How to Survive a Nuclear Attack


It's possible to survive a nuclear attack. Know the location of shelters and don't panic.

It’s possible to survive a nuclear attack. Know the location of shelters and don’t panic.

The possibility of a nuclear attack is terrifying, but if you’re not at ground zero, it’s possible to survive an atomic bomb, particularly if you take the proper action. Your best strategy depends on several factors, including the time you have to prepare, your proximity to the bomb and the type of bomb. Here are some tips on surviving a nuclear attack or atomic explosion.

  • If you see a bright flash, don’t look toward it. The light can blind you.
  • Try to gain as much distance as possible from ground zero. The explosion moves outward radially, so even a small increase in distance greatly dissipates the impact.
  • You can reflect much of the initial flash if you cover yourself with white or reflective clothing or material. Much of the initial radiation is in the form of visible light, so if you can reflect it away, you greatly increase your chances of survival. Hiroshima victims wearing white fared better than those in dark clothing.
  • The thermal wave, which arrives after the initial flash, can be incredibly hot. You’ll want to seek a heat resistant location, out of direct line of sight of the blast. Move quickly to safety, but take time to choose the best location. If you survived the flash, you should have 10 to 20 minutes to take cover from the radioactive fallout. Options might include a basement, behind a hill or even in a trench or pit in the ground. Once you have chosen a shelter, lie flat and cover your head to provide some protection from debris. Nuclear tests at the Nevada National Security Site (formerly the Nevada Test Site) indicate concrete is your best choice. Wooden structures may collapse from the blast or burn. Metal conducts heat, so it becomes incredibly hot.
  • If you are outside during an attack, remove your clothing and shower as quickly as possible. Seal clothing in a plastic bag and move it as far away from people and pets as possible. When you shower, don’t apply conditioner, as it can lock-in contaminants. Use soap and water, but don’t scrub your skin. Broken skin can provide an entry route for toxins. Use sterile saline solution to rinse your eyes.
  • If you can’t shower, use damp wipes to remove as much residue as possible. Change your clothes.
  • Pay attention to public officials. If you are setting up a shelter in advance, be sure to have a radio with batteries, fresh water, and sealed food.

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