Given the events of last week, in which a pouting slice of bacon was elected as President of the United States, it now seems we live in a world where nearly anything could happen. Genetically mutated pigs flying? Sure, why the hell not? An army of cloned Kardashians colonising Mars - it’s probable. World War III? Let’s hope not, but crazier things have happened. If you belong to Generation Y or identify as a Millennial and you have largely lived your life during the ‘peace time’ years, you probably wouldn’t know what to expect if World War III were to break out or if say, your city was under nuclear attack. Nuclear attack? Meh, what’s the big deal. Call me when the zombie apocalypse happens, right? Well, no.
The prospect of a nuclear attack isn’t super unlikely and the effects could completely destroy the world or at least devastate it for generations to come. At present, there are over 15,000 known nuclear warheads in existence. Is that a lot? Well, yes. To give you a better idea, the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 flattened the entire city and killed approximately 140,000 people.That was just one bomb with a radiation level of 10,000 rads. Modern warheads now possess much higher levels and nine of the world’s nations are equipped with them, with thousands believed to be ready to launch within minutes. So, what would it be like if the world entered a nuclear war?
15 Nuclear Missile Launch
In America, the President of the United States has the final say on whether to launch a nuclear missile or not. However, they are required to have a conference with military advisors. If a strike is agreed upon then the President’s identity must be confirmed by a senior officer by relaying a code that the President must then match with a code printed onto a card that is carried at all times by their military aid. The order to launch then goes out, all of this happening in the space of three minutes or so. Crews have to then retrieve the launch codes and double check them and then launch simultaneously. Whilst it seems like a rather lengthly process, it all happens in the space of five minutes. Scary, right? I mean, what can you really do in five minutes? You can’t even cook brown rice in that time.
14 Four Minute Warning
In the event of a nuclear attack, most governments have an emergency warning message in place that is designed to be broadcast in the event of an imminent attack. During the Cold War, the BBC pre-recorded a four minute warning with Peter Donaldson, an announcer of BBC Radio 4, that informed people to stay indoors, ration water and energy and to avoid going outdoors so as not to expose themselves to nuclear fallout. Nuclear fallout are particles of radioactivity that fall to the earth after a nuclear bomb has exploded. They then informed the public that updates would be broadcast every hour on the hour. The only issue is, four minutes doesn’t give you a lot of time to find sufficient shelter with enough food and water. You’d better hope that you’re already sheltered when the broadcast goes out.
13 The Blast
When the bomb in Hiroshima detonated, survivors described a blinding yellow or white magnesium flash that filled the sky. What followed was a wall of hot air with enough force to throw a person across a room. Those closer to the explosion were instantly vaporised. Those who survived the blast but were within a few kilometres of it, experienced third degree burns all over their body and agonising pain as their skin literally melted off their bones. The pattern of one woman’s kimono was literally seared into her skin. As well as the physical horror of a nuclear attack, the air became hot, making it difficult to breathe. Fires then built and within hours, a firestorm developed. Now days, our cities are much more built up and the firestorms would generate winds so strong that they would suck people into buildings.
12 Electromagnetic Pulse
When a nuclear explosion occurs, it creates a pulse of electromagnetic radiation. This electromagnetic radiation causes disruption to electromagnetic technology, which means you wouldn’t be able to contact anyone to see if they were okay. Furthermore, given our modern reliance on technology, it would mean that communication systems would likely fail and hospitals or anything reliant on modern technology would be affected. This of course largely depends on the how much of the area is affected. Or how close you are to the blast. But yes, it’s likely you probably couldn’t send a Snapchat about it. But if you’re thinking about using social media in this kind of situation you should probably just drop your smart phone and run for the hills.
As the nuclear fires build and firestorms tear through the city, the smoke from the nuclear fires would build and rise up to the stratosphere, spreading and forming a thick layer of black carbon. This black carbon would completely block out the sun and act as a sort of shield, preventing sunlight from reaching the earth. However, some of the black carbon would fall back to earth as droplets of black rain. Some of the survivors of the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima described being incredibly thirsty and trying to drink the large droplets of black rain that fell to earth shortly after the explosion. It is likely they didn’t realise how toxic the rain was. Most of this smoke would remain in the stratosphere for years and it is estimated that if many of today’s warheads exploded, a large percentage of the earth’s ozone layer would be eaten away.
10 The Days After
If you survive the blast, you have sometime (10-15 minutes) to get away from the area so as to avoid dangerous levels of radiation from the mushroom cloud. The radiation spreads extremely quickly by the winds generated from the mushroom cloud. If possible, you should run perpendicular to the toxic wind. Your next step is to seek shelter which needs to be below ground enough so as to avoid the nuclear fall out. You’re going to need a lot of baked beans and spam to get by as you could be down there for weeks. You should take batteries with you and use water sparingly. Also, remember that communication systems would go down, so you’re probably going to need a game of Monopoly to keep boredom at bay or all of the Game of Thrones books.
9 Nuclear Winter
The black carbon caused by the nuclear firestorms would build-up in the stratosphere and cause the opposite of the greenhouse effect and in fact cool the earth by 1 degree. A full-scale nuclear war could mean that the cooling would last for decades and would devastate agriculture and cause mass starvation. However, that all depends on the scale of the nuclear blast or blasts. According to Carl Sagan and Richard Turco, there are six different kinds of nuclear winters. The smallest being the result of a minor attack that causes some damage to one area without the entire planet being affected. The second—a marginal nuclear winter—could lower the temperature in the Northern hemisphere by a few degrees but the Southern hemisphere would be largely unaffected. A nominal nuclear winter would cause dark skies and temperature drops of 18 degrees in the Northern hemisphere. Eventually, the clouds causing the winter would disappear and the sun would be much hotter than before because of the damaged ozone layer. A severe or extreme nuclear winter basically would cause most of life to perish on earth.
The nuclear famine that would occur as a result of a nuclear winter would likely cause the most deaths overtime. Due to food production being disrupted and agriculture suffering, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War estimate that 2 million people could be affected by mass starvation and that’s just if a nuclear war between Pakistan and India broke out. Imagine if everybody launches their nukes? There’d certainly be no organic kale up for grabs. Furthermore, the food that was still available would be very expensive and would affect millions of people, particularly those from poorer countries. The environment would be so contaminated by radioactivity that even if it was possible to grow vegetables (which it wouldn’t) eating them could make you very ill from the radioactivity. Packaged and processed foods would be fine to eat provided the packaging had not been damaged and it was adequately sealed.
With a lack of food, all of that dumpster diving experience from your student days may have prepared you well for finding sustenance during a nuclear winter. If scavenging doesn’t quite fill you up enough, you’ll have to hunt. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’ll probably have to let go of your values purely to survive. Bear in mind though, if you get desperate, it’s best not to turn to cannibalism, as you risk contracting kuru, which is a disease of the nervous system that causes loss of muscular control and ultimately death. But who wants to eat people anyway? This author advises you to stock up on instant mie goreng now - just in case. If you go to Costco, you can probably buy years worth of the salty goodness. It is also recommended that if you’re going to live of a diet of processed noodles, you should invest in a lifetime supply of pre-juiced lime juice as limes are known to fend of scurvy.
6 Long-term Health Problems
During the first two months after a nuclear catastrophe, most people would die from thermal injury or the effect of being vaporised or injured from the blast. However, it is likely that 10% would die due to radiation exposure. Large doses of radiation can lead to Acute Radiation Syndrome - which is basically radiation poisoning. A low dose of radiation exposure would lead you to experience flu-like symptoms. Higher doses of exposure cause blood cells to die, which whilst this can be remedied with blood transfusions, you would still experience a weakened immune system and uncontrollable bleeding. Any doses higher than that would lead to death just weeks after exposure. Even if you somehow managed to completely avoid immediate exposure, long-term exposure to low doses can cause cancer, infertility and other sorts of mutations. Furthermore, the depleted ozone layer could lead to higher levels of ultra violet radiation exposure, causing skin cancer. But, that’s basically like living in Australia.
5 Organisms That Would Survive
Even if every human being on the planet was eventually wiped out as a result of nuclear war, there a some organisms that would survive. The cockroach, for one, is probably most famous for its ability to survive a nuclear bomb.Whilst this depends on the sort of blast, they have been tested to survive 10,000 rads of radiation. But the most resilient and indestructible creature is the tardigrade or ‘water bear’. These guys are basically immortal and can survive being sent into space. They can also curl up into a state of suspended animation and they have a protein that protects them from radiation. Oh, and they have survived all five mass extinctions so far. So, in the event of a nuclear holocaust be more like the tardigrade.
4 Countries Least Affected
Forget migrating to Canada, American friends. In the event of a nuclear war there are only a few places in the world that would be least likely to be affected. These include; New Zealand - because it’s so far away from well, everything, Switzerland - which is well equipped with bunkers, Iceland - thanks to its isolation, and you could also try Tasmania in Australia. But if China launches its nukes then you probably want to avoid the tiny triangle-shaped island. Good luck trying to any of these places though after total nuclear destruction and without air travel. I guess you could try and build a raft with scavenged items? If you’re lucky enough to already live in any of the aforementioned countries - good for you, do you have room for a long-term house guest? I’ll bring the mie goreng.
3 From Mushroom Clouds to Mushrooms
After the earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster in Fukushima in Japan in 2011, it was found that mushrooms absorbed the most amount of radioactivity compared to other contaminated food. They were also found to be growing within the protective sarcophagus that was containing the radioactivity at the site. This is because the sponge-like organisms absorb radioactivity as an energy source for growth. They do this by using melanin to convert the radiation into energy. Mushrooms are also extremely resilient and have survived past mass extinction events. So, the next time you chow down on some mushroom soup, remember that those fun guys (fungi - get it?) could one day save the world. Food for thought, no doubt. I couldn’t resist the puns.
2 Radioactive Cleanup
Once a nuclear catastrophe has occurred, someone has got to go in and clean up the mess and it’s probably not your mum. The mess is highly dangerous radioactivity that workers can only be exposed to for a couple of hours at a time with special protective gear. Radioactive cleanup would involve a huge effort in which radioactivity would need to be contained within an exclusion zone. The current efforts in Fukushima are estimated to cost billions of dollars over the next 30-40 years. Current cleanup methods involve teams of contractors and sub-contractors who are bussed to the site everyday. Overtime, the soil, trees and other flora also need to be removed as the radiation has a tendency to "stick" to these. It has also been estimated that the amount of soil that needs to be removed from Fukushima would be enough to fill many baseball fields.
1 The Future of the World
So, it’s 20 or so years later and you’ve managed to survive the nuclear holocaust - congratulations. You’re a bit older, most of your friends and family are probably dead, you’ve seen some stuff that no one should see but you’re still kicking on. So what does your world look like now? Well, the nuclear winter has either subsided or begun to subside. The earth has warmed by a couple of degrees and society has begun to spring up again. There might be markets where you can trade scavenged items for food. Or perhaps there are schools where you could send your mutated-children. However, it’s unlikely that things will ever go back to how it was pre-nuclear holocaust. If anything, it’d be somewhat similar to the middle ages. All technology would largely go back hundreds of years, diseases that were once eradicated would likely make a come back and you’d still probably have to keep scavenging. But, hey, at least you’re alive - right?