Could anyone really survive a nuclear Fallout?

The emergency broadcast system is broadcasting on all frequencies and channels, you’re being told that this is it- the nuclear apocalypse. You gather all the supplies you can get your hands on, find the deepest hole and prepare yourself for the worst. The question is where is really the best place to be when the bombs fall?

With the release of the acclaimed Bethesda game, Fallout 4, people are once again wondering if they think they could survive a real nuclear fallout. For the release of the game Bethesda recreated one of the infamous VaultTec Vaults, which allowed the games protagonist to survive the damage of nuclear war. However, it would require significantly more than a prop vault to survive the actual apocalypse.

When a nuclear bomb detonates there is a blast of heat and intense pressure, the initial explosion, which is gradually followed by the slow fall of deadly radioactive dust which the blast sucks up from the ground. This is termed “fall-out.” Following the Cold War the threat of nuclear war was considered a major risk therefore governments began to prepare for the worst and based on this we now know what is required to survive both the initial blast and the subsequent nuclear fallout.

Firstly, you’ll need avoid both the initial blast and the huge release of radiation, so you’re going to need some very thick walls. Previously, it was thought that a minimum of 10 meters of concrete should be enough to reduce the amount of radiation someone experiences. However recently, NASA have been able to develop radiation shielding which is currently being designed to shield space flights. Likewise, carbon nanotubes have been developed which are 100 times more resistant to radiation than steel. Assuming you could get your hands on this technology it could adapted to produce a shelter which would significantly reduce your exposure to radiation. However, you’ll still need to survive the explosion. The obvious answer is to find a deep underground bunker. Thankfully some of these readymade nuclear bunkers already exist. For instance, in 1961 in Wiltshire, the government build the Burlington bunker with the sole purpose of relocating the British Government in the event of a nuclear attack. The bunker was built over 30 meters underground, is over 1km long and has the capacity to house nearly 4,000 people. The bunker is lined with dense concrete and is capable of surviving a nuclear blast and the ventilation system is specifically design to prevent chemical contamination to ensure it is unaffected by fallout. This is the ideal bunker for surviving the nuclear apocalypse and it is not the only one of its type. Due to the risk of nuclear bombs during the Cold War there are now a number of disused bunkers in certain locations across the UK. So when the bombs begin to fall find your nearest bunker and hope they have space for you.

Once you’ve survived the initial blast and the radiation you’re going to want to survive longer than a week, so you’re going to need the essentials: food, water and power. The aforementioned Burlington bunker was totally self-sufficient and hand enough supplies to survive for up to 3 months and had facilities to maintain a sustainable supply of food and water for a number of months, potentially years. Clean water for this bunker is provided by an underground lake and a water treatment facility. Likewise, power to the facility is supplied by four generators which are supported by twelve fuel tanks. However, fossil fuel is unsuitable for long term maintenance of power in a doomsday shelter; firstly the pollution would be an inconvenience and the major issue it that eventually it will run out. Therefore, you are going to require a more sustainable means to produce power. One way to achieve this would be the use of hydrogen power cells. Hydrogen power cells rely on converting chemical energy from the chemical reaction of positively charged hydrogen ions with oxygen. This reaction produces both electrical energy and water, allowing you to kill two birds with one stone; produce water and energy.

Likewise, you’re going to need sustainable ways to produce food. One method to do that is through the use of aquaponics. This method of agriculture makes use of replacing soil with water and creating a closed nitrogen cycle. In this system water containing fish is used to grow crops; the fish produce excess nitrogen via ammonia which is taken up by the plants and used to grow the crops.

Once you’ve got a sustainable way to produce water, food and enough power to keep the lights on in your underground bunker you can sit in relative comfort and wait for nuclear fallout to consume the rest of the world. Surviving is all well and good, however at some point you’re going to have to consider rebuilding and repopulating the world. So, when you’re on the way to your bunker at the bombs start to drop you may want to grab your significant other and a few other people to help you restart the human race.

So when the world starts to explode you’re going to want to find the nearest shelter and, if you’ve got the technology, start making food, water and power. If you’re not lucky enough to get to a shelter but still manage to survive the blast, the radiation and the toxic dust then maybe I’ll running into you in the post apocalyptic world and we can fight over the last packet of Salisbury steak.


Steven Gibney


Image courtesy of BagoGames, image hosted on Flickr.

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