Nuclear Winter

By admin

1) WHAT DOES IT MEAN?  If one is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, a nuclear holocaust is the hardest of all end times to avoid. It is brought about by a massive nuclear bombardment over large areas of the planet. Both Russia and America each have literally thousands of active nuclear warheads, despite treaties and reductions in levels from the truly surreal stockpiles reached during the Cold War.  A nuclear holocaust and subsequent nuclear winter came within mere hours of becoming a reality in the Cuban missile crisis of October, 1962.  Even without the vast US/Russian arsenal, the remaining six or seven (Israel unconfirmed) nuclear-weapon states collectively possess hundreds of active warheads which could be used to reduce massive areas of the Earth to radioactive dust.

The concept of nuclear winter involves the ejection into the upper atmosphere of massive quantities of smoke and soot (by a nuclear exchange in this scenario, but a similar concept has been theorised as a consequence of a comet or asteroid impact).  Once in the stratosphere, this debris remains in place for years to come, blocking a large percentage of the Earth’s quota of sunlight.  This absence of sunlight causes a devastating chain of environmental effects.  Plants die without sufficient sun, animals and fish die without the plants, and at the same time the Earth’s overall temperature is drastically cooled.  Only the most robust lifeforms manage to cling onto a life and perpetuate their species.  As a species which is so accustomed to the pleasures of hearth and home, and so disdainful of environmental variations, it seems unlikely that most humans would make it through the nuclear winter scenario alive.

2) WHAT ARE THE THREATS?  The only building to survive the blast at Hiroshima was at ground zero – that is, directly below the detonation point of the nuclear bomb. This was due purely to a quirk of physics, in that there was no horizontal force in the direction of the building. The sad and solitary edifice should not be seen as reason to doubt the destructive power of the bomb, nor as a reason to chance one’s luck and believe that the blast could somehow pass you by.  The destruction caused by nuclear weapons varies tremendously, ranging from the modern and relatively “small” tactical nukes, to the colossal Tsar Bomba constructed by the USSR, measuring 50,000 kilotons (Hiroshima’s bomb was 15 kilotons).  Utter annihilation of the landscape can cover a radius of several kilometres from ground zero, and so can the area saturated with lethal doses of radiation.  Grievous second and third degree burns can be inflicted at distances several times that of the initial blast radius. Poisoning from radioactive fallout depends on how much radioactive material was ejected into the atmosphere and on subsequent weather conditions.  Even in the most favourable conditions, toxic material will unavoidably enter the surrounding ecosystem.  Even if you do not personally come into contact with any radioactive fallout, be aware of the hazard which will now be posed by the food chain.  Fallout hits the soil, soil poisons the grass, cows, sheep and goats eat the grass, people eat the animals.

When the subsequent nuclear winter sets in, food will continue to be a primary concern.  Without their allotted portion of sunlight, a large percentage of Earth’s plantlife will be unable to survive.  This worldwide vegecide will be equally fatal to many herbivorous animal species.  Basically, within a few months of the arrival of nuclear winter, the surviving human race will be living in a very cold, dark, and eerily lifeless world.  But life finds a way, as they say, so if humans can cling on to a post-apocalyptic existence, then undoubtably so can various other animal and plant species.  Using the remnants of your local ecosystem as food may not prove a simple task, whether because of difficulties hunting or eating them, but you will not have a choice.

3) WHAT ARE SOME DEFENSES AND PRECAUTIONS?  By far the best way to survive a nuclear exchange is to be very far away from the nearest detonation.  For the record, “duck and cover” does not work and adhering to it will get you killed.  Most underground bunkers will be crushed almost as easily as surface structures if they are too close to the detonation point, particularly if the detonation was at ground level.  Ground level nuclear explosions cause massive underground damage in the surrounding areas.  A bunker might save you from the heat wave and the radiation effects, but it may or may not protect you from the blast wave itself, and be aware that radiation is a patient killer.  You may have to stay underground for several weeks if your bunker was close enough to ground zero that a safe escape from radioactive fallout was impossible.  A better escape plan is to simply get hundreds of kilometres away from any potential targets.  Such a range will provide a safe distance from certainly the initial effects of most detonations, and probably also the fallout, which can be equally lethal.  This is, of course, not particularly easy without access to the mind or battle plans of whoever is about to launch the missiles (suitcase nukes are also said to exist, but for an apocalypse scenario, a vast arsenal would need to be launched at multiple global locations).  ICBMs (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles) are exceptionally fast, and without a sports car and a clear road, neither of which can generally be counted on for the average citizen, you would essentially have to hope that the missile approaching your city was carrying a low-yield warhead (or better still, malfunctioning).  Otherwise your chances of reaching minimum safe distance, if embarking at the time of the missile’s launch, are slim if travelling by vehicle and virtually zero if travelling by foot.

As mentioned above, the notion of radioactive contamination of the foodchain and/or water sources is of major concern in a nuclear winter scenario.  The best way to steer clear of contaminated supplies is to use a Geigercounter on all foodstuffs and liquids prior to ingestion.