... not the "rapture"

... it seems that a common myth about Nuclear Warfare is that victims are instantly vaporized. POOF! A hydrogen bomb is detonated and the entire population of a city is zorched out of existence. Perhaps it's a hold-over of the special effects from "The Day After".

The reality would be that, except for a small percentage of people at or near ground zero, the vast majority of casualties would be burned, cut and broken. Death would not be quick. Suffering would be terrible. The wounded would far exceed the dead. Many would linger for hours or days before death.

Aside from radiation; the blast of an atomic weapon, although huge, is not categorically different from a conventional explosion. The initial pulse of hard radiation caused by the nuclear reaction would cause instant death, or death within a few hours, only within the radius of the 'fireball'. Inside of that area death would be instantaneous from heat anyway.

Fallout; debris sucked-up and irradiated by the explosion takes some time to start falling back to earth. Radiation levels with-in the zone of blast destruction would be relatively low
for minutes- even hours.

These are important facts for consideration. The decision to take shelter and where, when and how has a lot to do with who is injured and who is not. It is fanciful and dangerous superstition to think choosing to not seek shelter means a brave and quick death.


B Lewis said...

Only groundburst and waterburst nuclear explosions are capable of creating large, dangerous fallout patterns. Such bursts would almost certainly be used to "dig out" buried missile silos and to sink submarines. In an airburst explosion -- the most likely form of nuclear detonation to occur against a civilian target -- fallout is generally limited to the vaporized remnants of the weapon itself. The fireball of an airburst nuclear weapon does not touch the ground, and the only victims vaporized in such an attack are those standing in the open within a few thousand feet of the SZ. Buildings, etc, even those directly underneath the fireball, are typically crushed into rubble but not vaporized. For these reasons the amount of fallout from an airburst nuclear explosion is small, and the danger from fallout radiation after such an explosion of small concern compared to that created by fire and blast effect.

It is worth noting that, beginning in the late 1960s, both the US and USSR began phasing out large "city buster" nuclear weapons. The advent of ICBMs with Multiple Independent Re-enty Vehicles (MIRV) made the big bombs obsolete. A large weapon creates a big, but geographically limited, fireball and blast effect. By simultaneously detonating "patterns" of smaller warheads, planners gained the ability to create much more widespread effects against identical targets. Why blow up a five-mile-wide circle of Target A with a five-mile-wide fireball created by a big nuke when you could blow up an area twenty-five miles across using a twenty-five-mile fireball created by a dozen small nukes all going off at once?

A nuclear blast is survivable, even at surprisingly close ranges, so long as a person is a) below ground level and b) in an area of shadow relative to the fireball. A simple trench or even a ditch can offer enough protection to allow a man to survive a nuke, so long as he is not in a direct line-of-sight to the fireball and is safe from blast effects and supersonic flying debris.

SeanInInwood said...

I've seen nuclear explosions on film so often the precise information given in this post is grimly satisfying. Thanks for the survival tip - and here's hoping I never need profit from it!

james vaughan said...

... thanks B. Lewis for those accurate comments! Even if a 'ground burst' is involved; survivors have a window of some minutes to find adequate shelter before the 'fallout' begins to fall back down. There were several survivors of Hiroshima who were in underground shelters at almost ground zero.