Home K1Project Nuclear disaster: how well are we prepared?

Nuclear disaster: how well are we prepared?

By Katherine Malus
2. November 2018

In 1945, for the first time in history, the United States used nuclear weapons to attack another country. A decades-long arms race began almost immediately after these attacks, and many, including former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, are concerned that we are currently entering into yet another arms race. Despite the ever increasing risk of a nuclear attack on American soil, the United States and its citizens remain largely unprepared for a nuclear disaster.

Illustration by Etienne Cipriani

As the Cold War

ended almost three decades ago, the doomsday clock was set to 17 minutes before midnight. Designed in 1947 by the artist Martyl Langsdorf and discontinued by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the watch shows how close the world is to a nuclear apocalypse. For the first time since 1953, the world is two minutes from nuclear destruction.

While the world has previously faced the proximity of the clock to midnight and seen the minute hand move backwards, the world - and with it the clock - is currently being influenced by a number of different factors that did not exist in 1953. Perhaps the most recent and most relevant is the higher probability that a nuclear weapon will fall into the hands of a terrorist group or a rogue state like Iran or North Korea, as opposed to a nuclear attack by another recognized nuclear weapon state. Like Dr. Irwin Redlener, professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, stated: The rogue state and terrorist detonation remain a possibility and should be viewed as one of the most serious disaster threats facing the United States. Despite the reality of such a nuclear attack, the United States remains largely unprepared.

US history of preparation for nuclear disasters

Today nuclear shelter signs like the one below represent holdovers from the nuclear disaster preparedness plans that the United States government temporarily sponsored or funded during the Cold War from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Nuclear Fallout Shelter sign on the 2nd floor of the Columbia University math building,

In 1950, the United States Congress established the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) to guide states' action in relation to civil defense policy. As such, the FCDA was largely responsible for the first nuclear bunkers.

In 1952 the FCDA produced - with the help of the Ad Council - nine different short films on the subject of pensions. These films included the famous Duck and cover Drill with Bert the Turtle showing students how to save themselves from a nuclear attack by hiding under their school desks. Today these films are considered ill-informed and were even used to make a satirical film in 1982. Atomic Café , on the misinformation the US government gave to American soldiers and citizens in the early years of the Cold War.

In the early 1950s, the FCDA also encouraged Americans to start building nuclear bunkers at home. Each shelter should have at least two weeks of supplies, the recommended time to stay in the shelter after an attack. At the time, however, Congress and the executive did not directly support this initiative as the cost of setting up a system of nuclear bunkers across the country was prohibitive.

After the hydrogen bomb was tested by the Soviet Union in 1953 and released by the United States the effects of its first thermonuclear bomb (Hydrogen bomb) Test Mike, who detonated in Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1952, the Eisenhower government determined that protection programs were no longer effective and instead initiated evacuation plans. The effects of both hydrogen bomb tests seemed to convince the public that it is not possible to survive a nuclear detonation unless people were warned of the attack. However, evacuation planning via shelter planning was only proposed by the FCDA until March 1954, right after the United States tested its most powerful hydrogen bomb, Castle Bravo. Bravo was tested on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands and had a yield 1000 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. The tests resulted in severe radioactive contamination of numerous islands, which continues influencing Marshallese society today . This incident prompted Congress and the FCDA to reiterate the need for shelter to protect citizens.

The FCDA suggested National animal shelter policy which, according to Homeland Security, would have cost around $ 32 billion. The need for this policy was made by the Gaither report Commissioned by President Eisenhower in 1957 and the 1958 Rockefeller Report by Henry Kissinger. However, the evidence presented in these two reports was insufficient to President Eisenhower, who refused to take action to implement the policy. Instead, he replaced the FCDA with the newly created Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (OCDM), which eventually became the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and the Office of Emergency Planning (OEM).

ivy league online masters

With the election of a new president, John F. Kennedy, bunkers reappeared as an important element of civil defense against a nuclear attack, as the US government directly advocated and financed nuclear fallout bunkers. In September 1961, The community's Fallout Shelter program began after an extensive survey to determine the locations of the refuges. Each animal shelter had to be able to care for at least fifty people, one of them 1 cubic foot of storage space . The program aimed to provide local protective facilities with materials to protect against the effects of radiation. The OCD allocated water barrels, food rations, hygiene kits, medical kits, radiation detectors, and package ventilation kits to each of the accommodations, which were operated and maintained directly by the local government's civil protection offices. In October, Kennedy asked Congress to allocate $ 100 million to build public nuclear bunkers across the country. By late 1961, the Department of Defense had produced a 46-page booklet on the shelters that included instructions on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. These brochures were distributed to post offices across the country. According to the Ministry of Homeland Security at the end of 1963 nine million public accommodations has been identified and delivered.

On October 6, 1961, President Kennedy also encouraged American families to Start building private nuclear bunkers in their homes. This attempt arguably proved to be less successful than the attempt of the public animal shelters, since only about 1.4% of American families implemented President Kennedy's message.

Fallout Shelter for families in the basement. 1957. Source: National Archives.

During the tenure of President Lyndon B. Johnson (1965-1969) the protection program and civil protection initiatives began to suffer. The Vietnam War drained money from these preparedness programs and initiatives, and the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) became more popular. If one country decides to launch a nuclear attack on another country, both countries would be annihilated because of this theory of deterrence and retaliation.

Initiatives to directly protect civilians did not resurface until the administration of President Gerald R. Ford. The 1974 Crisis Relocation Plan (CRP) created escape routes for those who lived in the cities to flee to rural areas. Unfortunately, CRP had many shortcomings, as it would have required several days of lead time to an attack to function effectively. In addition, the urban infrastructure would not have supported the mass evacuation from the cities.

Preparing for a nuclear disaster became a top priority for the last time under President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989). After the establishment of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under President Jimmy Carter, President Reagan made nuclear disaster preparedness plans and evacuation routes a top priority by asking: Congress allocates $ 4.2 billion for civil defense spending . Allocated during Congress only $ 147.9 million This advance towards nuclear planning for civil defense was the last of its kind to date, after the end of the Cold War shortly after the end of the Reagan administration.

US nuclear precaution today

In the post Cold War era (1991-present) the United States, along with other nations, faces a new type of nuclear threat. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was the United States' main nuclear opponent. Today the United States is threatened not only by other countries like North Korea, Iran or other rogue states, but also by terrorist groups who could easily access the materials and information necessary to build a nuclear weapon. Furthermore, one cannot rule out the possibility of a disaster resulting from the accidental use of weapons currently in the United States' own arsenal or in those of other countries.

One threat the world is facing today is the lack of weapons-grade material from the old Soviet nuclear stocks. To build a nuclear weapon, one would need plutonium (Pu 239) or highly enriched uranium (HEU), uranium with a concentration of U235 higher than 20%. In economically unstable times, former Soviet nuclear personnel used to sell HEU on the side. The Soviet Union never kept an inventory of its nuclear material, so it is known that most of the material that was and is stolen during and after the Cold War is not missing. Between 1991 and 2002 there was fourteen confirmed cases the theft of weapons-grade nuclear material from the Russian nuclear depot. Russia currently has 680 tons of HEU , more than half of the total amount that exists in the world. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a significant amount of HEU, i. H. the approximate amount of nuclear material for which the possibility of producing a nuclear explosive device cannot be ruled out, 25 kg or 55.1 lbs . Because Russia does not disclose its plutonium holdings to the IAEA, it is not known how much the country currently owns. According to the IAEA, there is a significant amount of plutonium 8 kg or 17.6 lbs .

The uncertainty about unguarded weapons-grade nuclear material is not limited to Russia. In 2007, six nuclear warheads were accidentally flown from an Air Force Base in North Dakota to Louisiana. The warheads were missing for 24 hours before officials in Louisiana discovered the flaw.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, there are over 14,000 Declared nuclear warheads in the world today and given the unsuccessful intentions for a world without nuclear weapons, the danger of a nuclear catastrophe is still great. Like Dr. Redlener states: There is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube here. .... I cannot imagine any circumstances under which we can have verifiable information on the elimination of all nuclear weapons on the planet. I think we need to deal with this ... and make sure we have done everything in our power to control any situation that could lead to a nuclear detonation.

The United States and its citizens are currently unprepared for the aftermath of any nuclear disaster, be it an air missile from another country, a ground attack by a terrorist or terrorist group, or an accidental detonation. Dr. Redlener identified six cities most likely to be attacked: New York , Chicago , Washington, D.C. , The angel , San Francisco , and Houston . Only the New York, Washington D.C. emergency management websites and Los Angeles offer opportunities to respond to a radioactive disaster. The Washington D.C. websites and Los Angeles directly address the possibility of a nuclear attack.

While it may seem unlikely that a person could survive a nuclear attack, there is seven simple actions that you can take to save your life - provided you are far enough (more than 0.5 miles) from the core of the explosion. They are: (1) Don't stare into the light of the flash, as it will blind a person instantly, and keep your mouth open to handle the pressure given off by the first explosion. (2) Choose to walk ten to twenty minutes from the site of the explosion or seek shelter either underground or above the 9th floor of a building to avoid the effects of the fallout from the mushroom cloud. (3) Move crosswinds from damaged buildings when you decide to leave, but only for 10-20 minutes. (4) Keep your mouth, skin and nose covered as much as possible. (5) Take off your clothes, rinse them with a hose while holding your breath. If possible, seek medical help. (6) Stay at the shelter 12-24 hours after an attack to avoid the initial massive radiation exposure after a nuclear attack, or for as long as directed by the government. Do not leave the shelter until you know the direction in which to move.

Grafik: Katherine Malus. Quelle: How To Survive a Nuclear Attack TED Talk von Dr. Irwin Redlener

Despite the fact that cities and citizens are still unprepared, the effectiveness of these steps has been studied. According to Dr. Redlener, Brooke Buddemeier of Livermore National Labs in California has done a lot of research on this subject [nuclear preparation and survival]. He suggests that if people detonated with a single weapon in New York City, about 200,000 or more lives could be saved if people knew how to protect themselves. This means knowing how and when to find appropriate shelter and when it is safe to leave.

For these steps to be as effective as Buddemeier's research suggests, everyone would need to know about them before an attack could occur. According to Dr. For Redlener, it's about understanding and following the basic message: For the first 10-20 minutes after the flash of light and the explosion, walk as far away from the explosion as possible, go to a safe shelter, away from windows with a lot of shielding between you and the outside and stay there for 12-24 hours or until the officials say it is safe to leave. Make sure you have a battery operated radio to receive these news! But as Dr. Redlener points out, even this message, if it is to be effective, must be repeated several times and with many reminders that are working overtime. You need a campaign and posters and public service announcements, elected officials talking about it. I don't think anyone is in the mood to do that.

social work ph d programs

Before the world can become nuclear free, it must become nuclear conscious, which requires work. Nuclear-weapon states must take more responsibility for their stocks and be more aware of the urgency to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world. In the meantime, governments must work to prepare their citizens for a nuclear detonation through a concerted effort to disseminate accurate information on how to stay safe - or as safe as possible - during an attack.

Related media

further reading


Air Force fires commanders for atomic mix-up. Reuters , October 19, 2007. www.reuters.com .

Bordner, Autumn S., et al. Measurement of background gamma radiation in the Northern Marshall Islands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , Bd. 113, Nr. 25. Juni 2016, S. 6833–38. doi:10.1073/pnas.1605535113.

Chenault, William W. 'Crisis-anticipatory planning of the crisis relocation.' Oct. 1981. Retrieved July 26, 2018.

City of Chicago :: Supporting Information . Accessed June 6, 2018.

Civil Defense Museum-Community Shelter Tours Hauptseite . Accessed June 6, 2018.

CNN, Sam Petulla. Where are the world's nuclear weapons? CNN . Accessed June 6, 2018.

Civil HEU: Russia | NTI . Accessed July 12, 2018.

Dhs civil defense Hs - short story.Pdf . Retrieved July 10, 2018.

Doomsday clock. Nuclear Scientists Bulletin . Accessed July 12, 2018.

Fallout Protection What You Should Know and Do.Pdf . Retrieved July 10, 2018.

Fernandes, Cassandra Lee. 'Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty'. K = 1 project center for nuclear studies , Columbia University, Dec. 13, 2017. Retrieved July 26, 2018.

Gray, Andreas. 'Air Force fires commanders for nuclear mix-up.' Reuters , Oct. 19, 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2018.

Houston's Dangers - Office of Emergency Management . Accessed June 6, 2018.

'Glossary of IAEA Safeguards.' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) , 2001. Accessed July 26, 2018.

Illicit trafficking in nuclear weapons in the NIS | NTI . Accessed July 12, 2018.

Kennedy urges the Americans to build bomb shelters - October 6, 1961. GESCHICHTE.com . Accessed June 6, 2018.

Nuclear explosion | ready . Accessed June 6, 2018.

'Nuclear Readiness.' Hawaii.gov , State of Hawaii, April 13, 2018. Retrieved July 26, 2018.

Nuclear Terrorism FAQs . Accessed July 12, 2018.

Nuclear Terrorism Threat | Nuclear weapons and terrorist threats | NTI . Accessed July 12, 2018.

Nuclear safe. Duck And Cover (1951) Bert The Turtle . Youtube . Accessed July 11, 2018.

Our dangers | Emergency Management Department . Accessed June 6, 2018.

Hazard Plan - Hazardous Substances Chemical Spills - NYCEM . Accessed June 6, 2018.

Petulla, Sam. Where are the world's nuclear weapons? CNN , Turner Broadcasting Systems, September 25, 2017. Retrieved July 26, 2018.

Nuclear Incident Preparation | Emergency Management Department . Accessed June 6, 2018.

Redlener, Irwin. How to survive a nuclear attack . TEd . Accessed June 6, 2018.

what is kant's categorical imperative

Security Resources Panel of the Scientific Advisory Board. 'Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age.' November 7, 1957. Retrieved July 26, 2018.

Russia. International body for fissile materials . Accessed July 12, 2018.

Russia's use and stocks of highly enriched uranium pose significant nuclear risks. Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs , 12.09.2017.

Vale, Lawrence J. The limits of civil defense in the USA, Switzerland, Great Britain and the Soviet Union . Palgrave Macmillan, 1987.

When Fallout Shelters were all the rage at home . October 7, 2010.

Interesting Articles

Editor'S Choice

The science of the flu shot
The science of the flu shot
Once in the air with the autumn cold, flu vaccinations are being given out in clinics and pharmacies across the country. Vaccination, while imperfect, is the most reliable way to avoid a potentially fatal infection. While many accept it as a seasonal inconvenience, the flu kills about 19,000 Americans in an average year. After the pioneering work of Hilary Koprowski,
Alumni publish 'Semper Fi' with Jai Courtney in the lead role
Alumni publish 'Semper Fi' with Jai Courtney in the lead role
Three Columbia alumni released Semper Fi earlier this month, a feature film starring Jai Courtney and distributed by Lionsgate. The film was produced by Alumna Karina Miller '04, co-written by Alumna Sean Mullin '06, and co-written and directed by Alumna Henry-Alex Rubin '95.
Columbia filmmakers make a splash at the Nashville Film Festival
Columbia filmmakers make a splash at the Nashville Film Festival
Current student Asad Farooqui and alumna Fany de la Chica '18 are represented at this year's Nashville Film Festival.
Review: 'The Emperor of All Diseases
Review: 'The Emperor of All Diseases'
It's difficult, if not impossible, to reach middle age without seeing the ravages of cancer up close.
Alexandra Carter
Alexandra Carter
As director of the Law School's Mediation Clinic, Alexandra Carter ’03 has been training students in various forms of alternative dispute resolution since 2008. Under her guidance, students learn negotiation strategies and advise clients in federal, state, and New York courts; Cases range from family business disputes to complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2016, Carter partnered with the United Nations Institute for Education and Research and their students are the exclusive providers of alternative dispute resolution classes for the United Nations Diplomatic Corps in New York. She is currently training judicial and administrative directors in New York state courts which will soon require most civil disputes to be resolved through alleged mediation rather than in public courts. In 2019, Columbia University honored Carter with the Presidential Award for Teaching for its innovative pedagogy and commitment to its students. Carter developed her passion for mediation and teaching as a student at the Law School's Mediation Clinic, led by Professor Carol Liebman, who became her mentor and role model. As a student, Carter won the Jane Marks Murphy Prize for Clinical Advocacy and the Lawrence S. Greenbaum Prize for Best Oral Argument in the 2002 Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition. Prior to enrolling in Law School, Carter was a private equity analyst with Goldman Sachs and Fulbright Fellow in Taiwan, where she researched contemporary literature to assess cross-strait political tensions. After Carter got her J.D. received, she worked on the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts and then joined Cravath, Swaine & Moore as a litigator. She was retired to the academy by Liebman and other mentors from Columbia Law School. Carter's new take on negotiation is the subject of her upcoming general interest book Ask for More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything, which will be the main title published by Simon & Schuster in May 2020.
Ars Nova announces Melis Aker '18 as a resident of Play Group 2019
Ars Nova announces Melis Aker '18 as a resident of Play Group 2019
Alumna Melis Aker '18 joins Alumna Julia May Jonas '12 as a new member of the Ars Nova Plays Group 2019. The Play Group is a two-year residency where members become part of the Ars Nova resident artist community.
Clinic for Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine
Clinic for Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine
What are tendonitis and tendinitis? Tendons are strong strands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. Tendonitis is when a tendon is inflamed. It can hit any tendon in the body. When a tendon is inflamed, it can cause swelling, pain, and discomfort. Another problem called tenosynovitis is linked to tendonitis. This is the inflammation of the lining of the tendon sheath around a tendon. Usually the vagina is inflamed by itself, but both the vagina and tendon can be inflamed at the same time.