How Far Away Do You Need to Be to Survive a Nuclear Bomb?

The Atomic Age brought with it a frightening new reality: the threat of nuclear weapons. Minor first-degree burns can occur up to 11 km (6.8 miles) away, and third-degree burns, which destroy and blister skin tissue, can affect anyone up to 8 km (5 miles) away. Third-degree burns that cover more than 24 percent of the body would likely be fatal if people don't get medical care right away. The only way to survive a nuclear bomb is to be far enough away from the blast.

But how far is far enough? A new mathematical model developed by Michael Dillon, an atmospheric scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, may have the answer. Dillon began exploring the topic about 5 years ago after the U. S. government called for more research on nuclear shelters.

His model suggests that if you're within 11 km (6.8 miles) of a nuclear bomb, you're likely to suffer minor first-degree burns. If you're within 8 km (5 miles) of the blast, you could suffer third-degree burns that could be fatal without medical care. The U. government recommends taking refuge in the nearest and most protective building, such as a basement, for at least 12 hours after the explosion.

But for those living in areas without basements, such as California, an early transit to find a better shelter is advised. Lawrence Wein, research scientist in operations at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, has some criticisms of Dillon's model. He believes it fails to account for several important issues that are of vital importance to policy recommendations, such as collective behavior and the uncertainty of transit time. C.

Norman Coleman, U. Public Health Researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, believes Dillon's model is still useful for policy makers. Knowing how long people have to get to a better shelter can help classify evacuation plans and provide insight into what is and isn't likely to be useful in a nuclear disaster. The 1963 Limited Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty ended atmospheric testing for the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, but two major non-signatories, France and China, continued nuclear testing at a rate of approximately 5 megatons per year. For survivors of a nuclear war, this persistent radiation hazard could pose a serious threat for 1 to 5 years after the attack. If you want to avoid countries with access to nuclear weapons and those that participate in nuclear agreements, it's important to stay informed about current events and research related to nuclear weapons and their effects. John is a former collaborating correspondent for Science.

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Bradford Tutwiler
Bradford Tutwiler

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