Current fears of the potential use of nuclear weapons — partly resulting from the North Korean weapon program and accompanying threats by President Trump, and mishaps like the errant ballistic missile alert notification in Hawaii recently — have led to a new flush of articles on what to do if there is a nuclear weapon detonation nearby. Articles, such as “What to do in case of a nuclear attack,” in the Washington Post, and “How to survive a missile attack: What’s the official advice?” on the BBC website, offer thoughtful and pragmatic guidance to those who are anxious about protecting themselves and their families under atomic attack.
But one of the other insidious things that articles like this do, is to suggest that the period after a nuclear attack would be one of rational choices and measured activities. The article in the Dallas Morning News advises, “If you are outside during a blast, wash yourself off as soon as possible, removing clothes that could have radioactive material on them and keeping them far away from other people or animals to avoid contamination. Take a shower with lots of soap and water, washing your hair with shampoo or soap but not conditioner (which could bind radioactive material to your hair and make it tough to wash out).”
There is a lot to unpack here. After a nuclear attack, the suggestion that one can go somewhere and find clean, running water is ridiculous. Or that one could take their contaminated clothes off and simply find uncontaminated clothes nearby. Or that washing your hair one time will remove the systemic dangers of being in a radiologically contaminated environment, and your hair would not simply reabsorb some of that radiation. Or that shampoo would be uncontaminated, etc. This is a vision of a post-nuclear environment in which the conditions prior to the attack would quickly and easily be restored, and an ordered society would be available to everyone that “survives” the detonation.
The immense fallout cloud following the Castle Bravo test conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands in 1954 contaminated a vast swath of the Central Pacific with lethal levels of radiation. After mapping the cloud extensively, the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) superimposed the fallout cloud onto a map of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, and produced this map:
The AEC concluded that had the same weapon been detonated over Washington, DC, and had the winds blown the resulting fallout cloud in the same pattern, not only would everyone in Washington, DC, be dead from the blast and heat of the weapon, but everyone in Baltimore, Philadelphia and half of the population of New York City would soon die of radiation sickness if they did not immediately evacuate. Those who were choosing which (undamaged) building to shelter in, or those downwind weighing the virtues of various shampoos, would be doing nothing of consequence.
And that is what we must do now to “prepare” for nuclear attack. It takes a society to fund nuclear weapons, and it will take a society to defund and decommission them. Nuclear weaponry in the hands of immature leaders (or even in the hands of reasoned leaders) is a threat to all living beings. Perhaps it takes irresponsible leaders to remind us of this simple truth, but let’s not be distracted with discussions of all the clever ways we can dance our way out of the apocalypse.
Read more at We Cannot Survive a Nuclear Apocalypse by Ducking and Covering