Not to downplay their power - they do speak for themselves - but their most likely use is not, in spite of all the hyperbole, the end of the world.
As a JO, we practiced nuclear war about as often as Sailors go through SAPR training now days. We planned to fight and win, in a fashion.
What we also knew was that if their use was fairly limited, then so were their effects ... if you were smart.
When at home - for those who knew that right off the East and West Coast there were nuclear armed Soviet submarines that would give you 10-15 minute warning until you were hit ... and with their accuracy - odds are they could land anywhere - one could plan to have a fighting chance to survive an attack.
Post nuclear attack isn't and never was a binary thing. Then again, global nuclear war with generous use of some of the fusion weapons - well - that is a different topic altogether.
What is our big threat now? It isn't global nuclear war - it is the less-than-zero chance that at some point our enemies will either get their hands on, or will build a low-yield nuke. If they get one, they will use in most likely in NYC or DC.
Along those lines, Marc Ambinder over at The Week is doing everyone a favor - giving you a chance to live if the thinkable happens. Marc, do you mind if I steal the core of your article for public service? Thanks.
... very few people in Washington, D.C., who work for the government have any idea what they would do if a 10-kiloton nuclear device exploded at the intersection of 16th and K streets.That is good stuff for you and your family to know.
And curiously, and perhaps hearteningly, it turns out that there is quite a lot that you or I can do if we get stuck in Washington when something like that happens. Choices we make could very well make the difference between our imminent death and a relatively full and happy life, assuming the bomb is a one-off.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory released a report in 2011 that spells all this out. It hasn't gotten nearly the attention it deserves.
It's called the "National Capital Region Key Response Planning Factors for the Aftermath of Nuclear Terrorism" and it makes for fascinating reading.
Did you know, for example, that:
1. The WORST thing for someone to try to do, in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion that they survive, is to get in a car and drive away.
2. Unless you're within about a third to a half a mile radius of ground zero and the shelter options are poor, the BEST thing for someone to do is to find a stable location inside a well-built apartment or office building — the majority of which will remain standing outside that half mile radius — and stay there for 24 hours.
And if you were very close to ground zero and you did survive — and a lot of folks will — the best thing for you to do is to:
A. Take immediate shelter somewhere, because fallout will rain down on you if you don't.
B. Wait an hour.
C. Then, walk about a half-dozen blocks laterally until you find intact large buildings to shelter you.
3. The electromagnetic pulse from a ground burst will NOT, in fact, knock out all types of communication. Some? Maybe.
4. If you live in a single-family house with thin walls, your chances of surviving in the immediate aftermath of a blast and not getting cancer later are exponentially higher than if you seek shelter in a bigger building, even one that might literally be next door.
5. Rescuers should NOT put on radiation protection gear if it will slow them down. So long as the fallout has stopped falling, they're best advised to turn out in their normal gear.
6. Though thousands of people will die from the blast effects, almost all — about 96 percent — of the other potential casualties could be avoided if people understood the basics of what to do in the event of mass radiation exposure.
7. Did I mention that the worst place to be in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear blast is in a car trying to get away? The so-called DFZ — the Dangerous Fallout Zone — will extend out as much as 20 miles, but it is likely to be extremely narrow. (If it's not, that means the concentration of radioactive particles will be lower.) The vector and location of this zone depends on the wind. And its size will shrink with every passing hour.
8. Penetrating trauma from broken glass is probably the largest treatable cadre of blast injuries.
Keep it in your nogg'n.