gy). Exposure to 1 Gy of radiation leads to a noticeable decrease in red blood cells and antibody production in humans but is survivable without medical treatment; 50% of humans exposed to 4 Gy will be dead within a month, and the rest will have severe symptoms of radiation sickness. Being aware of the scale of effect of different amounts of radiation may help you to decide where and when it is safe to move to.
Above all, watch out for signs that an attack may be imminent, and stay indoors. If you find yourself in the presence of someone with access to any Big Red Buttons, for the sake of all our futures, do not antagonise them!