How to Survive the First Hour of a Nuclear Blast

Out of all the doomsday scenarios that are in the realm of feasibility, the detonation of a nuclear weapon is far and away the most likely.

nuclear blast
nuclear blast

Whether it is the initial deployment in what will become a cataclysmic nuclear exchange or the lone explosion of a terrorist act, a nearby nuclear blast is incredibly devastating.

Whatever the bomb heralds, it is the first hour following the detonation is the most critical for survivaland this guide will give you the best chance to make it through.

Nuclear annihilation is a scary prospect, but with a little knowledge and preparation you can increase your chances of surviving the first hour of a nuclear blast.

In this article, we will cover some important things to consider when choosing a shelter and dealing with the fallout.

Assessing the Nuclear Threat

No matter the type of warhead, fission or fusion, and no matter the delivery system, bomb or missile, nuclear weapons are unimaginably powerful explosives.

To say that the average human mind simply cannot conceive of the terrible effect such weapons have is no understatement, and even several generations of media and historical portrayals do nothing to help.

Even the tiniest of so-called “tactical” nukes scours the land with several devastating characteristics and hazardous secondary effects while the largest nukes are genuinely apocalyptic.

The explosion, as previously stated, is immensely destructive, vaporizing matter near the epicenter, and causing death, maiming, or devastation potentially many dozens of miles away.

The heat generated by one of these monsters might cause 3rd-degree burns for miles around and set combustible materials on fire.

In days to weeks, the release of intense radiation will sicken or kill anyone who is fortunate enough to survive the blast shockwave and heat effects.

Irradiated debris, dust, and other fine particles will be floating back to the ground after being lofted into the air by a detonation’s immediate effects. It’s dangerous all on its own, since it is extremely radioactive and coming into contact with the skin or ingestion will result in serious radiation injuries.

The risk of disease and malignancies increases considerably after prolonged exposure to a powerful burst or continuous radiation.

Understanding Damage Mechanisms

Before we can figure out how to keep ourselves safe from a nuclear weapon, we must first understand what we’re dealing with.

Nuclear weapons are the final word in destruction, their functionality delivers death and devastation on a huge scale, as well as secondary effects that will continue to kill survivors, obstruct rescue and recovery efforts, and make rebuilding and reoccupying damaged areas difficult or impossible.

All proper nuclear explosives inflict injury, death and destruction through five principal mechanisms, listed below.

Shockwave and fireball. The blast of the bomb itself. The major source of devastation. As the distance increases, effects become more survivable as they weaken though weaken is a relative term.

Exposure near ground zero is very likely to obliterate you down to your constituent atoms: People will be literally vaporized and any non-hardened building will be totally destroyed or severely damaged unless far away.

Thermal radiation

The infamous flash, the midnight sun. Ignites flammable materials and causes severe burns instantly. The blast wave of arriving moments after may extinguish fires caused by flash, but these fires could reignite spontaneously due to heat.

Even at distance of many miles, viewing the flash directly, even with eyes closes can cause severe eye injury.

Proximity, size, and height of the fireball from detonation determines intensity of exposure to flash effect.


A nuclear detonation results in a variety of ionizing radiation. Some is direct, long-range and dangerous even many miles away from ground zero.

DNA damage and molecular damage is common effect on living tissue. Other materials may be irradiated. Low dosages will cause sickness, severe injury or death from higher dosages.

Nuclear Fallout

Ionizing radiation above has an effect on particulate matter created and lifted into the air by the blast. These particles travel some distance before landing back on earth.

The danger of a nuclear explosion’s aftermath is its exposure to radiation through the settling of this fallout, which will become attached to clothing, skin and hair when contacted, as well as through ingestion, inhalation or proximity.

Electromagnetic pulse

EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, damages and destroys most electronics that are not explicitly shielded, disrupting communications in unpredictable ways.

EMP is not dangerous to organic tissues but will prevent rescue and escape efforts due to loss of vital communications and other electronic equipment.

You might not believe that surviving one of these horrible weapons is about luck alone. Fortunately, this isn’t entirely accurate.

I already said that, unless you are far below the surface or in a specially constructed shelter, if a nuclear explosion occurs near you and you are at or above ground zero, you will almost certainly be toast.

Actually, you will probably be reduced to carbon atoms, not turned into toast, but you get my drift.

But, in any case, if you have warning and time to prepare before the explosion arrives and you can get to a safe place, you should be able to survive the blast wave and flash from the bomb with enough standoff distance.

After that, you must act quickly to secure your shelter from fallout and stay in place for at least the next 24 hours if you want to survive.

What Makes a Good Shelter Against a Nuke?

The first consideration is that the shelter should be strong enough to withstand the shock wave of the explosion.

This means that it must be made of materials that are heavy and will not shatter or collapse when hit by the force of the blast. The second consideration is that the shelter should be able to protect you from radiation.

There are a few things that will help with this, but the most important is to have as much material between you and the outside world as possible. The more dense and thick the walls of your shelter, the better they will be at absorbing radiation.

Being inside a structure is preferable to being outside, and being indoors in the basement is better still.

The materials used to build a building are very important; choose one that’s constructed of concrete or other solid materials rather than wood or thin sheet metal.

Being outside or in a vehicle is unquestionably the worst thing you could do.

Your location will almost certainly play a key part in whether or not you are targeted at all: any nuclear opponent will prioritize major population centers, especially on the eastern seaboard of the United States, military bases, major infrastructure nodes, and other targets of national significance.

You are at increased risk if you live in or near one of these locations, and you must be very thorough in your preparations.

Recall that any ground zero or near-ground zero location is almost certainly going to result in death. Larger nuclear weapons have a larger “epicenter.” The larger nuclear weapons in an arsenal are usually reserved for targets of great strategic or military importance.

If you live in a highly populated area, near a major military base, a military installation or some other important target the more likely it is that one of these doomsday bombs will be coming your way.

Another major consideration is to have a way to filter out or prevent fallout particles from entering your shelter.

These particles are incredibly dangerous over time and avoiding contact with it is the most important thing you can do post-blast. More info on combating that threat below.

Detonation+1: Surviving the Next Hour

If you want to live even one hour after the detonation of a nuclear bomb, you’ll have to survive two distinct phases of the event:

The Blast: The shockwave, flash and direct “hard” radiation emitted by the device. The closer you are and the poorer your shelter, the less likely it is you’ll survive the next milliseconds.

The Fallout: The radioactive debris created by the detonation that settles back to earth as dust, ash or “snow.” Highly dangerous, must avoid and avoid contact or inhalation.

It is too late to get your act together when the sirens or EBS goes off.

If a nuclear strike is expected or a conflict is heating up to the point that a nuclear exchange is likely, you must already be prepared to act quickly and correctly.

The following action items should be done now before you are in a time-is-life crisis

  • Before an emergency occurs, it’s critical to find ideal suitable nuclear shelters in and around your home, place of business, and surrounding community ahead of time so you don’t waste valuable minutes wondering where to hide during a live nuclear attack.
  • A well-built, heavy, subterranean structure that is readily sealed shut against outside air contamination is the best nuclear shelter.
  • The majority of cities will have modern nuclear shelters, either as complete installations or relics from the Cold War. These may be inhabitable and viable, but they will certainly attract many other survivors, possibly complicating your own survival efforts and increasing the likelihood of late arrivals clouding the space with deadly radiation from fallout. Before deciding to hide inside one, consider this carefully.

Surviving the first hour is one thing, but there are other important aspects to consider: You’ll have to shelter in place for at least a few days and perhaps several weeks, if not longer, in order to avoid fatal radiation. Supplies, food and sustainment are all valid concerns.

You should get potassium iodide tablets in case you have a go-bag or a dedicated nuclear threat survival kit.

These pills will assist in protecting your thyroid and skin from absorbing harmful radiation, giving you an advantage in any type of nuclear survival scenario.

Now, you have pre-prepped as best you can. What do you do when a nuclear attack is announced or occurs unexpectedly?

Blast Imminent

If you are informed of an impending strike in your region, you have only a few minutes to seek refuge. Take all family members and pets with you while entering the nearest, best shelter according the guidelines laid down above.

Lacking a known shelter point get inside the nearest building. It is preferable to utilize heavier, more robust and underground structures. A structure with a basement or several sublevels is optimal.

Moving away from windows is advised. Do not look for the flash or detonation! You could be blinded.

Take cover behind any broad, hefty item between you and the explosion or go as low as possible if you are caught outside during a detonation.

Lying flat with your head and face covered is recommended. After the blast has subsided fallout will be on its way down, so you must seek out the closest and best shelter possible and prepare for the next phase.

Immediately After Blast

You have withstood the blast and the flash, but now it’s time to move because you’ll only have ten minutes or half an hour before the deadly fallout begins to settle back to earth.

The direction of the winds and other weather variables, as well as the size of the device that caused it, all play a role in this. Do not delay!

Depending on how quickly you are able to move and how close you are to shelter you might be able to reach shelter before major fallout arrives or you might not. In any case you cannot stay outdoors!

You must move as quickly as you can! Every moment you spend exposed to fallout or are in contact with fallout will entail worse and worse outcomes for you and your loved ones. Speed is of the essence!

To prepare yourself for moving into the shelter properly, follow these instructions in order. Your shelter won’t offer you real protection if you bring fallout inside with you.

  • Remove any clothing or gear that has been exposed to radiation. These items should not be brought into your shelter unless you know with certainty they have not been exposed to fallout. This might be difficult in such circumstances, and any contaminated clothing or other possessions should be deemed irretrievable.
  • Remove as much contaminated dust and debris from your body with a bath using soap, shampoo or body wash. Work from head to toe. You must get as much radioactive debris off of your body as possible. If you don’t have water take a sponge bath or use wet wipes.
  • Don’t use conditioner or lotions because they will stick radioactive dust to your body and hair, resulting in you absorbing more radiation.
  • Decontaminate your body as quickly as possible. Complete this decontamination process utilizing whatever methods are necessary. It is helpful to practice this procedure ahead of time so you can work swiftly and thoroughly.

Understand if you go through an area that has already seen the arrival of significant amounts of fallout, even for a short time, you might absorb a lethal dose of radiation. But there is not much for it. You’ll be in a dire situation after a nuke goes off.

Once you are in your shelter and have decontaminated yourself and your loved ones, you must work quickly to further harden your shelter against the constant arrival of greater and greater amounts of deadly fallout. If you fail to do this, you won’t survive the next hour.

Post-Blast, Next Hour

Once you’ve safely reached your shelter, it’s time to take immediate precautions to make it even more resistant to dangerous fallout.

No matter how minute, you must complete all of them in order to seal the interior against the risk of fallout getting in.

Do the following as fast as you can after decontamination:

  • Using any materials accessible, seal all cracks, crevices, and drafty areas where air can enter your shelter. Pay particular attention to doors and windows. Duct tape and sheet plastic are ideal. You may also utilize rolled-up cloths or towels stuffed into gaps in order to impede air flow if you don’t have that.
  • Close or block off all chimneys, vents, dampers, louvers other mechanisms securely.
  • Even if the electricity is already out, manually turn off all air handling equipment. An unforeseen re-activation might send radioactive debris into your interior space.

Keep away from the outside walls, low roofs and similar surfaces since radiation may easily penetrate them.

Keep in mind that you only have to be within close proximity to the radiation source to be affected, not in direct contact with the fallout!

Make sure you cover all of the bases. When attempting to prevent fallout intrusion, there is no such thing as too little or insignificant.

Considering Other Survivors

If you survived, it is likely that at least some others did also.

There will undoubtedly be survivors outside of ground zero in the areas surrounding the blast’s epicenter.

These unfortunate people will be walking wounded and disabled individuals who are being cared for by other survivors.

Given that these persons are likely to be highly irradiated, either through direct contact or exposure to fallout, it is critical that you prepare now for how you will handle them.

There is no way around it: Many survivors of such an event will be dangerously irradiated, putting you and your group at risk of lethal doses of radiation if they track in fallout or share space with you while so radiated.

Any member who survived the blast more or less unscathed may yet perish from deadly exposure to massive levels of radiation, as could any person who, in trying to help these poor souls, gets too close to them.

It’s up to you and your group to determine how you’ll behave in this encounter, but it’s definitely in your best interests to understand what radiation sickness or acute exposure looks like so you can make an educated decision.

Anyone who is suffering from severe radiation sickness has most likely been exposed to a high dose of radiation and is therefore probably dangerously radioactive.

Whatever the case may be, whether you choose to assist these devastated individuals or not, before deciding to help them make sure you take all precautions for avoiding radiation exposure and forcing them to undergo decontamination procedures.

Before they enter the shelter, clothing and other contaminated items must be thrown away.

You might have survived the first 30 minutes after the blast, but you won’t make it another hour if you are in close contact with someone who is covered in fallout or dangerously radioactive themselves.

Survive a Nuclear Blast

So there you have it. Those are the basics of how to survive the first hour after a nuclear blast. Get to a safe place, protect yourself from the blast wave and flash, and then hunker down and wait out the fallout by protecting your space and decontaminating if necessary.

With any luck, you’ll make it through this nightmare alive. Good luck!

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3 thoughts on “How to Survive the First Hour of a Nuclear Blast”

  1. Tim Washyaburn

    I agree with most of what was posted. The big take away is that your probably screwed if you haven’t done some fairly extreme preparations. Believe me or not, but I help design shelters for the government – shelters that are suppossed to withstand a near direct hit from a nuclear weapon. My concern is 99% of people can’t spend billions of dollars on shelters like this and will likely parish as a result. Most cities do not and will not spend this kind of money to ensure their populations are protected. Only the 1%, if they have prepared, will likely survive. Most who own a bunker will be exposed to high levels of radiation before even getting to their bunker. Unfortunately, (depending on the delivery method) it takes anywhere from 5 minutes (if launched from a submarine) to 20 minutes (if launched from say Russia) for a nuclear weapon to reach the United States. The only survivors will likely be those who live in Canada – if a person lives far enough away from the epicenter and can avoid the fallout, there only real chance would be to enter Canada and go as far north as possible – unless of course you have all the equipment, protective gear, facilities, and food/water to survive long term (meaning years) in a facility that has the correct filtration devices – that is if you don’t run out of water. The do have nuclear contaminated filtration cartridges used the reverse osmosis, but that again is a ton of money. We all gotta go sometime, I philosophy if it ever does happen, the power-hungry idiots who launched the weapons in the first place can have this world.

  2. Bemused Berserker

    Living in the shadow of Cheyenne mountain (NORAD), for most of my 62 years, I came to terms with the threat of a Nuclear Attack quite some time ago. It’s doubtful that we would survive the blast, or that we would have sufficient warning to flee the target area.
    Of course, we’ve a fallout shelter and GOOD supplies ready just in case there’s enough of a warning, I just don’t think will have the luxury of time or sufficient warning on our side.
    It is what it is.

  3. I usually will not leave negative comments to an article and/or reply posts. The exceptions are always if I feel that there is information being presented that could be harmful in some way.

    I feel that both the article and the single reply post (at the time I read them) do contain such information. Either presenting information that is incorrect and can lead to making decisions that could be harmful in the long run, or are directly harmful in that following the suggestions could be the cause of a person to be seriously hurt or killed if followed.

    With so much of the information strongly implying that preparing for any type of nuclear event is nearly impossible to accomplish, is extremely expensive, and could require months to years of deep underground living with attendant food and water supplies for those lengths of times.

    Those implications are not true, neither is the suggestion that people coming into a shelter during the arrival of fallout, even if decontaminated properly, could pose a risk of transferring radioactivity from their bodies to the existing residents.

    One does not need to be deep underground to be safe from fallout radiation, and the shelter does not need to be hermetically sealed in order to be safe. Ventilation needs to be considered, but more for humidity and heat than to prevent the ingress of fallout. Unless the wind is whistling through a shelter the fallout will not be entering. Especially if just a couple of simple precautions are taken.

    I could go on and on, but I hope these examples are enough to prom Mr. Sullivan to check the article and reply posts and decide to remove or edit them. This also includes the closely related article about tools for preparing for a nuclear attack.

    Again, I am sorry for feeling like I need to post this.

    It is Just my opinion.

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