Although we would strongly argue that you should worry more about climate change rather than nuclear war, it’s safe to say that the latter is still something on the minds of more people these days than it otherwise should be. We can’t possibly fathom why.
In any case, you may be wondering what you should or should not do should a nuclear missile be heading your way. It’s unclear how much warning you’d get, and we’d wager that if you’re based near a key military or government target, there’s basically nothing you can do. You’re destined to perish, no matter what.
If you happen to be on the peripheries, however, and you do know a nuclear missile is going to ruin your day, there are some things you absolutely should never do during a nuclear blast – the step-by-step details of which you can find here. Some are obvious, and some aren’t – so let’s take a look, shall we?
Don’t Keep All Your Clothes On
The US Department of Homeland Security’s ready.gov site has a fantastically unnerving list of dos and do nots in the event of the end of days. Largely sweeping aside the immediate, deadly effects of the explosion, it tends to focus on fallout.
“Fallout is most dangerous in the first few hours after the detonation when it is giving off the highest levels of radiation. It takes time for fallout to arrive back to ground level, often more than 15 minutes for areas outside of the immediate blast damage zones,” it explains.
Although this gives you time to avoid the worst of it, there’s a good chance some of your clothing will get covered in fallout. That’s why they advise removing your outer layers, in order to reduce your radiation exposure in this way. In fact, this action removes up to 90 percent of the radioactive material on your person.
Don’t Eat Those Pumpkins You’ve Been Lovingly Growing
You may be running low on supplies, but any uncovered food or crops you have outside will have probably been contaminated by radioactive fallout. Stick to packaged food items left inside a building instead.
Don’t Get Into A Fridge
Obviously, if you’re somewhat more proximal to a nuclear explosion, you may take inspiration from the fairly maligned Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and get in a fridge anyway. Unless you’ve not been online in the past decade – yes, it really did come out in 2008 – then you’re probably aware of the enormous scientific implausibility of surviving such an event close up while awkwardly sitting on that jar of pesto you forgot to chuck out in the pandemonium of it all.
Under this fantastic post on Overthinking It – wherein the scene is subjected mercilessly to scientific peer-review – it reveals that Indy would have been immediately crushed under the shockwave, torn apart internally by the 1,560 G’s worth of acceleration, crushed upon impact, scorched by the molten lead inside the fridge, or otherwise baked as he flew through the air.
So let that be a lesson to you: If you’re too close to the nuclear blast, you might as well be annihilated faster by staying out of the fridge. Don’t briefly prolong things by clambering in.
If you’re a considerable distance away from a nuclear blast – depending on the bomb or warhead’s yield – getting into a fridge would almost certainly be counterproductive. It’d be cold, and you’d be exposing your food inside it to potential fallout contamination.
Can you even fit inside your fridge? You might pull a muscle or get a carrot stuck up your nose. Don’t embarrass yourself.
Don’t Linger Outside
It almost goes without saying that you should get to shelter. Anything with thick walls, a room in the center of a building, or something underground is best. This not only avoids the later fallout, but if you’re lucky and you have some warning time, you can avoid the initial paroxysm of radiation, and the heat blast, that emerges from the fury in the distance.
Whatever happens, under no circumstances should you gawp at the bright light of the blast; it could blind you, either temporarily or permanently.
Don’t Get Into A Car
Cars do not offer any significant protection against radiation, either that generated immediately as the blast occurs or the often-fine fallout that’s generated afterward. If you’re too close to the blast anyway, then you are basically in a more comfortable fridge scenario.
At the same time, if you have a few minutes warning, you probably won’t get to drive away anyway. The roads will likely be jam-packed with people with the same idea, something BBC Future notes often happens in the time period immediately following on from hurricane warnings.
Don’t Use Conditioner In Your Hair
Back in the summer of 2017, when North Korea was threatening the US Overseas Territory of Guam with missile strikes of some variety, the government issued a series of guidelines designed to advise residents what to do should the worst happen. Assuming they survived the original blast and were instead dealing with the radioactive fallout snowing down all around them, they were asked not to use conditioner.
Although the original set of guidelines are no longer available at the original link, it was nevertheless emphasized that conditioner – which can stay in your hair after use – will cause radioactive material to bind to your hair, keeping it from rinsing out. This is because it contains both surfactants and polymers that act as a type of glue, which keeps hair protein scales stuck down.
Instead, they advised using soap and water to wash your hair, as well as the rest of you – and your pets – in order to scrub away those pesky radioactive clumps.
Don’t Be Tempted To Peek Outside
Although the radiation risk drops quite dramatically over time, US authorities note that it takes a fair while for it to be relatively safe to venture back outside. According to the Hawaii State Department of Defense, you should remain sheltered until two weeks have passed or until you’re told it’s safe to leave, whichever comes first.
Don’t Keep Playing 99 Luftballoons On Your Phone On Repeat
As great a song as that is, you’ll need to preserve as much battery power on your phone – and anything else – as much as possible, assuming the electromagnetic pulse didn’t short it out. An attack would likely have disrupted the local electrical infrastructure, so charging up that vital communications device of yours may not be possible.