This text originally appeared in Disaster Survival Magazine #6
Okay so I am asked all the time what I think would be the most likely scenario for an NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) attack to occur on US soil and what would be the effects. I answer them by saying a small tactical nuke, delivered in a Ryder truck, parked next to the capitol building in DC and detonated at noon on a Wednesday. Now, I don’t know why Ryder trucks, it just seems terrorist prefer Ryder but a small tactical nuke just because there are so many of them and even a small one is around 20 Kiloton. A well-funded and well equipped terrorist group could even build a small nuclear device on their own. It would most likely be a terrorist group and detonating it at noon on Wednesday just to create the most casualties.
That is the most likely scenario and most experts agree on this. The second part of the question is much more complicated and that is what would be the effects. I can tell you what the bomb would do, how much destruction would occur and the effects of a nuclear detonation at ground level in Washington DC. I cannot tell you what our government would do in response to this type of an attack, which is another scary scenario completely.
So a nuclear detonation has 3 main effects and they are blast, heat and radiation. Now blast is blast and it is the same type of blast you would get in a normal high explosive detonation, the only difference is it would be much bigger! When we invented the atomic bomb we need a new way to measure the blast effect because it was so much bigger. Before the atomic age we measure a blast in pounds of TNT. A 500-pound blockbuster was 500 pounds of TNT and it could take out an entire city block. Well now we had a bomb that needed to be measured in tons of TNT not pounds. A small tactical nuke is around 20 thousand tons of TNT. This is much more devastation then a high explosive bomb but the effects are the same. This accounts for 50% of the effect of a nuclear detonation.
Next is heat and this takes up 35% of the effects of a nuclear detonation. This is heat on a very large scale too and I am talking about 100s of degrees of heat. Clothing, paper and easily combustible material will spontaneously combust. The amount of heat produced from one nuclear attack would cause more burn casualties then could be treated in all the burn centers in all the hospitals in all the US. When we dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the resulting fire storms caused more damage than the destinations themselves. The fires burned for days. The Japanese in 1945 built there houses mainly from paper and wood.
Coming in at only 15% is the one thing you may have been worried about most and that is radiation. This is only 15% of everything that is going on in the detonation but people worry about it most. This is further broken down into initial radiation at 10 % and residual radiation or fallout at 5%. So the one thing that worries most people is only 5% of what can happen and fallout travels a predictable path, which I will explain in a minute. I will also cover how far out each effect occurs in this blast scenario.
Initial radiation is radiation that occurs in the first minute of the blast. This is part of that brilliant light that you see when the bomb goes off. That is another thing, how bright is bright? Well the detonation blanks out the sun! If you were 20 miles away from the bomb that dropped on Hiroshima, with your back to the blast and you forearm over your eyes with your eyes closed, you could see the bones in your arm! So when we are under nuclear attack you will know it!
The initial radiation travels at or close to the speed of light so if you are within the affected area when you see the light it is already through you and gone. Only if you had some type of shielding, before the bomb went off to protect you can you lesson the effects. The radiation has a limited range and anything can be shielding even air. It does not go on forever out from the blast and I will talk about that shortly.
Finally, we talk about fallout. This seems to be everyone’s big concern but all fallout is, is radioactively charged dirt. If you can wash dirt off of your body you can effectively decontaminate yourself from fallout. If you have ever watched the weather you already know where fallout will travel in your area. So generally speaking, with this bomb in DC if you are west, southwest or north of DC you will most likely not get any fallout. The prevailing winds are from northwest to southeast so if you happen to be southeast of DC it could be bad. Just know that fallout is dirt sucked up by the blast and the bigger the bomb the more dirt is sucked up and the further it would travel down wind. If you are not downwind you will NOT get fallout. It travels with the wind and the bigger heavier pieces fall to the ground first the smaller ones travel further downwind. Now yes you sometimes get a nor’easter, when the winds are reversed but most of the time you know in your area how the winds blow from watching the weather, so by no menses should you bug out for fallout! Even if you maybe in a fallout area don’t run out of your house unless you know where you are going. You may be running into a fallout area and you are running away from your shielding which is your house. If you have a basement, you already have a fallout shelter that cuts the amount of radiation you receive from fallout by 90%. Therefore, if the reading on your meter outside is reading 100 rads in your basement it will only be 10 rads. If you put a bookshelf and mattress over any opens it will cut down even further.
That brings me to the big question, “To shelter or not to shelter, that is the question?” Well I don’t know about you but I have a limited amount of money I can spend on Prepper stuff and my wife is my control valve. A shelter if you do most of the work your self will run around $10,000. I personally don’t want to be that tied down to a location that I may hesitate to leave it if the time would come that I should go. This is all on a chance that I may NEVER see any fallout. My personal opinion of shelters are they are a grave with a door. You need to breath, air must get in, if someone finds that opening you are done and that simple fact makes them a liability to me. It is a personal choice how everyone spends his or her Prepper dollars and I want to buy everything else before I would ever get a shelter. This is only my opinion and many others have other opinions. It comes down to your plan, what you will do. My family plans to run and hide. If our house becomes unviable for whatever reason, we are hailing ass. You have this from the expert, if you plan to shelter and wait because of fallout it is better to move out of the fallout then it is to stay in it. The US Army in the 1980s had an entire manual called contamination avoidance. WOW, talk about your Captain Obvious! If you can avoid contamination, you should and if you cannot you should decontaminate just as soon as possible. That was the whole manual in a nutshell.
Also this is NOT global thermal nuclear war, this is one bomb in DC and how it effects the area and the country. The blast that I talked about earlier travels out from ground zero about a mile give or take a few hundred yards. Buildings at a mile will be damaged but standing, all others depending on their shapes and construction material will be destroyed. If you have seen pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki you know what I am talking about. Remember this is a blast at ground level, if the terrorist fly the bomb in a small plane high over DC everything I am telling you changes and all the effects are greater. The blast travels further, the heat travels further and the Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) all have a great effect. The easiest and most likely deliver means is the Ryder truck we talked about.
Heat is the next effect and it travels out from ground zero a little over two miles. Think about how many hospitals, fire stations, police agencies are in this circle. These are the ones that should come and help but they are all casualties too. Burn victims are the most labor intensive patient a hospital could have and there will be some many some people will die simply because they cannot get care. The only help that could come would be from miles away and they will not be able to respond because of the third effect, EMP.
EMP travels out from ground zero about four-five miles and will destroy all types of electronic equipment. Every type of electronics that has not shielding will be effect. There will be no communications in or out of the affected area. This in itself will cause causalities because of all the things that operate by computer. Everything from HVAC systems, to electronic ignition will be damaged. People will be stuck in building, elevators, on highways and no emergency response will be dispatched because nothing will be working. Any rescue that could come would be from outside the affected area and they would have no idea where to go or what to do. The responders would be operating in the blind doing what they could for whoever they came across that needed help.
Distance from ground zero effects travel
Unlike other disaster that have some warning or preparation time this would be more devastating because of the sudden impact on an area that could not react. If you look at hurricanes, floods, snow storms not much compares to this type of devastation. Only a massive earthquake or tsunami could come close but this attack cares with it something the others do not and that is the fear and panic from radiation. Even though the EMP is only given off in the first minute of the blast and the fallout is very limited and travels a predictable path the panic from this attack will kill hundreds maybe thousands. The number one thing that will kill you in ANY NBC attack is panic.
I have told you how limited and localized the effects will be, all of about a five-mile radius but many people will die just because they panic. Be honest did you think before you started reading this that if an NBC attack occurs you just put your head between your legs and kiss it all good bye? Many people think that and never prepare for the NBC attack because of that thinking. So what if it did happen and you are NOT died? Don’t you want to know what to do next? Do you want your next step to be your LAST step? In the next article, I will tell you how to build a Faraday Gage to protect your electronics form EMP but more importantly, I will tell you what to put in it. What would be important after the bomb? I will tell you how to shelter in every type of house in every type of attack, nuclear, biological and chemical. I will tell you what the easiest type of attack is and what type of attack is the MOST devastating. Just a clue this type of attack can kill hundreds of millions and next to an asteroid hitting the planet it is the worst disaster that could happen. I will tell you how to prep for them and protect your entire family if these attacks happen.