A nuclear blast is an explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave, and widespread radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water, and ground surfaces for miles around. A nuclear device can range from a weapon carried by an intercontinental missile, to a small portable nuclear device transported by an individual. All nuclear devices cause deadly effects when exploded.[1]

If you see the bright, white flash and the blinding whiteness clears up and you can see again, you just survived an attack. After an explosion, radioactive material is propelled into the upper atmosphere. Shortly, you will see dust-like particles falling from the sky, this is fallout. Exposure to any form of fallout can be dangerous. This material can travel for hundreds of miles on prevailing air currents. If you can see the resulting mushroom cloud, compare its size to your thumb (literally). If it is larger than your thumb you are in a danger zone. You either need to evacuate or seek shelter immediately. You have 10 -15 minutes to get somewhere safe.[2]

The three things you need to protect yourself from radiation and fallout are distance, shielding and time. The more distance between you and the fallout particles, the better. An underground area offers more protection than the first floor of a building. The heavier and denser the materials that make up your protection shielding you from the fallout, the better. Any protection is better than none and the longer time you can take advantage of it, the less damage you may suffer. If you can get to a denser shield area within five minutes, get there, otherwise wait twenty-four hours to make your move. A good portion of the fallout will have settled by then (80%), reducing your exposure. [2] Fallout radiation loses its intensity fairly rapidly. It poses the greatest threat to people during the first two weeks. After that, the fallout has declined to about 1 % of its initial radiation level.[3]

While you are waiting in your thick walled shelter, EPA suggest that you wipe down parts of your body with a wet cloth and remove your contaminated clothing. Stick it in a plastic bag, seal it up and get it away from you and others. Shower with soap and shampoo, but do not scratch the surface of your skin. Do not use hair conditioner, as it will bind nuclear particles to your hair. Blow your nose and wipe eyelids, lashes and ears. If you don’t have burns, then you were greater than ten miles from the explosion. Only drink bottled water and eat food from sealed containers. Listen to a communication device for further instructions. Do not expect significant Federal response at the scene for 24 hours. The full extent of Federal assets will not be available for several days. Emergency response is principally a local function.[4]

Now that you’ve found shelter and removed contamination, just settle in for a long stay. If you are down wind from the detonation, you may need to stay sheltered for two weeks to a month. When it is safe for you to leave, you will be instructed to do so. Meanwhile, you will need supplies. Start with water. Drink only bottled or water drawn from deep wells. You will not be able to remove radioactive material by boiling water.

Next you will need an emergency radio – probably a hand crank emergency one because the electro-magnetic pulse and the blast wind energy may have damaged or destroyed electronic cell towers. Always be listening for what to do, where to go and where not to go. If someone in your group begins to feel nauseous and display heavy fatigue, acute radiation sickness is setting in. Administer Potassium Iodide (KI) tablets. If they don’t start vomiting until four hours or more after exposure, they will likely recover within a few days or weeks with rest. If they start vomiting within an hour of exposure, go unconscious, or are experiencing seizures, they are in need of serious medical attention and will require aid from a professional.

Soon you will need to locate any canned or packaged foods in your vicinity. Ration and share whatever you find. You can live 30 days without food, but only three days without water. Sanitary waste will be the next issue. Set up a trash can or large bucket as a toilet. If you have a trash bag, line the bucket with it. Kitty litter will help absorb liquid and keep some odor down. 

Decisions following a nuclear blast will be determined by emergency personnel. If they tell you to go, go willingly. Hopefully you will be directed to a shelter, where you can be further decontaminated and start life over.


  1. https://www.ready.gov/nuclear-blast
  2. https://lifehacker.com/where-to-hide-if-a-nuclear-bomb-goes-off-in-your-area-1793493053
  3. https://lifehacker.com/how-to-survive-nuclear-fallout-1797685187
  4. https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1821-25045-3023/planning_guidance_for_response_to_a_nuclear_detonation___2nd_edition_final.pdf

Billie Nicholson, Editor
December 2017


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