You could survive a nuclear blast – if you have the right shelter

But let’s face it, most people, even in the moderate damage zone, won’t survive. Hardly anyone lives or works in nearly windowless reinforced concrete buildings, nor near a concrete bunker. (Even people at a bank would have to get into the vault to be in the safest place; people on a subway would get the most benefit from a station that’s very deep underground.) Most people live in timber frame or other less armored buildings.

This should not be taken as a way to be safe in the event of a nuclear explosion, says Dylan Spaulding, an earth scientist and nuclear expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Strong structures made of concrete with metal reinforcement and designed for seismic safety would survive the pressures the team modeled, he says, but that pressure would be enough to destroy most traditional wood-frame houses and unreinforced brick structures.

And he points out that the blast wave is only part of the story. Although the main source of danger in a non-nuclear explosion, such as the one in Beirut in 2020, which was caused by a large amount of flammable ammonium nitrate stored in the city’s port, nuclear weapons also emit ionizing radiation and heat. , followed by radioactive fallout.

Exposure to radiation through the skin or inhalation can have many health effects, including burns, organ damage and cancer. The range of radiation exposure can extend tens of kilometers from the epicenter, so people who survive the blast may later be felled by the radiation.

Drikakis’ example focused on what is called a “strategic” nuclear bomb deployed on an ICBM, but there are also “tactical” nuclear bombs that are dropped by an aircraft on a battlefield and detonated on the ground. Such explosions unfold differently, but can be just as deadly and destructive, potentially exposing more people to deadly doses of radiation, Spaulding says.

Russia and the US also possess so-called low-yield nuclear weapons, which have a yield of 5 to 10 kilotons and are slightly smaller than the 15 kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima. These would still wreak havoc and cross a dangerous red line, potentially escalating a conflict into the use of larger weapons.

Mankind’s most destructive weapons have been used in war only once, when the US destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, with two atomic bombs at the end of World War II in 1945. Together they killed and injured more than 100,000 Japanese civilians much more. And Spaulding points out that along with experiments conducted at the Nevada Test pagethey provide some of the only real-world evidence about the types of structures that can survive an atomic blast, and how well.

But last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin insinuated that nuclear weapons are not off the table in his attack on Ukraine. While NATO leaders have not used such threatening rhetoric, the international organization has conducted nuclear exercises in October, simulating the dropping of B61 nuclear bombs. That of US President Joe Biden Nuclear attitude assessment the same month, he abandoned a “no first use” policy that he previously supported. You could also envision nuclear risks in other conflicts, such as the possibility of North Korea use a nuclear bomb against South Korea, or Pakistan and India use them against each other.

The world’s arsenals add up to about 12,700 nuclear warheads, according to one Federation of American Scientists. That’s less than their peak of about 70,000 by the end of the Cold War, thanks to arms reduction treaties. But some of those pacts have since dissolved, and the dangers have never gone away, as the Doomsday Clock metaphor illustrates.

This is not a game, says Drikakis. The risks of a devastating nuclear attack are all too real, he says: “We must keep the peace by understanding the risks of not keeping the peace.”

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