How to Survive a Nuclear Blast and Fall Out in a City

What are the Effects of Radiation and Fallout?

Undoubtedly, they are some of the worst SHTF events anyone can imagine. The consequences of them, in fact, have long-term effects on:

  • Population
  • Environment
  • Livestock
  • Wild animals
  • Infrastructure
  • Vehicles

These events definitely affect short-term survivability, but also impact the quality of life within contaminated areas for years to come.

Understanding the effects of direct irradiation is one of the premises anyone who could be impacted by an event like this should understand.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Benjamin Franklin

Let’s Dig Into it a Bit More

The starting point is that radiation is, tout court, energy.

Daily we expose ourselves to multiple sources of radiation, due to proximity to power lines, mobile phones, tv, infrared devices…you name it.

They represent acceptable level of radiations.

Ultraviolet radiation, X-Ray, and radioactive waste are another story. No doubt they are at the top in terms of risks and threats.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Exposure to very high levels of radiation, such as being close to an atomic blast, can cause acute health effects such as skin burns and acute radiation syndrome (“radiation sickness”). It can also result in long-term health effects such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Exposure to low levels of radiation encountered in the environment does not cause immediate health effects but is a minor contributor to our overall cancer risk. “

The Medium to Long-Term Effects of Exposure to Radiation

The sievert (Sv) is a measure set to identify the health effect of low levels of ionizing radiation when they hit the human body. The sievert was named after the Swedish physicist Rolf Maximilian Sievert, who studied the biological effects of radiation.

The United States Department of  Defense (DoD) defined the “destruction radius” as “the maximum distance from an exploding charge of stated size and type at which a mine will be destroyed by the sympathetic detonation of the main charge, with a stated probability of destruction, regardless of orientation“.

As it relates to a nuclear blast, we have to consider the radiation radius. The surrounding areas, in fact, can be clustered into three different groups:

  1. Light Damage Zone (LD): Marked by a loud noise that may break windows and shock inhabitants.
  2. Moderate Damage Zone (MD): Marked by consequences occurring at a distance of one mile from ground zero for a 10 KT nuclear blow-off. Power lines may be off, and buildings could be severely damaged. Many casualties are expected.
  3. Severe Damage Zone (SD): Marked by the acutest form of the explosion itself. Only those who sheltered in bunkers or subterranean tunnels may survive.

A nuclear blast exposes us to a variety of negative impacts, especially if we find ourselves devoid of the proper gear, or if we are uninformed about the correct procedures to follow.

For example, high levels of radiation coming from an atomic or radioactive nuclear blast are 100% lethal if spread in a short period of time. The explosion simply annihilates everything in the immediate surrounding area.

A longer distance means the potential for a higher survival rate.

Nonetheless, the nuclear blast causes several symptoms related to radiation exposure.

They can be mainly connected to:

  • Minor burns
  • Vomiting
  • Constant nausea

The effects, albeit very similar to what a chemical attack can give rise to, are labeled as “radiation sickness”, or ARS (Acute Radiation Sickness).

To give you a more accurate picture of this, it would be like being exposed to more than 0.75 Gy (75 rad) within minutes, or less than an hour.

What exactly does this mean?

Imagine you received radiation from 18,000 chest x-rays spread all over your body and for the entire duration of the exposure.

This is exactly what happened to some workers at No.4 Reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, back to April 26th, 1986.

The Chernobyl Case – Chronicle of Events

Chernobyl nuclear power station. 4th block. Ukraine

This accident is considered one of the worst disasters which resulted in a high number of casualties, long-term bodily malformations, and a tremendous increase in cancer cases.

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is located near the city Pryp’yat, 10 miles northwest of the city of Chernobyl. It is 65 miles north of Kyiv, Ukraine. It was established in 1977.

At that time, the plant had four reactors. Each of them were able to produce 1,000 megawatts of electric power.

The accident took place during a safety test conducted on an RBMK-type nuclear reactor.

An RBMK is a high-power channel-type reactor, based and developed on the Soviet Union standards of graphite-moderated nuclear power reactors.

The test was not only poorly layered, but it also suffered from a lack of safety procedure and marked by the dramatic results of Cold War isolation in terms of people and infrastructure protection.

A chain of dramatic mistakes crossed all over that night.

Let’s try to understand what really happened throughot a short chronicle of the main events,

  • Workers locked the regulating system of the reactor.
  • In doing so, most of the control rods from the core were deactivated. Nonetheless, the reactor kept running at a power of around 7 %.
  • At 1:23 AM (April 26th) the chain reaction in the core ran out of control.
  • Some explosions took place, spreading a tremendous fireball.
  • A partial meltdown of the reactor core occurred.
  • The fireball was able to wipe out the heavy steel and even concrete lid set on the reactor.
  • The unobstructed fire situated inside the graphite reactor core set free considerable amounts of radioactive material into the air.
  • Air currents carried it away at long distances.

The initial emergency response by the Soviet Union involved more than 500,000 personnel. Nonetheless, the attempt to play the events down was the real catastrophe.

Ostracism From the Government and the Media

Old doll with a gas mask sitting on a chair in an abandoned kindergarten in Pripyat – Chernobyl nuclear power plant zone of alienation

The first casualties involved the workers and firemen who went on scene in a desparate attempt to extinguish the fire.

In the following hours, the whole population of Pryp’yat started to feel odd symptoms like red eyes, dizziness, nausea, vomiting.

Some of them went outside their houses when the blast of the No.4 Reactor occurred, exposing themselves to radioactive particles floating in the air.

The debris of radiation started to fall on crops, streets, clothes, people’s skin, and on animals’ fur, triggering a relentless public catastrophe.

The Soviet Government tried to settle a cover-up of what happened, giving partial information to the media. As a result, this became the biggest obstacle to reduce the consequences of the disaster.

On April 27th 30,000 inhabitants of Pryp’yat began evacuation. A few hours earlier the Government had admitted the accident occurred in Chernobyl, although softening the real damages.

Nonetheless, on April 28th, some Swedish and Ukrainian monitoring stations reported unusually high levels of radioactivity which were clearly carried by air currents. They started to ask for explanations.

Some workers, called “the liquidators“, worked incessantly around the No.4 Reactor, pushing the graphite pieces that blew off the roof of the core of the reactor itself. The debris was later on buried among eight hundred temporary sites, then collected and covered in a sarcophagus made of concrete and steel, to ensure maximum isolation.

The sacrifice of the liquidators was an act of honor, even if it seemed that no one of them was advised about the real amount of radioactive risks they may be in contact with.

The population remained in a state of seclusion, silence, and dreadful physical and internal pain.

Lack of Public Awareness

“[..] The fire–as described by one of the men that woke from their sleep to the wail of the main siren (third level)-burned directly on top of Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor number four. It erupted at exactly 1:23:48 a.m. on April 26, 1986 when the fourth reactor of the nuclear plant exploded. And, as proven in the subsequent investigation, there were no lack of warnings. But unlike those of spring, they were either ignored or deliberately concealed. A glossy surface covered an ugly reality. Through cronyism and bribery, political favorites and well-connected people were hired in place of professional experts. Graft and corruption engendered a despicable incompetence. In the control room of the ill-fated reactor, they were playing poker and dominoes and writing personal letters on the job. Even so, everything seemed fine. The warning signs were camouflaged. Out of 71 incidents that took place at the reactors only 27 were investigated. And that’s just one example of the rampant negligence […]” Mohamed Makhzangi, at that time young doctor studying in Kiev.”

This testimonial depicts an inconceivable reality. Besides the silent cover-up put into action by the government, the local population had absolutely no idea of the threats a Nuclear Power Plant may bring.

Back in the day, the Chernobyl Power Plant, in fact, meant power to the surrounding poor areas as well as employments for workers.

The people considered the whole structure an avant-guardistic one, as it was largely and always depicted by the Soviet Union.

No risk, no need to worry. No reason to be concerned about a possible nuclear blast and the consequential fall out.

The lack of awareness of all the issues connected to a potential disaster was simply off people’s minds. So, when they witnessed the blue blast, they were quite enchanted by the surrealistic beauty of that show, ignoring the risks.

Understanding the Risk

The Chernobyl case demonstrated how much a lack of awareness could determine a tremendous number of deaths.

Cities located far from the Power Plant suffered minor numbers in terms of casualties and cancer cases linked to the disaster.

The United States is at the top of the list for the highest numbers of Reactors – 94, for a total power of 96.6 gigawatts.

The 94 Reactors produce a total of 809.41 terawatt-hours of electricity, which equates to 20% of the nation’s total electric energy generation ( April 25th, 2020).

Palo Verde Generating Station, located in Arizona, is the largest and most powerful nuclear power plant situated within the US. Its capacity is 3.93GW.

Living in close proximity to a Power Plant, no matter how big or small, involves risks to your health as well as dramatic consequences in the worst-case scenario, as Chernobyl sadly proved.

By that saying, being informed on the type of reactor employed, the emergency procedures in case of blast, and wind direction, is vitally important.

If you have the ability to choose where to live, stay as far from this locations as possible. Common sense always wins.

If that is not possible, take a look at the following precautions and make sure your whole family is aware of them too.

How to Protect Yourself from Fall Out in a City

Where to look for shelter

As introduced by the Severe Damage Zone (SD), the ideal place where to shelter yourself and your family is underground.

The probability of survival is higher because of the intrinsic seclusion of the place itself, far from radiation and isolated from the ground level.

Saying that, if fall out catches you away from home, look for:

  • Subway or underground transportation avenues
  • Underground drainage tunnels
  • Basements
  • Underground parking lots

Emergency Procedures

In case of a nuclear blast and consequential fall out, you should be familiar with the basic protocols issued by most governments.

By listening to emergency broadcasts on radio or television, you will most likely be updated on evacuation routes, short-term shelters, and procedures to follow.

In case you find yourself near the explosion, drop face down, and place your hands beneath your body. Cover your eyes, nose, and mouth as best as you can. Stay flat until the heatwave has passed.

If you find yourself outside, cover your mouth, nose, and eyes as much as you can. By shaking, try to discard any debris. Move away from the prevailing wind while you try to reach an underground shelter.

Burn your clothes as they are contaminated, and take a shower if you have the possibility. Do this BEFORE entering in your shelter.

If you find yourself already inside the shelter, immediately shut the doors, and stop the ventilation system. Open them once all threats have passed. Use a face mask or scarf to cover your nose, mouth, and eyes. Take advantage of the supplies you have already stored and listen to the radio in order to get updated with the most recent news.

How to Prepare your Fall Out shelter

This topic will require an entire article itself.

For this reason I will cover only the topic related to tools, gear, and protective measures.

The main things you need to know are:

  • You need to prepare your fall out shelter far in advance
  • You need to choose the proper location and materials

Keep in mind the best shelter is screened out of lead, but the feasibility of this is almost non-existent.

Once you’ve obtained all the permits to build your shelter (building, but also grading, discretionary, electrical, and plumbing being among the most common ones), the best way to employ all the space you have is to work on verticality.

This is the real thing when it comes to store tools and gear like:

cutting tools – knives, axes, hatchets, saws, scissors..

  • Weapons – pistols, rifles, etc.
  • Backpacks
  • Survival kits
  • First aid kits
  • Food rations
  • Water tanks
  • Potabilization tablets
  • Generators

And, obviously, protective measures such as:

  • CBRN Gas Mask with Filters
  • NBC Suit (with boots, gloves)
  • Plus supply stock, as filters have to be changed frequently
  • Tool to detect radioactivity and also to screen the supplies (Dosimeter, Geiger Counter, etc.)
  • KI (Iodine tablets to protect the thyroid)


“The world has already been overwhelmed by one Chernobyl event and one exclusion zone. It cannot afford it anymore. It must learn its lessons from what happened in and around Chernobyl on April 26, 1986.”

Serhii Plokhy

When a nuclear blast occurs, there is no time to think about a plan. It needs to be effective and totally flawless. Radioactivity is, in fact, one of the worst enemies to fight against. Make sure you are prepared!

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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