The safest places to be in a nuclear attack

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Fears that the Ukraine conflict could spiral into a nuclear war have led many to consider what might be their safest plan of action if the worst was to happen.

A new study published in the Physics of Fluids journal examines the safest places to take shelter within a building should a devastating attack occur. 

Researchers from the University of Nicosia in Cyprus used advanced computer modelling to investigate what impact a 750-kiloton-rated nuclear blast wave would have on humans inside a building close to the fictional attack.

Their results suggested that “even if you’re hiding indoors” and relatively far from the explosion, the blast’s high-speed winds “could still be enough to kill or seriously injure you”, reported the tech and science site Gizmodo

As a consequence, the most dangerous places to hide are likely to be “in the direct vicinity of the windows, door openings, and hallways, since this is where the air will be most funnelled through in the shockwave”. 

Following the same logic, the study concluded that the best place to shelter would be “in a sturdy building at the far end of the room from any door or window, and ideally in a corner”, added Newsweek

In a statement, study author Ioannis Kokkinakis explained that “even in the front room facing the explosion, one can be safe from the high airspeeds if positioned at the corners of the wall facing the blast”. 

Safest buildings, an official website of the US government, advises that people “get inside the nearest building to avoid radiation” should nuclear sirens suddenly sound – but not all buildings offer equal protection. 

Concrete-reinforced buildings are generally thought to be the safest option as they would “largely remain intact” should a blast occur – however “not necessarily everyone inside them would survive”, said Gizmodo. Even within concrete-reinforced buildings, high airspeeds remain hazardous “and can still result in severe injuries or even fatalities”, added study author Dimitris Drikakis.

Once inside a building, advises survivors of a nuclear blast to go to the basement or middle of the structure and “remove contaminated clothing and wipe off or wash unprotected skin if you were outside after the fallout arrived”.

If you are outdoors and there are no nearby buildings when the explosion occurs “take cover from the blast behind anything that might offer protection”, the website recommends. “Lie face down to protect exposed skin from the heat and flying debris,” or if you are in a vehicle, “stop safely, and duck down within the vehicle”.

Protect and Survive, a UK public information campaign dating back to the 1980s, says that if you live in a block of flats five storeys high or more, it is best not to shelter on the top two floors. “The basement or ground floor will give you the best protection,” it states. “Central corridors on lower floors will provide good protection.”

For city-dwellers, the best places to shelter include underground spaces, reported Newsweek. “One would be much safer if they could get to an underground purpose-built blast or fallout shelter,” Jack L. Rozdilsky, an associate professor of disaster and emergency management at York University in Canada, told the site. “Even locations like basements of buildings or deep sections of subway tunnels would provide better protection than being in buildings above the surface.”

In July 2022, the Daily Express reported that the safest places in the UK would be those furthest from major cities. The 20 locations recommended included Cornwall, Folkestone, Skegness and Anglesey.

Safest countries

A study in August last year found that the countries with the best hope of at least seeing their civilisation survive during the ten years after a nuclear war would be Argentina and Australia.

The reason they, and several countries across central Africa, would be able to maintain life was because “they already grew more resistant crops, such as wheat, in large quantities and also had low populations”, said The Times.

However, “it wouldn’t be necessarily peaches and cream” for Australia, said Professor Alan Robock, from Rutgers University in New Jersey, because “you can imagine there will be flotillas of hungry refugees from Asia on their way there”.

So perhaps you could consider Iceland? The Smart Survivalist named the Nordic country as the safest place in the event of a nuclear war. “Because Iceland is isolated from the rest of the world by the North Atlantic Ocean, it would be very difficult for a nuclear missile to reach Iceland without being detected first,” it said.

Also, it added, Iceland generates all of its electricity from geothermal sources, so even if the entire electrical grid went down, Iceland “would still have power thanks to its natural hot springs”.

The site also noted that Canada has a “large landmass and population spread out over a wide area”, making it “less likely that a single nuclear strike could wipe out the entire country”.

Modelling by The Guardian in 2016 found that “should atomic annihilation be on the cards”, one of the safest places to live would be Antarctica, because the “sub-zero continent” is “miles from anywhere”, or Easter Island in the South Pacific, which is more than 2,000 miles from South America.

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