There is an infinitesimally small chance of someone surviving a nuclear attack but if you are lucky enough to be far enough to not die of the blast itself, it does not mean you are safe. If you happen to be a witness to a nuclear explosion, the first thing you will see is the blinding light that will feel like the Sun has moved itself to the planet. When your vision finally returns, all you will be able to see a ball of flames that rises to the skies darkening into smoke. The shock wave of the blast will tear through the ground and throw you off balance if you are not already on the floor.
If you ever see all of this happening, you are definitely not a normal human being but it does not hurt to imagine a hypothetical scenario, does it? Knowing a man has survived two of them, you can not say anything about chance. There are more than 14,900 nuclear weapons on earth, so the chances of such attacks happening are not slim at all. The US government has even planned for 15 disaster scenarios, the first of which is a 10-kiloton nuclear detonation by a terrorist.
If luck is siding with you, and you and your car both survive the attack, there is one thing you should absolutely never do. A health physicist and radiation expert at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Brooke Buddemeier says, “Don’t get in your car. Don’t try to drive, and don’t assume that the glass and metal of a vehicle can protect you.”
After an event of a nuclear blast, you can expect everyone to be in an utter panic, and if everyone begins to drive, you can imagine what havoc would the reckless driving cause. That, however, is not the only reason getting into a car is a bad idea. The reason is an after effect of the blast called fallout which is a complex mixture of radioisotopes created by the splitting atoms. These fission products decay rapidly, emitting gamma rays, which is high energy invisible light. Prolonged exposure to gamma radiation can cause acute radiation sickness which damages the body cells’ ability to heal themselves. Buddemeier says, “It also affects the immune system and your ability to fight infections.”
The only way you can escape the radiation is through extremely dense materials like feets of dirt of inches of lead. “These fission products mix in with the dirt and debris that’s drawn up into the atmosphere from the fireball. It’s the penetrating gamma radiation coming off of those particles that’s the hazard.”
Won’t it be wise to just get as far away from the blast location as possible in the car? Well, Buddemeir disagrees:
“Modern vehicles are made of glass and very light metals, and they offer almost no protection. There was actually a lot of folks who had this notion – and it may be a Hollywood notion – of ‘Oh, jump in the car and try to skedaddle out of town if you see a mushroom cloud'”. The fallout is carried by winds “often booking along at 100 miles per hour and often not going in the same direction as the ground-level winds. So your ability to know where the fallout’s gonna go, and outrun it, are… Well, it’s very unlikely.”
If getting in the car and driving away is pointless, is it okay to just sit around on the road and expose yourself to radiation? Buddemeir suggests that you get inside a robust structure as quickly as you can; “go in, stay in, tune in.” He says, “Get inside … and get to the center of that building. If you happen to have access to below-ground areas, getting below-ground is great. Stay in: 12 to 24 hours. Try to use whatever communication tools you have.”
Waiting for long is good for you as the radiation will decline exponentially as the radioisotopes decay into stable atoms and the fallout zone slowly shrinks. It is good to keep a hand cranked radio with you at work and at home to help you as the emergency providers will broadcast instructions about how to escape the fallout cloud.
The only where it is okay to get into the car is when you are in a parking garage where the concrete will provide shielding, and you can listen to the radio inside your vehicle. Buddemeir believes, these instructions, if followed correctly can save thousands of lives.
Source: Business Insider