For a few decades after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, most of us basically never thought about getting blown up by a nuclear warhead. But times have changed—recent events have many of us thinking we may need to start worrying and fear The Bomb.
So I called up Dr. Robert Brownlee, a nuclear testing pioneer who is one of the few men still alive to have witnessed a nuclear explosion. He didn’t ease my nerves entirely (survival of a nuke attack is still largely a matter of luck), but he did give me a few handy pointers. It was better than “Duck and Cover,” at least.
1. Understand the threat
Nukes come in all shapes and sizes; how much trouble you find yourself in will depend a great deal on the shape and size used in the attack you hope to survive.
Most often, we worry about nuclear or thermonuclear weapons. These weapons get their energy from fusion (or, in the case of thermonuclear weapons, a combination of fusion and fission), and produce a visible fireball. These bombs will vaporize anything within a certain radius of the blast—depending on the strength of the weapon, that radius could be anywhere from three miles to more than 15.
So-called Neutron Bombs were designed to counter the threat of a Soviet Russian tank invasion of Europe. They use a relatively small thermonuclear explosion to generate radiation that penetrates armor and kills tank crews while leaving infrastructure relatively intact. Likewise, “dirty bombs” use a relatively small amount of conventional explosive to disperse radiation across a wide area.
Other types and variations may or may not exist in various arsenals around the globe, but these are the most common. The tips in this article largely apply to nuclear and thermonuclear explosions, but everything you read about radiation can be applied in any nuclear scenario.