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Advice for the Public on Protection in Case of a Nuclear Detonation

 

THIS SCIENTIFICALLY SUPPORTED ADVICE COULD BE LIVESAVING

 

Although we hope this information will never need to be put into action, ICRP has summarised publicly available information on protection in case of nuclear detonation here and, in partnership with SAGE publishing UK, has made ICRP Publication 146 Radiological Protection of People and the Environment in the Event of a Large Nuclear Accident immediately free to accessMeanwhile, ICRP Task Group 120 is developing protection guidance on other radiation emergencies and malicious events.

 

A nuclear detonation may occur without warning. It may result in mass casualties.

 

There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from the radiation after a nuclear detonation.

 

Go inside and stay inside for 24 hours. Get inside the center of a building or basement to put as much material between you and the radioactive material outside.

 

THE FIRST 10 MINUTES
THE FIRST 24 HOURS
UNDERSTAND THE HAZARDS
HOW TO BE PREPARED FOR A NUCLEAR DETONATION
RESPONDING TO ALERTS

 

THE FIRST 10 MINUTES

A nuclear detonation, whether from a missile or small portable device, may result in mass casualties. Adequate preparation and appropriate response to a nuclear alert or detonation can protect you and your family's health and life. The best way to protect you and your family before, during, and after a nuclear blast is getting inside the centre of a building or basement. On August 6, 1945, Mr Eizo Nomura was in the basement of a building in Hiroshima, about 170 meters from ground zero. He survived the atomic bombing and died in 1982 at the age of 84 [ref]. Most people within a few hundred metres of a nuclear detonation are not likely to survive, especially if unprepared.

Be inside before the fallout arrives. After a detonation, you will have 10 minutes or more to find an adequate shelter before fallout arrives. If a multi-story building or a basement can be safely reached within a few minutes of the explosion, go there immediately. The safest buildings have brick or concrete walls. Underground parking garages and subways can also provide good shelter.

The best thing you can do after a nuclear detonation is go inside. Put as much material as possible between you and the radioactive material outside.

 

THE FIRST 24 HOURS

If you think you may have been exposed to fallout, outer layers of contaminated clothing and footwear should be removed, and any exposed skin and hair wiped off or washed. Any potentially contaminated pets should be brushed in a room away from where people are sheltered and washed if possible. Further information can be found here and here (video).

Food, drink, and medicine already in stores (shops) or in your shelter are safe to consume.

Tune in to any available media, such AM/FM stations using a battery-powered radio, for updated instructions. Stay inside unless instructed otherwise.

The danger from fallout will decrease rapidly. Remain in the most protective location (basement or centre of a large building) for the first 12 – 24 hours unless threatened by an immediate hazard (e.g., fire, gas leak, building collapse, or serious injury) or informed by authorities that it is safe to leave.

Self-evacuation is strongly discouraged until hazardous fallout areas have been identified and safe evacuation routes established.

Further information on how to prepare, how to survive, and what to do after a nuclear detonation can be found here and in this 5-minute video with subtitiles available in many languages.

 

UNDERSTAND THE HAZARDS

Understand the hazards of a nuclear blast, be prepared for a nuclear alert, and act wisely. Below are some of the hazards produced by a nuclear detonation:

A bright flash of light enough to cause temporary flash blindness 10 km or more away would be an indication of a nuclear explosion.

Thermal pulse - Immediately after a blast, a fireball of extremely hot gases produces thermal pulses which may last for several seconds and cause skin burns, eye injuries, and the ignition of combustible materials, such as vegetation and wooden structures, can occur several kilometres from the detonation site.

Blast wave - A fireball capable of destroying a few city blocks and a blast wave damaging buildings several kilometres away. Even at a few kilometres, flying fragments of broken windows and debris are very dangerous.

Initial radiation from the fireball - Initial radiation from the fireball may cause injury or death to those outdoors within a few km of the detonation.

Residual radiation from fallout - If the detonation occurs near the ground, radioactive material produced by the explosion mixes with dirt and debris. The fireball pulls this material up several kilometres into the atmosphere before falling back toward the ground. It can take 10 minutes or more for fallout to reach the earth and contaminate the ground. This fallout is most dangerous within tens of kilometres of the detonation and during the first few hours.

An additional damaging factor is an electromagnetic pulse, which produces voltage surges in power grids, telecommunication networks, and various electronic equipment. The supply of electricity, tap water, and food can be heavily affected for weeks. Mobile networks, the Internet, local TV, and FM radio can also be affected. Remote AM stations will be operational.

 

HOW TO BE PREPARED FOR A NUCLEAR DETONATION

Identify potential shelters at home, work, school, and while commuting. Consider basements of your house and at your workplace, shelters in nearby buildings, shops, and businesses, especially if located below ground level. Vehicles and mobile homes do not provide satisfactory protection.

Prepare and store the following items in your shelters:

  • A survival kit, including a torch (flashlight) with extra batteries, power banks, and a battery-powered AM radio.
  • A first aid kit with tools and medication to treat injuries and burns, as well as daily medications.
  • A stock of bottled drinking water (2 L per day per person) and water for hygiene and decontamination (2-4 L per day per person) for several days. Stock for a week or two is strongly recommended. Additional water is required for pets.
  • Several days of long-life food, including pet food.
  • Spare clothes and footwear.

Learn first aid skills for mechanical traumas and burns.

Agree with your family and friends about your actions in the event of a nuclear detonation.

Add name tags to the clothes of small children to help find them if you are separated.

 

RESPONDING TO ALERTS

Seek nearby shelter. A basement, underground parking, subway, or the centre of a large modern brick or concrete building will provide adequate shelter.

If outdoors

  • Move into a shelter or behind a solid object to avoid direct visibility from the point of explosion.
  • If in a car, get into a nearby shelter. If no protective building is available, pull off the road and consider moving under an overpass or behind an embankment.
  • Do not try to escape by car. There will likely be traffic jams and your car offers no protection from nuclear effects.

If indoors

  • Avoid the vicinity of doors and windows, as the blast wave can cause them to be hazardous.

Protect yourself from the blast. If you think a detonation has occurred, drop down to the ground immediately, hide under something sturdy, covering face and head to avoid injury and flying debris.