Civil protection experts are almost unanimous in saying that the first few days are the worst in any accident, war, or cataclysm. This is when both the number of casualties is highest, and the authorities usually do not know what to do. Moreover, it is well known that the true scale of the danger is not immediately apparent to the general population.
According to experts, civil protection systems in Western countries start working effectively about 2-3 days after an accident or other cataclysm. However, in the event of a sudden military attack, a natural disaster, or a biological hazard, regardless of its origin, a safe clean room is needed to provide food and water for at least a week. And today, what once seemed a quaint hobby is becoming a real necessity for the prudent minded person – personal shelters are increasingly being built not just in the US’s tornado alley or on Israel’s borders with the Arab countries, but in the old, peaceful Europe.
2 Hiroshima’s in one Iskander
You all know about the 1945 nuclear attacks that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but rarely do you think about the fact that more than 150 000 people in Hiroshima were killed by a device that is not considered powerful today. A nuclear device with twice the power does not even need a strategic bomber to get it to its target. Here, a Russian-made missile adapted to the Iskander system is believed to have a nuclear yield of up to 50 kT, which is exactly twice what was used in 1945.
The other bad news is that the number of tactical nuclear devices currently in military readiness in the world is at least 2000. And then there is the third piece of bad news: tactical nuclear devices can be used without orders from the highest military command. As the experts say, there is virtually no way of guaranteeing that small mobile nuclear devices will not be used due to error, technical failure or malice. Incidentally, in the history of nuclear weapons, a few have been simply lost and, for example, 6 aerial bombs are still missing. And there are also nuclear torpedoes and missiles from sunken submarines on the ocean floor.
How the Apocalypse will begin
As you can see, a real nuclear war can happen completely unexpectedly, with just the first strike, whether intentional or not. It is a mistake to think that once war breaks out the big strategic missiles of the US Minuteman or the Russian SS-18 will be in the air. The exchange of first strikes will be done with short-range missiles and aerial bombs, and whether you survive will depend primarily on how quickly you reach a safe place, i.e., an established shelter. In the case of the Iskander system already mentioned, you will have a maximum of 15 minutes from the signal, even if it is timely, to the impact. In that time, most people will not reach the civil protection shelter, especially if it is a first strike.
The consequences are well illustrated by the NUKEMAP nuclear attack simulator, where, for example, if a tactical nuclear weapon were to hit a city the size of Vilnius, the death toll from the impact alone would be more than 60,000. And then there are the consequences of radiation, which will be particularly severe.
Of course, if nuclear war is intensified, strategic weapons will undoubtedly be used where the warheads used have a yield of more than 340 kT, i.e., each one of them is almost 20 Hiroshima’s in one, and each missile can carry several of them. And both the US and Russia have several hundred missiles themselves. The chances of surviving such an attack are vanishingly small, but survival is still possible if you are not directly under the blast wave.
An important first week
The Soviets, the Americans and the Chinese have all proved that nuclear weapons can be used in a conventional war theatre. We are talking, of course, about the so-called ‘nuclear exercises’, the most famous of which took place at the USSR’s Totskye range in 1954, and the entire Desert Rock series of exercises was also conducted in the USA. The military wanted to find out whether it was possible to carry out combat tasks in an area affected by a nuclear explosion. The conclusions of the exercise were unequivocal, that it was possible to carry out routine combat tasks within an hour of the explosion and that critical radiation contamination levels were recorded within a radius of 300 m from the epicentre.
It should not be forgotten that all safety measures were taken, i.e. the participants in the exercise were in protective structures at the time of the explosions, wearing individual protection, but their stay in the contaminated area itself was brief. Civilians would, of course, be much less fortunate in the event of a nuclear attack, so scientists have undertaken calculations to determine how long it would take to make the environment at least partially safe.
As is already known, 10 hours after a nuclear explosion, radiation levels drop by a factor of 5 to 10, by a factor of 100 in two days and by a factor of 1,000 in two weeks. The numbers can vary considerably depending on the type of device used, the method used and the weather conditions, so we can safely say that in the event of a nuclear attack, it is not advisable to leave your shelter before one week.
How realistic is nuclear war?
In 1947, at the beginning of the nuclear weapons era, scientists set up a project called “Doomsday Clock” to record how dangerously close we are to a global nuclear war with apocalyptic consequences. Humanity has been approaching the symbolic midnight several times, e.g., at the end of the last century. On 23 January this year, however, a level of alarm never before recorded was announced: 90 symbolic seconds to the end of the world.
Experts commenting on this information point out that both deliberate and unintentional scenarios are possible. The use of nuclear weapons is also possible in response to attacks with conventional weapons against peaceful nuclear facilities.
So should we be surprised that more and more people are attracted by the possibility of a low-cost shelter. After all, we are not surprised at those who build automatic fire extinguishing systems in their homes, active lightning protection equipment, even though the chances of a fire, let alone a lightning strike, are vanishingly small. In the same way, you may never need a shelter with an NBC air filtration system, but if you do need one, it will save your life and the lives of your loved ones.