Nuclear War Survival Guide – How to Increase Your Chances of Staying Alive

Comments: One Comment Post Date: May 24, 2017

One of the biggest concerns for preppers is the threat of nuclear war.

And rightly so in this day and age. We have nuclear power plants spread all around the world and disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima have not changed our use of nuclear power.

We also live in a very unstable economic and political age. While the threat of a North Korean nuclear war has subsided, Over the past few years the Russia, Iran, China, and other nuclear powers that we’re not on best terms with. 

On top of this, there are few people who have a proper fallout shelter stocked and ready to flee to at a moment’s notice. For those that don’t, what are their options? What can they do to survive a nuclear attack? The answer might surprise you.

But first, let’s take a look at the threats we face. There are two primary nuclear threats: nuclear meltdown and nuclear attack. Each of these have a different cause, but the effects can be far-reaching.

Nuclear Meltdown

According to, a nuclear meltdown occurs when a nuclear reactor experiences damage to its core, causing it to overheat. Perhaps the most famous nuclear meltdown was Chernobyl. Officials rated the event a 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. Thirty years after the incident, 10,000 square kilometers of the region are still unlivable.

But what about Fukushima? It might surprise many people to know that officials also rated this event a 7. However, the local government handled the Fukushima situation much better than the Chernobyl incident. The Japanese government moved quickly to evacuate and treat their people and to protect the food and water supply.

But the fact is, the Fukushima incident still affected the people of Japan. They were still displaced. They were still concerned for their safety, as well as the safety of their loved ones. The rate of thyroid cancer in children still went up. And the radiation from this incident was able to reach North America.

Nuclear War or Nuclear Attack

Nuclear attack is different and has the potential to be more devastating than a meltdown. It is important to understand the different types of bombs used. It is also critical to understand what to do and not do during an attack, the potential targets, and the types of radiation you might be dealing with.

Types of Nuclear Bombs

Not all nuclear attacks are equal. The effects of the attack depend on the type of bomb used. There are three possibilities.

Dirty Bomb

This is the “best” type of nuclear attack. This is not a true nuclear bomb, a combination of regular explosives and nuclear material. It affects the area immediately surrounding the blast zone.

Radiation can cause illness and death if exposure is high enough. However, with a bomb like this the greatest danger comes from the actual explosion. If you are close enough to be affected by radiation, the blast will most likely kill you anyway.

Fission Bomb

These are known as atomic bombs or A-bombs. The fuel for the bomb comes from a fission reaction, whereby an atom is split into smaller pieces, releasing energy. This is the type of bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima. These bombs can range in size from 1 Kiloton (kt) to hundreds of Kilotons.

Fusion Bomb

These are known as hydrogen bombs or H-bombs and they are the most devastating. Here, a reaction causes two lighter atoms to be fused together to create a larger, heavier atom. These thermonuclear weapons have incredible explosive power. For reference, this is the type of reaction that occurs in the sun.

However, on their own fusion reactions don’t produce a lot of radiation. This is why the fusion reaction either begins with the detonation of an A-bomb or involves the use of a combination of fission and fusion.

Ground Zero and Distances

Ground zero is the point at which the bomb hits. The danger a person is in during a nuclear attack will depend on where they are in relation to ground zero. A person at ground zero would be incinerated instantly and you cannot create a plan that will help you survive this.

  • As far away from ground zero as ¾ of a mile will deliver a lethal dose of radiation. Anyone up to a mile from ground zero will suffer second-degree burns. As much as 5 miles from ground zero can cause third degree burns. And even as far as 20 miles away, the heat can burn the skin badly.
  • Your survival will depend on a number of things, including the strength of the bomb and the prevailing winds. Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • NEVER look at the fireball of the detonation.
  • The wind can carry radioactive fallout for hundreds of miles. Wind can even carry a lethal dose as far as 6 miles.
  • The effects of the blast will depend on the height of detonation.
  • The rate of decay will be the same regardless of the size of the bomb, although the amount of radioactive fallout will be greater the larger the bomb.
  • An electromagnetic pulse can wipe out the power grid if the enemy detonates the bomb high enough above the ground.
  • Radiation is not the same as fallout. Fallout is the material in the environment that radiation binds to.
  • People cannot spread radiation, even if they are sick with radiation poisoning. Only the fallout they bring with them on their body and clothes is a threat.
Potential Targets
The US Capitol

Government installations will be major targets during a nuclear attack.

You must be aware of where you live in relation to potential nuclear targets. If you live in an area that is more likely to be a nuclear attack target, you will need to be prepared. FEMA published a nuclear fallout map of the US that can help you determine the level of safety of your region. Here are the likely targets of a nuclear attack:

  • Federal and state government installations
  • Military installations, bases, and strategic missile sites
  • Important transportation and communication centers
  • Airfields and ports
  • Electrical power plants, oil refineries, and chemical plants
  • Financial, manufacturing, industrial, and technology centers
Types of Radiation

It is also important to understand there are different types of radiation that come from a nuclear attack. These are as follows:

Alpha particles: The weakest type of radiation that is absorbed by the atmosphere after traveling a couple of inches. The chances of encountering this type of radiation is almost nil, although if ingested or inhaled it would be fatal. In general, this is not a threat.

Beta particles: These particles can travel faster and farther than alpha particles. They will travel as far as 10 meters (10 yards) before they are absorbed. Unless you are exposed for a long period of time, these particles are not fatal. They will produce a burn much like a sunburn.

Gamma rays: This are the deadliest form of radiation. These rays can travel up to a mile and they are the ones that can get through just about any type of material. This type of radiation damages the internal organs of the body and causes death.

Radiation Units

You can measure radiation in a couple of ways. The SI measurements for radiation dose are gray (Gy) and Sievert (Sv). 1 Gy = 100 rads, which is what we commonly hear when it comes to radiation measurements. 1 Sv = 100 REM. Here is a breakdown of exposure:

  • Less than 0.05 Gy: Safe and no visible symptoms.
  • 0.05-0.5 Gy: A temporary decrease in red blood cell count.
  • 0.5-1.5 Gy: A decrease in the production of immunity cells. A person becomes more susceptible to infection and might experience headaches, nausea, and vomiting.
  • 1.5-3.0 Gy: Exposure more severe and 35% fatality rate within 30 days. Those exposed will experience nausea, vomiting, and hair loss.
  • 3-4 Gy: Severe radiation exposure with 50% fatality rate within 30 days. Along with symptoms mentioned above, there will be bleeding in the mouth, beneath the skin, and in the kidneys.
  • 4-6 Gy: This is acute radiation poisoning. It has a 60% fatality rate within 30 days and symptoms begin within two hours of exposure.
  • 6-10 Gy: This is acute radiation poisoning. It has close to 100% fatality within 14 days and medical care is critical. This destroys bone marrow and intestinal and gastric tissue is severely damaged. Internal bleeding is usually the cause of death.
  • 12-20 REM: Death is assured and symptoms appear immediately on exposure. Death comes from fatigue and susceptibility to the illness.
  • 20+ REM: Death is assured. Days can go by before a sudden failure of gastrointestinal cells, which causes water loss and excessive internal bleeding. Death comes when the brain no longer has control of bodily functions.

Plan Ahead

Planning for a nuclear incident, particularly a nuclear attack, can mean the difference between life and death. It can also mean the difference between suffering and living a healthy life. To plan, you need to consider where you will go and what supplies to have on hand. Let’s start with where you will go.


Safety during a nuclear attack requires you to be indoors and behind thick walls. To protect yourself from radioactive fallout, you must be inside for the first 48 hours because the radiation decreases by at least 80% or more within that time frame. It is best to stay inside for at least two weeks before going outside.

There must be enough heavy, dense material between you and the radiation outside that you have minimal exposure. Materials that can block radiation and provide a protection factor of 1,000 include:

  • Lead—4 inches
  • Steel—10 inches
  • Concrete or brick—24 inches
  • Packed earth—36 inches
  • Water—72 inches
  • Wood—110 inches

Keep in mind that a protection factor of 1,000 means that there is 375 pounds of material mass per square foot of the area being protected.

If you have a bug out location that you know is in a radiation-free zone then it’s just a matter of getting there. For this, you need to have a bug out plan in place. This must be an area that is far away from potential targets and is not in the path of prevailing winds carrying nuclear fallout. However, most people don’t have this option.

Staying in Your Home

Most homes do not offer a lot of protection against radioactive fallout. Your basement is your best option in your house. In a two-story brick house, the standard basement will cut radiation exposure by 1/20. However, fortifying your basement is best.

Choose an area of your basement where you can make a fallout shelter. Double- or triple-line the walls and ceiling of the basement with one or more of the materials listed above and build additional walls to form a room. You can use sandbags or concrete blocks. Whatever is available.

You can then stock this room with food, water, and supplies and have it ready for whenever you need it. You can store away anything you would generally store for SHTF. If you already have supplies, just move some of them into the shelter you have created.

If you don’t have a basement and you are desperate, you can still use materials in your home to build a “fort.” You can build this small shelter out of bookcases, mattresses, and any other furniture you have on hand. You can even line the walls of your fort with fish tanks if you keep fish.

Options Outside Your Home

One of the safest places to be during a nuclear attack is the basement of a tall office building.

If you do not have your basement fortified or you don’t have a basement, then you must get to a safe place. You best bet in this situation is to get to the basement of a tall concrete building, such as an apartment building or an office building. If the basement is not an option, then get to the center of the building.

You will need to be familiar with the buildings that are within a few minutes of your home. These should be places you can get to and gain access to quickly. Check out the buildings ahead of time if possible. You need to know if and how they can be accessed.

It won’t do you much good if you show up at an office building with 10 minutes before the radiation hits you and you can’t get into the basement. A pry bar is helpful when you need to access to locked areas.

Getting Caught Outside

If you get caught outside when a nuclear attack occurs, you need to take the appropriate action. Should you be within 20 miles of the blast zone, find a depressed area and lay flat on the ground inside it. If you don’t have a depressed area around you and you have time, then dig.

It is important that you make sure as little skin as possible is exposed and open your mouth to reduce the pressure on your eardrums. You might have to lay and wait for a few minutes before the shock wave and heat reach you, so be patient and stay put. When you can move again, get to shelter immediately.

When you go in from outside, you need to decontaminate yourself. Start by removing all your clothing. This eliminates as much as 90% of any radiation contamination. Put this clothing in a sealed plastic bag and place it as far away from humans as possible. Then you need to shower and wash your hair. But avoid using conditioner, as it will help bind radiation to your hair.

If you are unable to shower, then wipe your skin down with a wet cloth. Blow your nose gently and wash your eyelids and ears. Be careful not to rub any skin too hard or break it, otherwise radiation can enter the body more easily.

Necessary Supplies

There is also gear and equipment you can buy that will help protect you from radiation. From protective clothing to radiation detection, you will need a few extra items in your preps to be sure you can survive a nuclear attack.

Potassium Iodide Pills

A dosimeter will tell you how much cumulative radiation you have been exposed to.

If you can get your hands on potassium iodide pills, stock some. These will protect the thyroid against the absorption of radioactive iodine. These are especially useful for infants and children. Adults over the age of 40 are less susceptible to the effects of radiation exposure of the thyroid and should only take potassium iodide if their exposure to radiation is severe.

Geiger Counter & Dosimeter

You need a way to measure radiation levels. A Geiger counter will measure the level of radiation in your environment, including on surfaces. This will help you know where it is safe to go once you can go outside again.

You also need to know how much radiation you have been exposed to. A dosimeter is a type of radiation detector that you can easily wear or carry. It will record cumulative exposure so you know how much exposure you have had over time.

Full Face CBRN Gas Mask

Otherwise known as an Air Purifying Respirator, a gas mask is an essential piece of equipment during a nuclear attack. If you have one and wear it, it will protect you from inhaling or ingesting nuclear radiation. Make sure the mask has a tight seal and is made from CBRN resistant rubber like butyl. The best gas masks for nuclear fallout also have speech diaphragms so you can easily be heard, and drinking systems so you can stay hydrated while on the move. 

Eye Protection

If your gas mask does not have eye protection, then you will need goggles. Ensure the goggles fit properly and form a good seal with your skin.

Nuclear Fallout Suit

A nuclear fallout suit, or nuclear radiation suit, is essentially a Hazmat suit that is made with materials that will help shield against radiation. The suit can be made from any combination of materials such as fabric, rubber, lead, boron, and activated carbon. The suits are best at protecting against Alpha and Beta particles, but can offer some protection against gamma radiation, as well.

Gloves & Footwear

If gloves do not come with your suit, then use thick gloves. Butyl gloves are ideal because they offer increased protection over rubber. The same can be said for footwear. Biochem over-boots are the best option.

Donning and Doffing Your Gear

A person in a protective suit and gas mask being sprayed down for decontamination.

Having the proper radiation suit, gas mask, and gear can save your life.

To stay as safe as possible during a nuclear attack, you need to know how to put your nuclear hazard suit on and take it off.


When you put your suit on, make sure of the following:

  1. The suit MUST be the proper size for your body.
  2. Put the suit on, legs first and then arms. Do NOT put the hood up yet.
  3. Put on your gas mask and eye protection. Ensure these are secure.
  4. Pull up the hood.
  5. Fully zip the suit.
  6. Put on your gloves and foot covers. It is a good idea to double up your gloves, wearing a pair of surgical gloves beneath the butyl gloves.
  7. Squat and stretch in the suit to ensure it fits properly.
  8. Seal the gloves, foot covers, and mask to your suit with duct tape to ensure everything is well sealed.

Taking off your suit is more complicated. Remember that it might be contaminated with radiation and you don’t want to touch it. As you do all the steps included here you must never touch the outside of the suit with your bare hands or any bare skin. Do the following to remove the suit:

  1. Remove any tape sealing the suit.
  2. Unzip the suit and take the hood down.
  3. Reach behind you to pull the suit back and remove one of your arms. The butyl glove will come off with it. Allow the arm of the suit to go inside out as you pull your arm out of it.
  4. Reaching inside the suit with your ungloved hand, pull the other sleeve off your arm. Again, allow the butyl glove to come off and the sleeve to turn inside out.
  5. Roll the suit down the body, pushing off the foot covers as you go.
  6. Touching the inside of the suit, bundle it up and put it in a plastic or biohazard bag.
  7. To remove the gas mask and eye protection, you must grasp the equipment in an area that was covered by the hood of the suit and pull it off.


Please remember that even when you are wearing the proper gear, there is no guarantee that you won’t be exposed to radiation. If the levels of radiation are high or you are exposed for a long period of time, you can still get radiation sickness. So, be sure to limit your exposure time as much as possible.

Surviving a Nuclear War IS Possible

Provided you are not at ground zero or too close to it and you have the right equipment and plan, you can survive a nuclear attack. Be sure to have a means of communication. Have your cell phone on you in case service is still up and running. Also have a radio and listen for updates.

In the end, no one really knows a lot about surviving a nuclear war, particularly with the nuclear warheads that exist today. While we have seen the results of Hiroshima and Chernobyl, the fire power and technology that exists today is massive. There is no way we can know for sure what will happen to humanity if multiple warheads are released.

While we hope we never have to find out how survivable a nuclear war is, the best plan is to be as prepared as possible. If you think of anything we missed, please feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

Comment (1)

  • Anonymous Reply

    I Play Fallout 4, and I reckon this guide would be better than the game.

    July 21, 2020 at 22:15

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