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Can you survive a nuclear war?

Can you survive a nuclear war?

Today we want to deal with a very difficult and complex topic: Is it realistic to survive a nuclear war? This question arises for many people who are thinking about whether it makes sense to take precautions against such a disaster. To do this, we first have to deal with a few basic facts that play a major role in answering the above-mentioned question.

Who has nuclear weapons and under what circumstances are they used?

Since the first use of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the technology of making these weapons has become much more widespread. In the meantime, there are 9 de facto nuclear powers in the world, some other states are also researching this technology (mostly secretly). The largest nuclear powers, by number of weapons, are Russia and the United States (both have about 5,000 operational warheads each). It is important to understand that a nuclear warhead always needs a delivery medium with which it is brought to a target. These can be e.g. airplanes or missiles of different ranges. Many of the existing warheads, in turn, are only intended for certain operational scenarios.

It can therefore be assumed that the number of warheads deployed in each case would be significantly lower than the number of those theoretically available in the depots.

The operational doctrine of most nuclear powers provides for the unlimited use of nuclear weapons only in the event of massive military attacks on their territory, or in response to a full-scale enemy nuclear strike. This so-called “balance of terror” means a high inhibition threshold for large-scale deployment, since a nuclear counterstrike would also mean far-reaching destruction and annihilation at home.

Low-threshold use of smaller nuclear weapons (especially so-called tactical nuclear weapons with shorter range and effect) tends to be more likely, as these might not result in a massive counterstrike. Numerous experts warn that this will be a quite likely scenario in the future. In addition, these weapons have the “advantage” (from a military point of view) that the affected area of operation is less destroyed and irradiated and thus later also usable for a conqueror.

Another possible scenario is the use of nuclear weapons by completely unpredictable authoritarian states such as North Korea, which elude any international norms and rules. These states have only a very limited number of nuclear weapons, but nevertheless, some long-range rockets with which, for example, Europe can also be targeted.

Unfortunately, recent geopolitical developments have shown that the possibility of using nuclear weapons is becoming more realistic again.

What would be the impact of a nuclear war?

As described above, nuclear wars could take place in very different scenarios. Apart from the fact that any scenario would be a huge human disaster and tragedy, the number of weapons used is decisive, and, of course, the targets of these weapons. Since the invention of the atomic bomb, there have been more than 2000 nuclear weapon detonations worldwide, the vast majority of them as weapons tests. A scenario of an unlimited nuclear war, with the deployment of many thousands of warheads in a short period of time, would arguably have an effect on the entire world. In addition to the direct effects of the weapons in the target areas, large fires would probably temporarily darken the atmosphere and cause a drop in temperature for years (nuclear winter), and radioactive dust would also cause large-scale radiation for years. A breakdown of infrastructure and order in the directly affected target areas would also be expected.

On the other hand, limited use of nuclear weapons (certainly the more likely scenario) would also be much more limited in its effect. Here, the global impact on nature, the atmosphere, as well as on infrastructure and social order would be significantly lower.

How do nuclear weapons work?

The arsenals of the nuclear powers include completely different nuclear weapons for a wide variety of purposes. For example, there are nuclear missiles with a short range of up to a few hundred kilometers (so-called tactical nuclear weapons) and also large intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with ranges of up to 15,000 km. The strength of nuclear weapons is expressed in “kilotons” or “megatons” as the equivalent of the conventional explosive TNT. The warheads that can be used today typically range from strengths of a few kilotons to a maximum of 3 megatons. The deployment scenarios envisage transporting the nuclear weapons to their target with rockets, aircraft, or artillery pieces. There, they are usually ignited a few hundred meters above the ground.

The effect consists of an enormous pressure wave, extreme heat development, as well as radioactive radiation. While pressure waves and heat only act at the time of the explosion, the dangerous radioactive radiation (especially gamma radiation) for up to 10 days after the time of use.

Of course, the effects described above differ greatly, depending on the strength of the nuclear weapon. The affected area also varies greatly, from a radius of a few hundred to dozens of kilometers.

How to protect yourself from nuclear weapons?

It is very unlikely that a nuclear weapon is aimed directly at a civilian target such as a private shelter, for this these weapons are, in the military understanding, far too “valuable” and too rare. Thus, most people in a country attacked by nuclear weapons will be more likely to be “indirect targets”, especially if they live near military installations, major cities, or other important places, for example.

In an underground shelter, you have a good chance of survival against nuclear weapons that explode nearby. A solid, underground concrete room with special doors protects against the blast wave, as well as against the extreme short-term heat of the explosion. In addition, a shelter must also have a special NBC ventilation system that can be used to filter radioactive dust from the air we breathe. In the shelter, you are also protected from radioactive radiation. The shelter should not be left for about 3-10 days, as during this period the gamma radiation has usually decreased to a safe level. Therefore, a bunker should also have supplies (drinking water and food) to be supplied for a few days.


Unfortunately, as horrific as the idea of nuclear war may be, it is a realistic scenario. Even alliances, disarmament, and peace efforts cannot and have not been able to rule it out so far. On the contrary, unfortunately, experts consider the danger of the use of nuclear weapons to be higher than it has been since the “Cold War”, especially the danger of limited use of tactical nuclear weapons, or by unpredictable states such as North Korea.

A nuclear war will not necessarily mean the end of the world and the end of humanity, survival is possible, even if one’s own country or region is directly affected.

However, precaution is crucial.

In some countries, governments are taking precautions and promoting the construction of bunkers for their citizens. In many other countries, on the other hand, there is no state provision.

Political developments can happen very quickly and those who have not taken precautions will probably not have time for them at the decisive moment.

Our shelters can effectively protect you and your loved ones because prevention can save lives.