No one wants to think about the possibility of a nuclear attack, let alone prepping for nuclear war and what follows. The likely consequences of even a limited exchange of nuclear weapons are so awful that most people avoid even contemplating the idea, preferring to take the view that it will never happen, but if it did, the end would be swift.
However, in today’s volatile world, it is important to be prepared for anything. Avoidance isn’t an option. I expect many of the people of Ukraine wished they’d been better prepared for what has befallen them and their country. A little preparedness in times of peace can ease the suffering when disaster strikes.
Nuclear Blast Types
When a nuclear weapon is detonated, the resulting explosion can cause widespread damage and loss of life instantly. The force of the blast wave can level buildings and create a large crater, the like of which dwarfs any conventional weapon. The heat from the explosion starts fires, and the nuclear fallout can contaminate the air, water, and soil. To calculate the effects of the immediate blast, the shockwave, and the radioatice contamination, try this NukeMap site.
Groundburst nuclear explosions are some of the most devastating weapons in the world. When a nuclear bomb detonates, the resulting shockwave can level buildings and vaporise people and all living things. The explosion also causes a huge amount of debris to be thrown into the air, which can then fall back down to earth and cause even more damage.
Nuclear fallout is also a major concern following a groundburst explosion, as harmful radioactivity can be spread for miles by the wind. In addition to the immediate damage caused by the explosion, groundburst nuclear explosions can also cause long-term problems like cancer and birth defects.
An airburst nuclear detonation is a type of nuclear explosion that occurs when the explosives in a nuclear weapon detonate in the air instead of on the ground. The explosion creates a shock wave that can cause extensive damage to buildings and even topple them. The heat from the explosion can also cause severe burns to people and start fires. In addition, the radioactive fallout from the explosion can contaminate the area for years.
Depending on their proximity to Ground Zero i.e. the epicentre of the blast, survivors would suffer radiation burns on exposed skin, temporary blindness caused by the bright flash, lung contamination from fallout particles, as well as any physical or mental trauma.
Depictions Of The Nuclear Nightmare
We’re all used to war films, some more graphic and realistic than others. Compare and contrast Saving Private Ryan with films made in previous decades. However, there are not that many films that provide an accurate and realistic depiction of a nuclear war, its immediate aftermath, and the days and weeks that follow.
The War Game (1965)
The 1965 film The War Game depicts a nuclear war and its aftermath but it was considered too alarming and shocking for the public so the screening and broadcasting of it were cancelled. Copies were shown at CND and other meetings, and the fact that it was censored in this way only hardened the resolve of some to continue with their anti-nuke campaigning.
A little less than 20 years later, the BBC broadcasted a war drama called Threads which depicted the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the city of Sheffield. The portrayal of ordinary people’s reactions to the disintegration of society and its infrastructures left a lasting impression on those who saw it, including, it is said, President Ronald Reagan.
When The Wind Blows – Raymond Briggs (1986)
When The Wind Blows is a classic children’s book by British author Raymond Briggs. Originally published in 1982, this moving tale tells the story of an elderly couple who must struggle to survive in the aftermath of a nuclear war. Set against the stark and haunting backdrop of Britain after a terrible bomb strikes, Briggs’ story looks at human resilience in the face of overwhelming odds.
Through its memorable characters and touching narrative, When The Wind Blows provides readers with a thought-provoking and touching examination of life in times of crisis. Whether read as an incredibly moving portrait of quiet heroism or simply as an evocative look at nuclear destruction, this timeless tale has earned its place as one of the most beloved and enduring books ever written.
In 1986, this film version of the book was released.
Prepping For Nuclear War – Is it worth it?
All-out nuclear warfare would be the most devastating form of combat that humanity has ever witnessed or experienced. In the event of a nuclear exchange between two or more nations, the damage would be widespread and catastrophic, with millions of casualties, but not everyone would be killed instantly in such an attack. There is a significant chance that many people would survive the initial blast and subsequent fallout.
A short exchange of tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons would limit the devastation to a smaller geographic area, forcing the survivors to flee en masse and thereby creating a refugee crisis in neighbouring countries. In both scenarios, the medical needs of the survivors would be enormous and overwhelming for the medical services left to cope, not to mention the psychological impact of what would feel to many like an apocalypse. Many people who would otherwise probably survive physical traumas in normal circumstances may not be treated in time.
However, the urge to survive and to see loved-ones service is a strong impulse. Where families are concerned this force can manifest in even the worst situations. Those outside the immediate areas of destruction will have to contend with the secondary risk of radioactive contamination. Radioactive clouds could travel for many miles and affect people in other countries, even reaching the homes of the nation that launched the attack. Blowback indeed!
Prepping is the process of preparing for disasters, natural or man-made. As I explained in this post, The Basics of Prepping For Beginners, it doesn’t have to involve building a nuclear bunker and filling it with food, supplies, and weapons. It can be simple and inexpensive tasks that are more akin to filling a larder with essential supplies in case of a snowstorm or anything else that cuts off power. There are some basic steps everyone can take to be prepared for anything that comes their way.
Start by creating an emergency kit. This should include items like food, water, and first-aid supplies. It’s also a good idea to include copies of important documents like birth certificates and insurance cards. Keep the kit in a safe place that’s easily accessible in case you need to evacuate your home.
Next, familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Know the safest routes out of your neighbourhood in case you need to evacuate. The decision to stay or leave will depend on the impact of any attack on your area. If the infrastructure is completely broken down and there is a high risk of radioactive contamination then evacuation may be the sensible choice, but it also means you will leave behind most of the supplies you’ve accumulated.
With proper planning, many people could survive a nuclear attack – albeit in a very different world than the one we live in today.
Nuclear Fallout & Nuclear Winter
A nuclear winter is a hypothetical climate scenario in which the release of large amounts of dust and radiation particles into the Earth’s atmosphere blocks out some or all sunlight, creating conditions analogous to a naturally occurring winter. It could be caused by the detonation of nuclear weapons, a large asteroid impact, or certain types of volcanic eruptions.
A nuclear winter would be much more severe than the average winter; global temperatures would drop significantly, and global precipitation would decrease. The effects of a nuclear winter on agriculture would be devastating, as crops require sunlight to grow. The resulting famine could potentially kill billions of people.
A nuclear winter would also have a major impact on the environment, as it would disrupt global ecosystems and cause widespread extinction.
So survivors of a global nuclear war might be faced with conditions that would make them envy the dead. The breakdown of the climate needed to sustain crops would be matched by the disintegration of societal structures, communications, and supply chains, leaving survivors to cope with injuries and radiation sickness.
Protect And Survive (1980)
The UK government’s Protect and Survive booklet was published in 1980 in response to the perceived threat of nuclear war. The booklet contained advice on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, including how to build a Fallout Room and how to stock it with food and water. The booklet was widely criticized for its unrealistic advice, and many people derided it as a ‘waste of paper’. However, the booklet did raise public awareness of the dangers of nuclear war, and it is credited with helping to ensure that few people died in the UK during the Falklands War, when Argentine missiles fell on residential areas. Although it is now largely forgotten, the Protect and Survive booklet played an important role in shaping public perceptions of nuclear war during a dangerous period in history.
UK Government’s Protect And Survive Booklet (1980)
The UK government’s Protect and Survive booklet was published in 1980 in response to the perceived threat of nuclear war. The booklet contained advice on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, including how to build a Fallout Room and how to stock it with food and water.
The booklet was widely criticized for its unrealistic advice, and many people derided it as a ‘waste of paper’. However, the booklet did raise public awareness of the dangers of nuclear war, and it is credited with helping to ensure that few people died in the UK during the Falklands War, when Argentine missiles fell on residential areas.
Although it is now largely forgotten, the Protect and Survive booklet played an important role in shaping public perceptions of nuclear war during a dangerous period in history.
Protect and Survive Public Information Film
Nuclear Weapons & Atomic Bombs
The terms ‘atomic bombs’ and ‘nuclear weapons’ are often used interchangeably, but there is a significant difference between the two. An atomic bomb relies on the principle of nuclear fission, in which an atom is split into smaller atoms. This process releases a large amount of energy, which is then used to create an explosion.
Nuclear weapons, on the other hand, utilize nuclear fusion, in which two atoms are combined to form a larger atom. This process also releases a large amount of energy, but it is far more difficult to control. Some may use a combination of nuclear fusion and fission reactions.
As a result, nuclear weapons are much more powerful than atomic bombs. While both types of weapons are incredibly destructive, nuclear weapons have the potential to cause far more damage.
Hydrogen Bombs, Thermonuclear Weapons
Hydrogen bombs, or thermonuclear weapons, are the most powerful type of nuclear weapon. They use a two-stage process to achieve a much higher explosion yield than atomic bombs. In the first stage, a conventional atomic bomb is used to compress a section of deuterium-tritium fuel. This high level of compression causes a nuclear fusion reaction, which releases a large amount of energy.
The second stage uses this energy to ignite a larger section of heavy hydrogen fuel, resulting in an even larger explosion. Hydrogen bombs are typically many times more powerful than atomic bombs and can cause widespread destruction over a large area. As such, they are considered some of the most dangerous weapons in the world.
The Development of the Atomic Bomb
The race to develop an atomic bomb began in 1939, when scientists from around the world learned that German physicists had discovered how to split the nucleus of a uranium atom. This process, known as nuclear fission, released a huge amount of energy and could be used to create a powerful weapon. The United States rapidly began its own research program, led by scientists such as J. Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi.
In 1942, the first atomic bomb was successfully tested in New Mexico. The following year, the Manhattan Project was established, which oversaw the construction of a secret facility in Tennessee where the first atomic bombs were produced. The first atomic bomb tests in America were conducted at the Trinity site in New Mexico. On July 16, 1945, the “Trinity” test successfully demonstrated the feasibility of using an atomic bomb as a weapon of mass destruction.
Atomic Bombs dropped on Hiroshima & Nagasaki
On August 6, 1945, during World War II, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion from this single bomb wiped out 90 per cent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. Three days later, a second B-29 dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people.
On August 15, the Japanese government issued a statement declaring they would accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, and on September 2, U.S. forces formally accepted Japan’s surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a turning point in history; it signalled the start of the nuclear age and led to the development of ever more powerful weapons by first the USA and the Soviet Union, and then later on other nations like the UK, France, and others.
A Dirty Bomb
A dirty bomb is a type of weapon that combines conventional explosives with radioactive material. The goal is to create a device that can spread radiation over a wide area, contaminating people and property. While a dirty bomb is not as destructive as a nuclear weapon, it can still cause widespread panic and disruption. Dirty bombs are also relatively simple to make, which makes them a serious threat.
In recent years, there have been a number of arrests of individuals accused of plotting to detonate a dirty bomb. Thankfully, none of these attacks have been successful. However, the risk of a dirty bomb being used remains real.
Delivery Systems for Nuclear Warheads
There are four basic delivery systems for nuclear warheads:
- Ground-launched cruise missiles
- ICBMs are intercontinental ballistic missiles that are launched from land-based silos.
- SLBMs are submarine-launched ballistic missiles that are launched from submarines.
- Bombers are aircraft that carry & launch nuclear bombs.
- Ground-launched cruise missiles are launched from mobile launch vehicles.
All four delivery systems have their advantages and disadvantages.
- ICBMs are the most accurate but also the most expensive.
- SLBMs are less accurate but can be launched from anywhere in the world.
- Bombers are the least accurate but can carry large payloads.
- Ground-launched cruise missiles are accurate but can only be launched from a limited number of locations due to the limitations imposed by the terrain on large vehicles.
Delivery systems for nuclear warheads have changed over time. Early delivery systems were inaccurate and difficult to use. The introduction of ICBMs in the 1950s made it possible to target specific locations with nuclear weapons.
In the 1960s, SLBMs were developed that could be launched from anywhere in the world. In the 1970s, bombers were equipped with cruise missiles that could be launched from great distances.
In the 1980s, ground-launched cruise missiles were developed that could be launched from a limited number of locations.
Today, all four delivery systems are in use by different countries. ICBMs are used by the United States, Russia, China, and India. SLBMs are used by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France.
Bombers are used by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and India. Ground-launched cruise missiles are used by the United States and Russia.
The Cold War
The Cold War was a period where the US and its allies in Europe and the Soviet Union were in a state of constant confrontation, short of actual war. The two superpowers competed in every way imaginable, from politics to science to sports. This rivalry even extended into space, with each side trying to outdo the other in the race to explore the cosmos.
The two superpowers engaged in a variety of proxy wars, supporting opposing sides in regional conflicts around the world. In many cases, these wars were a way for the two countries to assert their influence without directly confronting each other.
For example, the United States supported anti-communist regimes in Latin America, while the Soviet Union provided aid to communist rebel groups. The superpowers also competed for influence in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. As a result of this rivalry, millions of people lost their lives in proxy wars throughout the Cold War period.
The Cold War came to an end in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but its legacy can still be seen today. In many ways, the Cold War shaped the world we live in today, and its impact will be felt for generations to come.
One obvious example of this fact is how Russia under Putin continues to view certain regions that were previously part of the Soviet Union as belonging to part of Russia’s domain and sphere of influence. The wars in Chechnya, Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, and the invasion of Ukraine are all linked to the Cold War’s legacy with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Nuclear Arms Race during the Cold War
The nuclear arms race was a competition for supremacy in nuclear warfare between the United States, the Soviet Union, and their respective allies during the Cold War. During this period, in addition to the American and Soviet nuclear stockpiles, other countries developed nuclear weapons, though none engaged in warhead production on the same scale as the two superpowers.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 led to fear that a nuclear war could exterminate humanity, and the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons increased that risk.
In 1949, the Soviets tested their first nuclear weapon, which spurred the United States to develop its own thermonuclear weapon three years later. The race reached its peak in 1986 when the United States and the Soviet Union had more than 30,000 warheads each.
Although the risk of nuclear war declined after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, warheads continue to be produced and maintained by both Russia and the United States.
CND – The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is a British grassroots movement that works to achieve nuclear disarmament and global peace. Founded in 1957, CND is one of the oldest and largest peace organizations in the world.
CND campaigns through public demonstrations, educational events, and lobbying of government officials. Its signature activity is the annual march from Hyde Park to Aldermaston, which has been held every Easter since 1958. CND also organizes frequent protests outside British nuclear weapons facilities, such as the Trident missile base at Faslane, Scotland.
Greenham Common Peace Camp
Greenham Common Peace Camp was a protest camp established in 1981 outside the military air base known as Greenham Common, near Newbury in Berkshire, England.
Before the creation of the Women’s Peace Camp, a day-long protest festival was held near the air base during which bands played on a stage and various speakers gave speeches about disarmament. The idea of a festival and rally for the peaceful protest movement was echoed by the Glastonbury Festival of 1981 which raised funds for CND.
Soon after the one-day Greenham Common event, the Women’s Peace Camp was created outside the perimeter fence. The camp soon grew to include over 100 women, who lived in makeshift shelters and held regular demonstrations. They became well-known for their creative protesting tactics, which included holding women-only vigils and blockading the base.
The camp was subject to frequent police raids and harassment, but the women persevered with their protest for nearly 10 years. In 1991, the UK and US governments signed an arms treaty which led to the removal of all nuclear missiles from Greenham Common. The camp was finally disbanded in 2000, but its legacy remains an important part of anti-nuclear history.
The RAF base at Greenham Common has been returned to civilian use and is now an open parkland space known as Greeham Park and is frequented by walkers, cyclists, and horse riders. The former airfield control tower is now a museum and exhibition centre that tells the story of the base, its purpose during the Cold War, and the peace camp.
End Game & Nuclear Disarmament Treaties
Throughout the Cold War, both sides pursued a policy of containment, which led to an arms race as each side attempted to outspend the other on military hardware. In addition, both the US and the USSR actively sought to destabilize governments that were seen as being too close to the other side.
The peace movement was a social movement that arose in opposition to these policies. The movement advocated for peaceful negotiation and disarmament as a way to end the Cold War.
While the peace movement played a role in raising public awareness of the dangers of nuclear war, some argue that it did not have a direct impact on ending the Cold War. Instead, they say, it was the policy of glasnost (openness) implemented by Mikhail Gorbachev that led to a thaw in relations between the US and USSR and ultimately brought an end to the Cold War.
In the 1980s, the United States and the Soviet Union signed a series of nuclear disarmament treaties that resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of nuclear warheads. These treaties, known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (IRNF) and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), were aimed at curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and reducing the risk of nuclear war. The treaties were successful in achieving their objectives, but nuclear warheads still exist in large numbers. The risk of nuclearwar was diminished but not removed altogether.
The nuclear non-proliferation treaties of the 1980s and 1990s were aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons across the globe. These treaties, which included the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Missile Technology Control Regime, imposed strict limits on the production and proliferation of nuclear weapons. They also recognized that these nations would likely retain their existing stockpiles, but sought to slow down any potential growth in these arsenals through a combination of arms control measures and sanctions.
Despite their success in slowing down the global spread of nuclear weaponry, these treaties faced strong opposition from nations such as China, Russia, and North Korea. Nevertheless, they remain largely intact today, having helped to put major brakes on the spread of nuclear weapons throughout the world.
Number of Nuclear Warheads Today
At the time of writing, there are over 9,000 nuclear warheads among the stockpiles of nine nations.
- Russia: >4,000
- USA: <4,000
- China: >300
- France: <300
- UK: <200
- Pakistan: <200
- India: <200
- Israel: <100
- North Korea: 20