Is nuclear civil defence even meaningful?

The possible and the horrible

This one is for the doomsday scenario planning department — a team of Indian and Pakistani scholars have authored a paper on the feasibility of civil defence measures in case of a nuclear attack. And no, none of their solutions is even remotely Strangelovian.

…there is a combination of blast, thermal and prompt nuclear radiation that creates an inner zone around the nuclear explosion, out to distances of 1.5 km for a 10-20 Kt weapon, and about 3.5 km for a 200Kt weapon. Our analysis shows that for people unfortunate enough to be within this inner circle and exposed to the full impact of the explosion, there is no defence.

The sort of civil defence measures that could possibly have saved them, such as nuclear bomb proof shelters and evacuation are simply not feasible in south Asia. Taking shelter in existing homes and commercial building will not help as they probably will be destroyed. Some people could survive in this inner region but only through some fortuitous protection. Such protection cannot be planned for.

Any civil defence plan can aim at best only at saving some lives outside this region. At these larger distances from the explosion, the direct weapon effects and the secondary dangers of building collapse and fires inside buildings are reduced…

There is no doubt that these measures will not come to the rescue of many people. But there may be some fortunate ones for whom such measures may make the difference between life and death. Even for such survivors, however, there may be little solace. They may well recall Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s famous observation that after a nuclear war “the living will envy the dead.” But this is the best that civil defence can do. [EPW pdf]

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