Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What would you do if Nuclear war happened?

  1. Aug 5, 2003 #1
    I know this is a dark subject, but it's germane to the current times, and Ivan's post about war got me thinking. So let's say the unthinkable happened, and say you somehow were one of the few million who survived. What would you do? would you want to survive? If you knew nuclear war was eminent would you take steps to survive if you knew how?

    Sadly enough I had enough interest in this subject to read a few books on the subject some time back, and the scenarios were not pretty, and at that, they were based on much lower yields than are currently in existence. A 5 Megaton Nuke placed accurately could essentially wipe out Los Angeles and 90 percent of it's approx 10 million inhabitants within day between the initial blast and resulting fallout. And I'm being conservative with that estimate. 70 percent within a 100 mile radius of ground zero dead within a week. It just gets worse from there. And that's just one.

    For me I would be torn between staying and going. If I had sufficient warning(not likely) I know of some islands in the pacific where I might go and radiation would be minimal, assuming a full nuclear exchange wasn't executed. I most certainly wouldn't want to live in the post nuclear areas, where I would be exposed to millions of rads and no doubt develop cancern, or pass traits onto any children I might bear. But I supposed if circumstances were right, I might escape to such an island)preferrably with some livable companionship) and live out the rest of my days there. Obviously there would be nothing left on the mainland to go back to.

    I know there are those of you out there who are familiar with these types of scenarios, and with at least the scientific aspects of it. So knowing the gruesome future, would you choose to live? For me I know it's a decision I couldn't make until ultimately faced with it.
    There was a movie some years back called "the day after" which presented this scenario. It was gruesome. And let me tell you, it all revolves around this guy trying to get back to his home. He of course ultimately makes it back, only to discover the only thing left is the chimney stack and some guy sitting near a fire where his house once stood. Very depressing.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2003
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2003 #2
    as long as i died with my family i think i would be ok. If however, my family died and i was left... well i dont really like to think about that.
  4. Aug 5, 2003 #3


    User Avatar

    In answer to the question, "what would you do if Nuclear war happened?", I would probably die. And that would probably be the only choice, since the effects of a full nuclear war would likely destroy all life, save a few rats. Forget surviving the initial blasts or radiation, nuclear winter will do you in.
  5. Aug 5, 2003 #4
    At first my gut reaction is to die too. All my friends and family gone. But if I could save a few with me, and I knew that the place I selected would be safe from radiation, I might consider it. There are noble causes such as continuation of the species, starting over the right way, etc
  6. Aug 5, 2003 #5
    I think you may want to check your sources. While in theory, what you say about the numbers of deaths is possible, it would be the absolute upper limit.

    I took a course in Bomb Shelter managment (a long long time ago), and certain things were highly variable. Fallout is exquisitely dependent on air blast vs surface, prevailing winds, and subsequent weather. Fallout doesn't start to land until about an hour or two after blast, giving time find adequate shelter. The typical fallout patterns, prevailing winds, weather, and shelter will dictate if you survive. Adequate shelter (bomb shelter, internal portions of your house, etc.), will go a long way in protecting you from radiation illness. The typical fallout radiation levels drop to acceptable limits within about two weeks, assuming no rain - faster with rain.

    The blast estimates seem a little high. Also: Most current thinking is that the smaller 100 kiloton to 1 megaton devices would be used, since they are much more efficient. Blast damage from the larger megatonage devices suffer from the inverse square law, so the damage isn't proportional to the megatonage.

    If you're talking terrorist device, then you leave the realm of thermonuclear, and the megatonage drops a good deal.

    My answer to the initial question: Assuming I wasn't seriously injured in the blast, nor was the building/house I was in -

    1) Find a place most protected from fallout - internal room of the house, preferable away from ground level or directly below the roof. Fallout collects on flat surfaces - which is where the most radiation will originate. Getting mass between you and the radiation source is your protection. The mass can be bulk or it can be a lot of air.

    2) Seal any drafts or places where the wind can blow dust (fallout) into the room.

    3) Gather as many water containers as possible, with water - including filling tubs, sinks, etc.

    4) Gather as much food as would be needed for two weeks, including manual canopener and utensiles.

    5) Get a container to use as a toilet. Hopefully it can be kept in another, internal, room.

    6) Gather several sets of cloths, if possible - to be used and discarded, for a possible quick foray out into the world, about a week before it's safe to stay out.

    7) Radio (battery powered) if available, Flashlites if available, books, or any non-electronic form of entertainment, to occupy the time.

    8) Bulky materials to form a shield (in terms of mass) between those of us in the room and the outside, as possible - to be used for the first 7 hours after the blast.

    After two weeks, I would use a hose to clean off all surrounding areas, assuming dust hasn't been washed away by rain and assuming water is still functioning.

    Three important markers are 7 hours, 7 days, and 2 weeks. Each of these marks a period of dramatically lowered fallout radiation, compared to the previous period.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2003
  7. Aug 5, 2003 #6


    User Avatar

    Ahem, what about nuclear winter? Assuming both sides were to unload their 40,000 weapons.
  8. Aug 5, 2003 #7
    THanks radagast, you may be correct on that. The texts I read were from the late 60's and based on several KT yields. If I'm not mistaken it was 100 percent fatal within the initial 20 mile radius, then lowering 10 perecent in concentric 10 mile radius circles outwards from the blast. Fallout would be considered seperatelly. But eiher way you would need to be at least 30 miles from any blast center in order to survive. Then you would have to take into account air bursts, which are much more damaging. I'm no expert, like I said. And it sounds like you have a much more accurate picture than I do.
  9. Aug 5, 2003 #8
    Best scenario:
    I would join the navy and get myself in a submarine at the bottom of the sea. I would stay there and hopefully get dropped off at a suitable island. Would stay out of sea, build a shelter, stay out of rain.
  10. Aug 5, 2003 #9
    I've looked at blast damage accessments of Atlanta, from a 1 Megaton device. Within 3-4 mile radius, everyone dies of the blast and heat. 5 to 7 there is substantial structural damage. At up to ten miles, minor structural damage, outside that little structural damage. Fallout pattern varied dramatically, depending on prevailing winds, but most common ones blew it straight toward my house (east). :smile:
  11. Aug 5, 2003 #10
    We'd be in deep kaka. I'd still try to survive a little while longer...
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2003
  12. Aug 5, 2003 #11
    I can't concieve of ever have a need to use all the weapons. A few dozen on each side would pretty much end things. on each continent. Anything above that is "just for show". besides, I doubt we'd even have the ability to get all nukes airborne before initial impact anyhow. Assuming a "limited" exchange, Survival on a tropical island would be possible given preperation with adequate shelter against fallout, even with prevailing winds.
  13. Aug 5, 2003 #12
    After the initial fallout, I would enter a gun shop, kill the zombie shopkeeper, take all the guns, get in my robzombiesque hotrod hearse, and procede to create the most badassest post-apocalyptic road warrior gang ever dreamt of.
  14. Aug 5, 2003 #13
    Fry baby! ... Or, even if you could survive, there probably wouldn't be much to live for.
  15. Aug 5, 2003 #14
    actually i think america and the soviet union combined total just over 10,000 weapons...America having the smaller, more tactical weapons...
  16. Aug 5, 2003 #15


    User Avatar

    On the topic of a limited exchange: Does anyone know how many nukes it would take to cause the sunlight to be blocked out for an extended period of time?
  17. Aug 5, 2003 #16
    I was just reading about this. I believe in a scanario with a 500MT exchange, it would do that for a period of say 2 months. Let me see if I can find the link..
  18. Aug 5, 2003 #17
    Here's a paper on it.

    http://www.pynthan.org/vri/nwaos.htm [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  19. Aug 5, 2003 #18
    The US strategic weapons are smaller, by design. The idea is to use more, with smaller megatonage, to get past the limitations and waste imposed by the inverse square law.

    Tactical weapons are a completely different breed than strategic. In yield, method of delivery, purpose.
  20. Aug 5, 2003 #19
    Based on what I've read, Assuming the exchanges were limited to the US and Russia, it would be restricted to the area between the 30 and 60 degree parallels. Which means that you'd be safe either in Northern Canada, or south america- from the fallout anyways. Nuclear winter and the death of all vegetation is a different story. Europe would most certainly be a target, if not from the missle sites both countries have there, then from the resultant fallout, depending on trade winds.

    How much warning would the US have? Do we have the missle technology to shoot down incoming nukes?
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2003
  21. Aug 5, 2003 #20

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Survive. If possible, go someplace safe or unaffected. I just don't ever see giving up. Only if doomed to a slow miserable death by direct exposure to radiation would I consider other options. The loss of loved ones is unthinkable but as is often quoted: Where there is life there is hope. I believe this is a statement of our nature; not just a positive way to view life.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook