- Nuclear blasts create fallout, which can harm you with large doses of radiation.
- Cars offer little protection from fallout.
- A surer way to survive in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion is to go indoors, stay put, and listen to the radio.
The first thing you'd see if a nuclear bomb exploded nearby is a flood of light so bright, you may think the sun blew up.
Wincing from temporary blindness, you'd scan the horizon and see an orange fireball. The gurgling flames would rise and darken into a purple-hued column of black smoke, which would turn in on itself. As a toadstool-like mushroom took shape, the deafening shock front of the blast would rip through the area — and possibly knock you off your feet.
Congratulations! In this hypothetical scenario, you've just survived a nuclear blast with an energy output of about 10 kilotons (20 million pounds) of TNT. That's about 66% of the energy released by either atomic bomb dropped on Japan in 1945.
This scenario may sound far-fetched, but more than 14,900 nuclear weapons exist in the world, and kiloton-class nukes, like the one just described, are proliferating in weapons stockpiles. In fact, a nuclear detonation of 10 kilotons or less by a terrorist is one of 15 disaster scenarios for which the US government has planned.
No one could fault you for panicking after the sight and roar of a nuclear blast. But there is one thing you should never do, according to Brooke Buddemeier, a health physicist and radiation expert at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
"Don't get in your car," he told Business Insider. Don't try to drive, and don't assume that the glass and metal of a vehicle can protect you.
Why vehicles and nuclear survival don't mix
Avoiding driving after a nuclear blast is wise because streets would probably be full of erratic drivers, accidents, and debris. But Buddemeier says there's another important reason to ditch the car: a fearsome aftereffect of nuclear blasts called fallout.