Preppers planning to survive what would happen after a nuclear terrorist attack must consider not only the breakdown of both society and government, and the collapse of the nation’s food supply, but also the dire natural disaster domino effect that will also occur.
A nuclear terrorist attack on the United States would most likely be a targeting of major cities, but Americans living in small towns and rural areas would not escape the carnage – even though they are geographically better situated to survive it.
After the destruction that would occur in all of the cities hit during the nuclear attack our fragile power grid would most likely collapse, firestorms could materialize far outside of the blast zone.
A nuclear winter could rapidly occur, and the impact of radiation sickness may be incredibly widespread depending on weather patterns at the time of the attack.
The people within a size square miles of a nuclear terrorist attack blast will be killed instantly from the gamma rays emitted from only a 1 megaton bomb.
The victims will be essentially vaporized with the only thing remaining of their bodies being a shadow style silhouette of their former selves that will be formed onto any stone or concrete material they were next to.
These nuclear attack victims may be far luckier than the folks who live just outside of the blast ground zero area. The people within a six square mile radius will be dead even before the pain inflicted on their bodily organs can reach their brains and generate a response.
The people outside of ground zero will be impacted by the light stemming from the explosion that is multiple times hotter than the sun. The bright light can both instantly and permanently blind every living thing in its path.
Anyone or any animal – or even fish, within 10 square miles of a nuclear blast site, no matter if their eyes are opened or closed, will likely experience blindness.
People who live or work within a 50 mile radius of a nuclear terrorist attack and are looking directly at the blast of a 1 megaton nuclear bomb may experience a spot being burned directly onto their retinas after permanently destroying the light receptor cells in the eyes.
The final clear image these victims will ever see clearly is the amazingly bright cloud that is formed from the human beings and structures destroyed by the nuclear attack.
The cloud created from a 1 megaton nuclear bomb is roughly 10 miles wide and nearly 10 miles tall, as well.
A nuclear attack test conducted by the United States government in the South Pacific revealed a contamination area that was 60 miles wide and 340 miles long – and cigar-shaped.
The nuclear blast contamination spread 20 miles upwind from the test site and 320 miles downwind. The wind and any rain that the attack area is experiencing will greatly impact how small or large the contamination area is both initially and how it will spread.
The people and animals living within 100 square miles of a nuclear terrorist attack sight should experience any or all of the following to harm or kill them:
Multi-spectral heat blast comprised primarily of ultraviolet wavelengths and X-ray wavelengths. These will happen less than one second after the initial gamma ray burst caused by the nuclear bomb.
Pressure waves will sweep for up to 100 miles a few seconds after the nuclear blast. These waves will cause both humans and animals to bleed through every orifice in their bodies.
Intense hurricane – or more wicked, winds will come right after the pressure wave.
The velocity of the post-nuclear blast winds have the capacity to reach speeds in excess of several hundred miles per hour in the area close to the blast, and up to 70 miles per hour roughly six miles from ground zero for 1 megaton bombs.
The speed and destruction area of these winds increases with the size of the bomb used in the nuclear attack.
Radiation sickness will kill thousands up to hundreds of thousands of people who live far enough away from ground zero to have survived the blast, hurricanes, multi-spectral heat blast, and pressure waves.
Radiation sickness will cause a thirst that is both unquenchable and extremely intense, vomiting, peeling skin and skin rashes, and hair that quickly starts to fall out in large clumps.
All of these symptoms are provoked by the destruction of the internal molecular structure of body cells that have been exposed to such a massive amount of radiation.
A nuclear firestorm can be sparked by the blast that will happen during a nuclear terrorist attack. The plethora of individual fires that are caused by the nuclear explosion might for into one enormous wall of flames that are commonly referred to as a “firestorm.”
The melding of the heat from the many fires as they converge and the air that causes them to grow can prompt hurricane force winds to be directed not outward but inward, effectively fanning the flames and urging an even more enormous fire to grow.
Like in many SHTF scenarios, the blazes after a nuclear terrorist attack will be allowed to rage unchecked because firefighters will not be able to respond – at least not in the immediate nuclear attack area.
By the time the firestorm has reached an area far enough away from the nuclear blast that people are still alive, any fire engine that remains ready to roll after the immediate EMP effect, will almost certainly find itself incredibly outmatched to fight the blaze.
In a typical large fire emergency, a local department could radio others in neighboring areas for mutual aid. But, after a nuclear terrorist attack, the 2-way radios and emergency dispatching systems first responders use to talk to each other, will be rendered useless thanks to the EMP effects of a nuclear blast.
- Conditions are ripe for a firestorm to evolve if approximately 50% of the structures in the area around the nuclear blast site are set on fire nearly simultaneously after the attack.
- A firestorm is sparked by what is often termed the “chimney effect” once the heat of the initial fire sucks in more and more of the air surrounding the blaze. Once this updraft mushrooms, high winds are drawn in to fuel the flames.
- A firestorm requires approximately 8 pounds of combustible materials per every square foot a blaze moves to create this nuclear domino effect.
- An area of roughly .5 square miles must be on fire for a firestorm to develop.
- In the formation stages of a firestorm, a wind of less than 8 miles per hour is needed for multiple fires to converge and grow.
When the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, approximately 4.4 square miles were completely destroyed after firestorm developed. Nagasaki was not subjected to a firestorm even though multiple fires roared out of control.
The difference in this nuclear attack aftermath result is believed to be largely due to the flatness of the terrain in Hiroshima compared to the more uneven terrain that Nagasaki was built upon.
The nuclear bombs dropped on both Japanese cities are viewed as relatively small bombs when compared to modern nuclear bomb capabilities.
A nuclear bomb that weighs one megaton has the capability to cause a firestorm large enough to traverse 100 square miles. A 20 megaton nuclear bomb may spark a firestorm big enough to almost cover a 2,500 square mile radius.
It does not necessarily take a nuclear attack to cause a firestorm to evolve. During World War II firestorms were caused in Tokyo, Dresden, and Hamburg after intense conventional bombing of the areas.
A nuclear winter could occur after the firestorm caused by the blast after a terrorist attack.
Such a scenario has never occurred before, but the hypothesis involving nuclear winter predicts that the soot forced into the stratosphere form a firestorm caused by modern nuclear bombs will block such a significant level of sunlight that it will be impossible for it to reach the Earth’s surface and precipitation levels would drop dramatically.
If a nuclear winter were to materialize, it would cause an unseasonable coldness that would provoke crop failure and ultimately, famine. The term “nuclear twilight” is how scientists and researchers used to refer to this type of nuclear attack domino effect.
Scientists have been studying the potential of a nuclear winter since before the end of the Cold War era during the 1980s. Carl Sagan predicted that a nuclear winter would ndot only kill more people than the nuclear bomb attack, but ultimately cause human extinction.
All preppers, even newbies, are aware of what an electromagnetic pulse – EMP is and the total havoc it would create on society. In the blink of an eye the entire country (or world) would suddenly be jettisoned back to an 1800s era existence.
How long we would be living like our pioneering ancestors depends on a copious amount of factors. But, in the case of a nuclear attack – the situation could be permanent, or at least generational.
Not only would an EMP short circuit any sensitive electronic equipment that was plugged in or in use when the EMP happened, it would also electrify all manners of metallic structures that are only electrified if they are hit momentarily by lightning.
You could easily liken an EMP of this type to the entire United States getting struck by a lightning bolt all at once.
Metal pipes will carry the EMP charge back into the motors, pumps, gauges, etc. they are connected to – destroying them or catching them and the structures that house them on fire. Municipal water departments will no longer be able to process or pump water, for example.
Train tracks will also become electrified and send surges of electricity into whatever the locomotive engines and cargo containers are housing.
A metal cargo container could act as a Faraday cage for the contents inside, but only if those items are protected from touching the metal container itself by a non-conductive barrier – like cardboard.
Expect explosions to result from the EMP wave, especially when metal fuel carriers or containers are involved. The EMP effect that impacted earth was from a solar flare during the late 1800s and is known as the Carrington Event.
At that time, the most advanced form of technology was the telegram. Telegram operators across the United States reported being shocked, seeing sparks fly, and the papers on their desks caught on fire during the energy surge.
Depending upon the size of the nuclear bomb used in the terrorist attack, areas within 1,000 miles of a single bomb site could experience the brunt of the EMP.
The blazes caused by electronic devices catching on fire due to the power surge, and airplanes falling out of the sky, would not only cause extremely more amounts of death and destruction, but may fuel any growing firestorm that has already begun to grow.
Any rescue or relief efforts our crippled government of local civic groups want to provide, would be substantially hampered by a lack of working planes, ships, and vehicles.
Our military would could also be left immobilized wherever in the world they happened to be before the nuclear terrorist attack.
Not only will all of the lights go out at once, but fuel pumps will no longer be able to pump fuel. The stockpiled fuel emergency responders possess at the moment of impact will be all that is left to power any working vehicles or generators at police stations, fire houses, sheriff’s offices, EMS squads, and hospitals.
All of the above noted nuclear effects would happen within the first few moments after bomb detonated on American soil. Each one of these aftershocks would cause not only more immediate deaths and destruction, but lead to tens or hundreds of thousands more lives lost during the long-term disaster that would unfold.
What Would Happen Long-Term After a Nuclear Terrorist Attack
WROL – We would quickly be living in either a world without rule of law (WROL) or in a world with extremely little official laws or law enforcement.
This would pave the way for gangs of marauding hordes and warlords to emerge and claim control of cities or regions. Rights, including property rights, would not necessarily exist any longer.
If you cannot stand over something and defend it, it won’t be yours for very long. It will not likely take long for the men and women who work at prisons and mental health facilities to understandably abandon their posts for the sake of their loved ones.
If the patients and inmates are not left to rot away in their rooms – cells, they will be roaming the streets both unmedicated and unchecked – making sidewalks and roadways far more dangerous.
Faminine – Unless you have stockpiled long-term storage food and drink, and are growing and raising your own groceries, you could easily starve to death.
When trains and tractor-trailers are no longer rolling, the food supply chain stops.
Dehydration – You can turn the faucet as much as you want, but municipal water systems will no longer work, The same dire result will apply to your rural water well if it functions on only an electric pump.
You will need a solar power pump that was protected by a Faraday cage or a manual dipper to continue to get water out of the well. Rural folks will have a great edge on their suburban and urban peers when it comes to the use of water from natural resources.
While many cities are built along rivers, the dangers posed and time it will take to travel on foot to get water will be massive. Once you collect the water, it will still need to be processed in order to be potable.
How close you live to ground zero and the fallout zone from the attack will determine how safe both groundwater and soil are to use due to potential radiation contamination.
Illness and Injury – You will have to be your own first responder after a nuclear terrorist attack happens. Pharmacies will be looted as quickly, if not more rapidly, than grocery stores.
What you have stockpiled, what you are growing to naturally treat and prevent illness, and the emergency medical skills you possess will be all that stand between you and death.
Folks who are dependent on oxygen, cancer treatments, prescription medications, and similar types of modern medicine offerings, like diabetics, will have substantially lower chances of surviving than otherwise healthy Americans.
Municipal sanitation services will no longer be existent, prompting both the development and spread of dangerous bacteria and disease like the plague.
Exposure – Unless you have a wood stove, fireplace, or solar panels that were not damaged by the EMP, you will have no way to heat your home.
For folks not used to living without air conditioning and those who live in tall apartment buildings, heat exposure will also be a concern.
Apartment dwellers will also be forced to traverse stairways that may turn into very dangerous places to be in the dark, because elevators will no longer be functional.
Economic Collapse – The $1 trillion spent to recover from the 9/11 terror attacks would be a drop in the bucket to what would need to be spent after a nuclear terror attack.
A recession would likely be caused, perhaps on a global scale, when our nation’s gross domestic product takes a devastating drop or ceases entirely for a period of time.
Martial Law – If there is any semblance of government left where you live, the probability that martial law would be declared will likely be significant.
The chaos that will erupt after a nuclear terrorist attack could cause authorities to declare martial law under the pretense of keeping everyone left alive safe while searching for the terrorists – who might not yet be done detonating nuclear bombs.
If martial law is declared and the population allows it to be enforced, whatever supplies you have at your home at that very moment are likely the only ones you will have access to.
If martial law is declared before the looting begins, perhaps the government will ration out the supplies on hand in your neighborhood or town – if they have the manpower and security force to do so.
Not only would food be in short supply, so would water. The EMP effect after a nuclear bomb would render municipal plants useless.
Only those Americans who have an emergency water and fuel source would be able to effectively heat their homes and prevent dehydration if martial law were declared and such resources were not handed out by the government.
Will My Bunker Survive a Nuclear Attack?
The distance you live from the epicenter of a nuclear bomb attack and the size of the bomb are the two most important variables that will determine your chances of survival.
The fallout of radioactive particles will be comprised of fission materials, debris, and possibly radiated soil.
Most of the material will fall back down to ground zero mere moments after the explosion, but some of it can rise up into the atmosphere and be dispersed for hours to days, or even months after the attack.
There are two stages of nuclear fallout that a bunker will have to be designed to protect you against. The first stage happens during the initial 24 hours after the explosion and it deemed “early fallout.”
The bunker should also be hardened, and to possess the ability to sustain your during the “delayed fallout” which can last days to even years.
The bulk of the hazards posed by the radiation stemming from the nuclear bomb will be relatively short lived, and will primarily be confined to the areas directly downwind from ground zero.
These radioactive fission fragments could live for only a few moments or several months.
Areas outside of the nuclear bomb blast radius could become “hot spots” that can remain radioactive for a very long time, possibly up to five years.
There are quite simply too many variables when it comes to determining how long you must remain in a bunker, but if the nuclear bomb exploded on or near ground level instead of in the air, the radioactive fallout and contamination levels will definitely be severe.
Concrete is the best material to build a nuclear bunker out of because it is thick, cheap to purchase, easy to pour, and durable. Investing in a high quality air filtration system that is graded for use during a nuclear event is essential.
For a bunker to survive a nuclear bomb it would have to be buried a minimum of three feet deep – depending on how far you live from ground zero.
The exterior of the bunker would need to be at least tightly packed with concrete or dirt that is 36 inches deep to protect the bunker and its inhabitants from the blast – if you were lucky enough to get inside before or immediately after, the nuclear blast… again, depending upon how far you lived from ground zero.
You should expect to spend at least two weeks inside of the bunker before coming outside after a nuclear blast, if you do not live within 100 miles of a nuclear bomb explosion.
Even though living in a cramped bunker that long is an unpleasant thought, coming out any earlier could kill you – miserably and quickly.
Inside of the bunker you should keep several protective suits complete with the necessary gas masks, breathing tanks, etc. to wear outside of the bunker when using a geiger counter to test radiation levels.
No matter how small the bunker is, keeping two geiger counters and multiple protective suits is essential to ensure you are prepared to exit the bunker and check to see if it is safe for the family to leave the emergency nuclear shelter.
Once you finally get to exit the bunker, do not expect waterways to be free from radiation contamination or the ground safe to harvest crops from or grow crops in.
If you are concerned about a nuclear attack when planning your bunker, making it large enough to store food and water for use in the weeks after the attack should be a top priority.
Bunkers can definitely help you survive a nuclear attack, but they must be built specifically to do so, and cannot be purchased or built cheaply.
You are not building a panic room or a bunker that will protect you from various other types of disasters, but a nuclear Armageddon. A big price tag will be attached to such an endeavor.
You should expect to spend between $5,000 to $10,000 when either building or buying a nuclear war bunker.
How Are Nuclear Bombs Made?
Thankfully, it is not easy to make a nuclear bomb. There process involves two distinct steps, creating the fissile material and then making the device that can be used to detonate it.
The fissile material is created when the nucleus of an atom is split by a neutron that is separated from another atom – making not only other neutrons in the process, but an enormous amount of energy.
The neutrons that are created ultimately split apart the other nuclei in different atoms. It is this chain reaction that causes the nuclear explosion.
Both plutonium and uranium are used to make isotopes – or specific types of atomic configurations, for nuclear bombs. Fissile isotopes are used in the making of nuclear warheads that are Pu-239 and U-235 types. The numbers after each letter are references to the weight of the warhead.
The biggest obstacle to making nuclear weapon warheads is creating enough fissile isotopes from natural elements. When making a nuclear bomb from uranium, it must first be refined and converted into a gas.
The centrifuges must spin at intensensely high speeds to separate the uranium multiple times. Only low-enriched uranium is available for nuclear power use by civilians because it is not weapons-grade, as is needed for nuclear bomb production.
When making Pu-239 nuclear bombs, irradiated uranium fuel is extracted through a nuclear reactor. Plutonium is more fissile, meaning that less of it is needed to make a nuclear warhead.
After all the necessary fissile material has been garnered and processed, the next step is to infuse the material into the warhead to make it explode.
To do this, atoms have to be forced closely enough together to spark the needed chain reaction. This is accomplished one of two ways, the most basic way is to develop a gun style warhead.
A gun style warhead is created by firing a hunk of fissile material into another hunk of fissile material at rapid speeds using conventional military-grade explosives. In Hiroshima, a gun style nuclear warhead dubbed “The Little Boy” bomb was dropped using highly enriched uranium.
In the Nagasaki attack, “The Fat Man” bomb dropped was made of plutonium.
When making a more modern and sophisticated style nuclear warhead, less fissile material is needed, and plutonium is generally used. Plutonium is not an option when making a gun style nuclear warhead.
What Is a Hydrogen Bomb?
A hydrogen bomb is also known as a thermonuclear weapon. This type of second generation nuclear bomb is far more powerful than a basic fissile nuclear warhead.
Thermonuclear weapons are two stage explosive devices. The first state involves a fission bomb that compresses a bomb that is comprised of three heavy isotopes – hydrogen, tritium, and deuterium.
The isotopes are subjected to a nuclear fusion process that forces the nuclei of the atoms together so they multiply. All modern strategic weapons are now created as hydrogen, or thermonuclear bombs – and as still often referred to as “atom bombs.”
Could a Terrorist Group Really Make a Nuclear Bomb?
Osama bin Laden once issued a statement about the “Nuclear Bomb of Islam.” In it, bin Laden declared it is the “duty of Muslims” to prepare to use as much force “as possible to terrorize the enemies of God.”
According to the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, a terrorist would only need 25kg of HEU to improvise a nuclear device – or IND.
A terrorist could transport an IND across the same routes that illegal immigrants and drugs are moved across the American border.
Even a crudely made nuclear bomb housing a hunk or enriched uranium about the size of a bowling bowl could easily wreak the same intensity as 10,000 tons of conventional explosives – or 10 kilotons of explosives.
A terrorist nuclear bomb of this size could easily be placed inside of a van, and parked in the heart of a densely populated area.
The chosen area could be at the heart of our federal government, near a key military base, etc. to poise it to cause as much damage to our society and ability to respond as possible.
Imagine this same size nuclear bomb being placed in multiple vans at once all around the United States, or smuggled onto trains that run the breadth of the county.
Now you can garner a better scope of the magnitude a terrorist made IND could cause – and the potential death toll.
The explosive fireball that would erupt from this type of bomb would span the width of four football fields, according to the Harvard report.
The EMP destruction for a bomb of this magnitude would be more localized than the impact of one of the thousands of nuclear bombs many countries on our planet currently possess.
The pressure created form a bomb of this size would be approximately 20 pounds per square inch in excess of atmospheric pressure – or overpressure.
Pressure of this intensity could cause severe damage or collapse on all structures at ground zero.
Within the nuclear terrorist attack blast zone windows, wood, roofs, and utility poles would be severely damaged or broken apart entirely.
Gas lines would likely erupt and cause more spreading blazes or help in the creation of a deadlyh firestorm.
Streets and highways would be blocked by cars that no longer run due to the EMP and the wreckage and debris caused by the nuclear bomb, and the domino effect already noted.
How Safe Are You?
The map below shows the prospective nuclear attack targets in the United States. Every prepper should know how far they live from a potential ground zero for a nuclear terrorist attack.
It has long been the common wisdom that preppers should have a bugin home or bugout survival retreat at least 60 miles from the nearest large city.
Learning exactly how far reaching a nuclear attack on a major American city can spread – and how quickly. Perhaps that general rule of thumb should be edited – perhaps substantially.
US Nuclear Target Map
Reviewing a map of the United States and your home state that depicts all potential nuclear targets and well as operational nuclear plants will also help you determine the level of supplies you may need to survive on your own after a nuclear terrorist attack, and if building a bunker (and how to build it) increase your chances of not becoming a statistic.
Nuclear War Resources
Watching both highly researched documentaries about the impact of a nuclear bomb being launched and fictional accounts of the aftermath can help us form a more broad picture of what life might be like after such an attack happened – and how to prepare for the possibility.
- The Day After
- The Fall: Burning Skies Book 1
- By Dawn’s Early Light
- Shockwave: A Post Apocalyptic Survival Thriller
- Nuclear Weapons Documentary
- Hiroshima By John Hersey
- World War III Nuclear War Documentary
- Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath
- The Day The World Wente Nuclear
Arming yourself with as much knowledge as you can about the impact, both immediate and long-term a nuclear terrorist attack would cause, will help you better prep to survive such a disaster.
Estimates that at least half of Americans would die in the weeks after a nuclear attack might be decidedly low.
Whatever the percentage, a significant portion of our population will die during and after a nuclear attack not only because they lived to close to ground zero, but because they failed to prepare to survive any type of doomsday disaster.
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3 thoughts on “What Would Happen After a Nuclear Terrorist Attack”
Ok, a dose of reality folks. A likely 10KT bomb will not trigger a nuclear winter (based upon hundreds of thermonuclear devices going off) since that didn’t happen when we bombed Japan. A nuke emp from a terror strike ground based would be highly localized, not optimized by aerial bursts. At best they could only have procured one or at the most two devices (with help from say, Iran/N Korea). Transporting to the US would be challenging as well as maintaining the device until then. There is a concern, but lets not overstate it.
I am not quite sure how to go about this. I have always found Ms Dodrill’s articles very accurate and useful. However, I feel that this one is rather misleading and somewhat inaccurate in the way much of the information is presented. While I am something of a worst-case scenario prepper, this article is using information on full-fledged nuclear weapons that the major nuclear powers have, or used to have.
There are still some weapons in the major stockpiles of one megaton and above, but there are very few of them. Unless the terrorist were to somehow acquire them, the best that they might do, even state-sponsored terrorist would be to construct something on the order of two kiloton to ten kiloton fission devices. fission-fusion-fission thermonuclear devices would, I believe, be beyond the capability of terrorist groups to construct. Fission devices, on the other hand, are relatively easy to construct, if the fissionable material is available. They, however, are going to be the much more limited power range types.
So, while the descriptions of a one-megaton device’s effects is mostly accurate, I do not believe they apply to what a terrorist might be able to build. Also, as many of the descriptions are presented in square miles units of measure, the effects appear to be much larger than they actually are. For instance, one-hundred-square miles is an area that is ten miles by ten miles. Large yes, but not nearly as devastating as the one-hundred-square-miles unit appears.
As well, there are some factual inaccuracies, that while often presented, have been found to be highly exaggerated from the days of major anti-nuke protests.
While fire-storms can be created by nuclear weapons detonations, the size of those fire-storms is not going to be anywhere near the size of the ones in the article. And, a 2,500-square-mile fire-storm is an area of fifty miles by fifty miles. Large, yes, but not half the country the way the 2,500 number makes it sound.
One of the factors that were left out of the original development of the anti-nuke campaign in terms of the fire-storms was the fact that though the thermal pulse would start many fires, the winds from the blast wave would tend to extinguish them, if not the outward wind, then the immediate return wind.
And as was stated in the article, the elements required for a fire-storm to develop are fairly exact and not that common except in large cities with a preponderance of wood construction. While a fire-storm will bun things a regular fire will not, the fire-storm has to already exist before those things will burn. There will be preppers in those areas, but the majority will not be in locations where fire-storms are likely, or even possible.
There are some other things in the article that I consider rather misleading and counterproductive to helping preppers devise strategies and plans on how to deal with a terrorist built and detonated nuclear device. The most likely nuclear device is a high-explosive device with ionizing radiation-producing materials included. As bad as this would be, it is nothing like a nuclear weapon, either fission only or fission-fusion-fission.
I truly hate being negative about articles here, since most are very, very good. I just thought I should voice my thoughts in case the author and editor(s) could use those thoughts to produce an article more closely in line with what a terrorist organization could achieve.
Just my opinion.
if such a attack where to happen i would NOT want survive it