Home / 40 Frequently Asked Questions About Nuclear Disasters and Their Answers

Such warheads fall under a specific category of missiles. The Encyclopedia Brittanica defines these incredibly powerful weapons as such, “A device designed to release energy in an explosive manner as a result of nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, or a combination of the two processes. Fission weapons are commonly referred to as atomic bombs. Fusion weapons are also referred to as thermonuclear bombs or, more commonly, hydrogen bombs; they are usually defined as nuclear weapons in which at least a portion of the energy is released by nuclear fusion.”

The United Nations defines such weapons a little differently, choosing to define them based on their destructive potential, not their technical characteristics. “Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapons on Earth. One can destroy a whole city, potentially killing millions, and jeopardizing the natural environment and lives of future generations through its long-term catastrophic effects.”

Such warheads vary greatly in size, depending on the “yield” (destructive potential) of the bomb. Such such missiles are small enough to be launched from an automobile-based artillery or even a human-carried rocket launcher. Others are so large they must be launched from a battleship, submarine, or airplane.

Following are ten quick-read emergency tips for what to do if you find yourself in or near the target of an imminent nuclear strike. Print these out, laminate them, and hang these instructions up somewhere visible in your home and office. Make sure your family members, co-workers, and friends read the sheet, and inform them where you will be posting the sheet. Keep a laminated sheet in your automobile glove compartment as well:

  • Get inside the nearest building to avoid radiation/fallout.
  • If outside during a blast, get inside and remove radiation-contaminated clothing.
  • Wipe off or wash unprotected skin with clean water. Do not use disinfectant wipes.
  • Go to the basement or middle of the building.
  • Stay inside for at least 24 hours or until local authorities provide further instructions.
  • Do NOT go outside during or after an explosion.
  • Do NOT reunite with family until at least 24 hours after the explosion.
  • Tune into cell phone emergency alerts, radio, or T.V. to get official information on the blast.
  • Stay away from windows. This will help protect you from the blast, heat, and radiation.
  • If you are outdoors during the blast, take cover behind anything that might provide protection.

It might seem like common knowledge, but one's likelihood of surviving such a strike depends almost entirely on their proximity to the strike. The above tips can help improve survivability, but no matter how one responds to a strike site, the further one is from the blast site, the better their odds of surviving.

This is a difficult question to answer, as wind can carry the fallout of a blast in any direction, making it so that there is essentially no reasonable distance from a detonation that is “safe.” Furthermore, the size of the detonation is also a critical factor. Not all warheads carry the same payload. As a general rule, one should be several miles away from a detonation, ideally ten miles or more, to consider themselves safe, and even then, the further away, the better.

The blast radius of such a bomb depends entirely on the size and magnitude of the individual warhead. Most blast radiuses are still considered dangerous from three to ten miles out from the blast site.

They come in different shapes and sizes, but they look like missiles or rockets, often times being indiscernible from non-nuclear rockets or missiles. For the warheads with a much larger payload, the sheer size of them tends to be the giveaway that they are atomic or hydrogen bombs.

Such explosions are extremely hot. At the core of the explosion, one can expect to find temps upwards of about 100,000,000° Celsius, or between 50 million and 150 million degrees Fahrenheit.

Let's take a look at which countries have built and now maintain a stockpile of such weapons. Keep in mind that the very existence of these weapons increases the risk for a first strike, which is why people who live in nuclear-armed countries bear the greatest responsibility for convincing their governments to draw down their world-ending armaments.

Furthermore, people who live in countries that do not have weapons of this kind must insist that their governments never procure or build them.

Keep in mind that not all nukes are created equal, so a country's number of such weapons is not necessarily suggestive that it has a more powerful arsenal than a country that might have fewer weapons. For example, Russia technically has more nukes than the United States, but American warheads are far more advanced, efficient, destructive, and technologically superior than most Russian nuclear armaments. The nuclear-armed nations are as follows:

#1). Russia. With 6,375 weapons, Russia has the most nukes of any country in the world.

#2). The United States. With 5,800 weapons, the U.S. has the 2nd most nukes.

#3). China. China has 320 such weapons.

#4). France. The French government has access to 290 such weapons.

#5). The United Kingdom. The U.K. has 215 such weapons at its disposal.

#6). Pakistan. Pakistan is a nuclear power with 160 such weapons.

#7). India. India is armed with 150 such weapons.

#8). Israel. Israel maintains an arsenal of 90 weapons.

#9). North Korea. North Korea has approximately 30 to 50 such weapons.

Citizens of the above countries should do their part in reducing danger by insisting that their governments deescalate tensions and decommission/disarm their armaments.

They are more or less the same thing. An atomic bomb is a nuclear bomb. There are two types of bombs of this kind: atom bombs and hydrogen bombs. Nuclear bombs that rely on nuclear fission are called atom bombs, whereas nuclear bombs that rely on fusion are called hydrogen bombs. A nuclear bomb works via atomic fission or fusion. When an atom bomb absorbs a neutron and fissions into two new atoms, it releases three new neutrons and some binding energy. The process continues, causing a nuclear chain reaction and resulting explosion.

Where one is located and how far they are from ground zero of a blast are crucial factors in determining one's odds of surviving a nuclear strike. There are a couple of key, very quick, yet very important things to do when a warhead is en route. Following these steps will greatly improve one's odds of surviving.

As one author put it, “Go inside a strong building, move toward its center, and shelter away from windows, doors, and exterior walls to best protect yourself. Avoid radioactive fallout that arrives minutes later by staying indoors, ideally below-ground in a basement.”

The damage caused by even just one strike of this kind is extreme. From the initial blast, destruction of buildings and infrastructure, deaths from injuries, radiation poisoning, fallout deaths, and long-term effects and deaths from radiation-induced cancer and other harms, just one strike has the potential to exert a human loss of life in the millions. It is the most destructive force mankind currently has at its disposal.

And even worse still, a nuclear war in which multiple superpowers engage in strikes would have a death toll in the hundreds of millions, possibly in the billions, depending on the targets chosen during the war. (And that's not taking into account the nuclear winter and fallout that would ensue, which would likely spell the end for the human race).

It’s not likely. However, several warheads launched at strategic areas throughout a state could effectively destroy the state and virtually all those living there.

This is a myth. If you are in any way close to a blast, a fridge will not protect you from it. Better to put as much distance as possible between you and the blast. And if you don’t have time to do that, seek shelter inside the first floor or basement of a building, preferably a strong, sturdy building.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Detonating nuclear weapons above ground sends radioactive materials as high as 50 miles into the atmosphere. Large particles fall to the ground near the explosion-site, but lighter particles and gases travel into the upper atmosphere. The particles that are swept up into the atmosphere and fall back down to Earth are called fallout. Fallout can circulate around the world for years until it gradually falls down to Earth or is brought back to the surface by precipitation. The path of the fallout depends on wind and weather patterns.”

As one expert puts it, “An atomic bomb uses either uranium or plutonium and relies on fission, a nuclear reaction in which a nucleus or an atom breaks apart into two pieces. To make a hydrogen bomb, one would still need uranium or plutonium as well as two other isotopes of hydrogen, called deuterium and tritium. The hydrogen bomb relies on fusion, the process of taking two separate atoms and putting them together to form a third atom.”

Simply stated, a hydrogen bomb is a more complex and powerful atomic bomb.

Fallout is defined as the residual radioactive material propelled into the upper atmosphere by a blast. That radioactive material "falls out" of the sky following the blast, hence the term. Without going into the math, the fallout can last anywhere from one to five years after a blast.

There are key, rapid response steps that one should take if a warhead is incoming. One should get inside and stay inside. Brick and concrete buildings offer the most protection. Once inside, one should go to the basement or the middle of the building and stay away from outer walls, windows, exterior doors, and the roof. One should stay inside for at least 24 hours or until local authorities say it is safe to venture outside.

The radiation can last for years. The site of a blast should not be revisited or lived in again until radiation experts say it is safe to do so, which could be five years or more.

This cannot be stated enough, but the best protection from such a devastating warhead as this is for them to never be detonated, to begin with. Nuclear war is a unique disaster in that, while it is far worse than hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, and other disasters, such a war is 100% preventable. No one on Planet Earth need ever experience another strike ever again.

Unfortunately, governments across the planet are increasing their proliferation of such weapons in a 21st-century arms race that puts the Cold War to shame. In fact, the human race is quite literally living through another Cold War. The key difference between this one and the Cold War of the late-1900s is that this Cold War has more players (more nuclear-armed nations than in the 1900s). And this Cold War is not reported on or discussed nearly as much as the 20th century Cold War was.

That is why Americans and citizens of other countries must speak up and demand that their governments deescalate and draw down their stockpiles of weapons. At the time of the writing, just the United States alone possesses enough weapons to vaporize every human being on the Earth, several times over. No government should hold that type of world-ending power. The only way to guarantee that such a war never occurs is to permanently disarm the weapons by which that war would be fought. Citizens of nuclear powers must demand that their governments decommission their arsenals. The fate of the human race depends on it.

No. But several bombs could. In the following quote, the scientists of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists explain why the doomsday clock has been set to 100 seconds to midnight, “Accelerating nuclear programs in multiple countries moved the world into less stable and manageable territory last year. Development of hypersonic glide vehicles, ballistic missile defenses, and weapons-delivery systems that can flexibly use conventional or nuclear warheads may raise the probability of miscalculation in times of tension. Nuclear nations, however, have ignored or undermined practical and available diplomatic and security tools for managing nuclear risks. By our estimation, the potential for the world to stumble into nuclear war—an ever-present danger over the last 75 years—increased in 2020. An extremely dangerous global failure to address existential threats—what we called ‘the new abnormal’ in 2019—tightened its grip in the nuclear realm in the past year, increasing the likelihood of catastrophe.”

A nuclear bomb has not been used in war since World War II. But the risk of the use of such weapons has gone up gradually since then. While there is no way to know if a nuclear strike will occur in the future, there is no doubt that such a strike (or strikes) would be absolutely devastating.

Yes, it’s possible for such a blast to be so powerful and to strike the ground with such force that it causes a shift in a nearby fault line, which could then result in an earthquake.

It was the American astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, and science communicator Carl Sagan who said, “The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” Sagan uses a vivid analogy to depict the sheer and utter folly of these weapons, their escalation, and potential war. Those who live in nations whose governments possess such weapons would do well to remember those words today.

Drawing from that imagery, it’s important to recognize that while the human race would survive one strike, our species would probably not survive a full-out nuclear war between the superpowers. In fact, just one of the bigger superpowers like the U.S. or Russia have enough missiles to destroy all human life on Earth. That’s why surviving such a war must be about preventing such a war from ever occurring.

The big question on everyone's mind is this. Will there be a nuclear war within our lifetimes and how do we prepare for it?

Several institutions monitor and measure risk factors for war. One of the most reputable of these is the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences. The Bulletin was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and the University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project.

The Bulletin created the Doomsday Clock in 1947. Quoting their definition of the clock, “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The Doomsday Clock is set every year by the Bulletin's Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world's vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other domains.” The Doomsday Clock is the most accurate tool by which the human race can assess risks for nuclear warfare. At the time of this writing, the clock is set at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to midnight since 1947.

According to National Security Council analysts, the U.S. cities most at risk for a strike are the following:

  • New York City
  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco
  • Washington, D.C.

But this is a very limited list. Truthfully, any major urban area is considered a target for a strike. The brutal and sad truth is that the purpose of these weapons is to exert a death toll as high as possible, hence the targeting of dense urban areas, not rural areas.

According to the New York State Department of Health, “A dirty bomb, or radiological dispersion device, is a bomb that combines conventional explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive materials in the solid, liquid, or gaseous form. A dirty bomb is intended to disperse radioactive material into a small, localized area around an explosion. The main purpose of a dirty bomb is to frighten people and contaminate buildings or land.”

Wait at least 24 hours before going outside after an explosion. And even then, if you don’t have to go outside (for example, to seek medical treatment or supplies) it is a good idea to shelter indoors until local authorities say it is safe to venture outside.

A strike is almost instantaneous, which is part of why they are so deadly. A city would typically only have a few minutes warning of an impending strike, and once a strike occurs, the explosion of the bomb is instantaneous.

Most likely, yes. The grid will almost certainly go out, and most vehicles that have electronic systems will also fail.

Yes. A good air filtration systems is one of the best defenses against fallout, as it prevents the radiation from getting into your home.

It's okay to consume food that was already in your home, but don't consume food that was outside or anywhere near the blast.

The best place to take shelter is in a brick or concrete building, preferably in the center of the structure on the ground floor or in the basement.

Symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Dizziness and disorientation
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Bloody vomit and stools from internal bleeding
  • Infections
  • Low blood pressure

It’s important to start treating radiation sickness right away. The Mayo Clinic has published findings indicating that Potassium iodide (ThyroShield, Iosat), Prussian blue (Radiogardase), and Diethylenetriamine pentaacetic acid (DTPA) are essential treatments for radiation exposure. And beyond that, there are immediate treatments you can do. Quoting Mayo Clinic physicians, “Decontamination involves removing external radioactive particles. Removing clothing and shoes eliminates about 90 percent of external contamination. Gently washing with water and soap removes additional radiation particles from the skin. Decontamination prevents radioactive materials from spreading more. It also lowers the risk of internal contamination from inhalation, ingestion or open wounds.”

This depends entirely on how close you are to the blast. As a general rule, do not go outside within 24 hours of a blast. Stay inside longer if you can. Radiation contamination can start instantly when you step outside if you come outdoors too soon.

Depending on the severity of the blast, a blast site could continue to be a radiation hazard for 1 to 5 years.

There have only been two incidences in human history when these weapons were used in combat. These were during World War II when the cities of Hiroshima (August 6th, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9th, 1945) were bombed.

The bomb (called "Little Boy") that the U.S. denoted over Hiroshima released a force of energy equivalent to 15 kilotons of TNT. It destroyed 50,000 buildings, with the initial blast killing approximately 60,000 to 80,000 people. Another approximately 60,000 people died in the aftermath of the bomb, mostly from radiation poisoning and other injuries.

The bomb (called "Fat Man") that the U.S. detonated over Nagasaki released a force of energy equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT. It destroyed 60% of the buildings in the city, with the initial blast killing approximately 40,000 people. Another 35,000 died in the days following, due to injuries and radiation poisoning.

Many victims of the two bomb strikes died years later. Some estimates suggest 62,000 people in Hiroshima died in the years following the bombing, primarily from cancer caused by radiation exposure. The total death toll from the attacks is estimated at well over 200,000.

The key difference between a strike and other disaster events (like hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc.) is that strikes are completely and entirely caused by human intervention and action. In contrast, most other disasters are caused by nature (with some human interference/contribution). Prevention comes from activism and demanding that governments which control such warheads dismantle them and draw down their arsenals.

As a general rule of thumb, the more material you can put between you and the blast, the better. Brick and concrete homes with thick walls, sturdy roofs, plenty of insulation, and shatterproof windows offer the best defense against fallout.

This depends on the size of the bomb and where it’s detonated. Such warheads can destroy entire cities and kill hundreds of thousands of people, possibly millions of people, with just one strike.

This phenomenon is best explained by experts in the field of radiation and the atomic sciences. According to the Atomic Archives, “Fallout is the radioactive particles that fall to earth as a result of a nuclear explosion. It consists of weapon debris, fission products, and, in the case of a ground burst, radiated soil. Fallout particles vary in size from thousandths of a millimeter to several millimeters. Much of this material falls directly back down close to ground zero within several minutes after the explosion, but some travels high into the atmosphere. This material will be dispersed over the earth during the following hours, days, (and) months. Fallout is defined as one of two types: early fallout, within the first 24 hours after an explosion, or delayed fallout, which occurs days or years later."