Is it possible to live through the immediate effects of a nuclear explosion? Will you die instantly, or will your demise be slow and painful? It might be a morbid thought, but knowing how a nuclear explosion affects the body and how to protect yourself could save your life if you are unfortunate enough to experience an atomic bomb.
Many factors determine how a nuclear blast would affect you. The size of the bomb, whether it explodes in the air or on the ground, the geographical layout of where the bomb hits, how far away you are from ground zero, and what types of buildings and materials are nearby all play into how a nuclear attack could affect you.
At 5 Miles, You Can Permanently Lose Hearing
Even though journalist John Hersey described the blast of an atomic bomb as a "noiseless flash," the air blast can be deafeningly loud. Since light travels faster than sound, you may become flash-blind in a 5-mile radius before your hearing is affected.
If you are farther than 5 miles from the blast, your hearing could still be affected. You could get tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. Studies show people who suffer hearing damage from even small explosions can experience hearing problems for years, if not life.
At 7 Miles, You May Still Suffer Lethal Burns
At a little less than 7 miles away, nuclear blasts send out a flood of ultraviolet light. This intense light can burn people so severely, it disables their limbs - something that may lead to medical amputation down the line.
These ultraviolet burns from thermal radiation happen so quickly that victims often don't feel any pain - the light destroys pain nerves before they can feel the damage. You likely wouldn't feel your body being severely burned, even if you did go into shock from the experience.
Flash Blindness Can Cause Damage Up To 53 Miles Away
The most lethal effects of a nuclear bomb happen within a 10-mile radius of the blast site, but that doesn't mean everyone outside this zone comes out unscathed. Temporary flash blindness can occur in people up to 53 miles away from ground zero.
While the condition can clear up in a few minutes, the problem with flash blindness is it doesn't only happen to people in houses or sitting down comfortably. Anyone who looks directly at the blast while driving a car will be unable to see, meaning many people on the road could be instantly driving blind. In this moment, those drivers can cause serious damage to themselves and others. Even if the blast isn't affecting your body directly, its effects could lead to injury or death.
If you are closer to the blast and look directly into the explosion, the flash can focus through your eyes' lenses, causing your retinas to burn. Retinal burns, or photic retinopathy, can permanently damage eyesight.
Most Technology Will Not Be Able To Help You
In the case of a nuclear explosion, there is an effect created called an electromagnetic pulse, or an EMP. The nuclear blast generates this short burst of electromagnetic energy, which can cause voltage surges or disruptions in many pieces of technology.
These pulses happen quickly, and they can cause electronic devices to turn off or become permanently damaged and disabled. This could prove lethal for people with pacemakers or any other sort of technology keeping them alive.
You wouldn't be able to call for help because your cellphone would be knocked out, too. Some experts say a nuclear bomb makes it dangerous to get into a car. It's also worth noting that, depending on how high above the ground a nuclear weapon detonates, the EMP pulse could span hundreds of miles.