Friday, November 13, 2015

Nuclear Strike of the Month (November 2015): Target The Day After

The Day After (1983)
Note on the Nuclear Strike of the Month Series: In this series I want to illustrate various ways attacks using nuclear weapons can play out.  I will be using Dr. Alex Wellerstein's online NUKEMAP tool to generate the estimates of the blast and follow-on effects and we'll be turning to concepts found in Nuclear Emergencies to help evaluate consequences.

My rationale is to show a wide range of nuclear attack scenarios short of all-out thermonuclear war. The idea is to give readers a feel for the destructive power of nuclear weapons, provide scenarios as thought experiments for your own planning, and to discuss what nuclear weapons can and (sometimes more importantly) what nuclear weapons can't do.

For a variety of reasons, it is my opinion we will see nuclear weapons used in warfare sometime between now and 2030. We might as well brush up on the basics. 

Nuclear Strike of the Month:  The Day After

This month we will pick up where the other Nuclear Strike of the Month scenarios left off - the day after the detonation. We'll focus more on the "Thoughts and Plans" section rather than the attack scenario this time.

I am shamelessly pulling the title from the 1983 TV Movie of the same name. I recall watching it as a young teenager in complete horrified fascination. If you find yourself with a few hours to kill, it is well worth your time to watch, if nothing else than for a snapshot of the way sociopolitical issues around nuclear war were being communicated in the early 1980's :

The Scenario
In keeping with the spirit of the TV Movie, this scenario will begin with a strategic nuclear strike on Kansas City. We will then discuss not so much the attack itself, but what steps might you have been able to take prior to the attack and what survivors on the ground would face in the aftermath.

Any attack like the one envisioned here would almost certainly be part of a much larger series of strategic attacks on the United States (and we should assume, a significant retaliatory strike upon the country. I'm using nominal yields of 1 MT for the attacks.

The Attack

Kansas City was struck across the entire metro area. The Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail yards, the downtown airport, and the bridges over the Missouri River were primary targets. To the north, the Kansas City International Airport was hit as well. To the south, the National Nuclear Security Administration's National Security Campus (known better as the Kansas City Plant), where non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons packages are fabricated, was another target, receiving a groundburst, in an attempt to destroy any subterranean facilities.

NOTE: The permanent link to the attack scenario in NUKEMAP for some reason resets all the attacks as groundbursts, so if you follow the link and see the extra fallout paths, along with less (initial) casualties, it is an artifact of the program. Feel free to tinker with the scenario as you see fit.
Four nuclear detonations over Kansas City, Missouri (1 MT each)
The Aftermath
The estimated death toll is just under 800,000 dead immediately, around a quarter-million injured - and this leaves out the further effects of radiation sickness from either the initial blast or from ingesting fallout, nor does it address hunger and thirst.

As a reminder, here are what the color codes mean for the blast effects:
And the effects of the fallout:

The effects on infrastructure are quite severe. Kansas City is the second largest rail hub in the United States. The major rail yards would be utterly destroyed. All the major bridges over the Missouri River would be destroyed as well. Kansas City serves as a major center for intermodal and trucking transport - that would be shot as well.

Most of the major hospitals in the region are located in the blast zone - KU Med, St. Luke's, Truman Medical Center, the VA Medical Center on 35th Street, along with uncounted clinics and pharmacies.

Schools, water utilities, power utilities, power lines, fiber-optic cabling, cell phone towers would all be devastated. Knock-on effects on the entire regional power grid, whether from the disruption of power supply and infrastructure or from EMP blast effects, would almost certainly down power for cities and towns hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

The fallout pattern looks sickly similar to what we saw when we modeled the destruction of Whiteman Air Force Base back in August. The effects on farmland, the lower Missouri River watershed, and roads and railways outside the initial blast zone are also tremendous. Plus, we have to think, if we are in a total or near-total war scenario, if Kansas City is getting hit, so is Whiteman AFB, and probably St. Louis.

Thoughts and Plans
For this kind of massive attack scenario, one should expect to have at least some sense of impending world crisis prior to the missiles flying. While a massive attack out of the blue can't be completely ruled out, this adds so many variables that you might as well not leave your fallout shelter if this truly worries you.

I recommend you check out this resource for your reading, thinking, and planning pleasure. One caveat - they are trying to sell you stuff. That said, my review of the materials is that they line up quite well with nuclear war civilian survival planning documents for the last several decades. At a minimum you should at least think about the six main points they talk to.

Education and thought is key here and in a post-attack situation you will need to be able to adjust on the fly. For instance, the website in the link above sells, among other things, potassium iodide tablets. Well, let's say you didn't prepare, or you get caught away from  your home or shelter and believe a fallout cloud is going to settle on you. One of the key dangers in the early days post-attack is the ingestion of I-131, a radioactive isotope which will go to your thryoid and cause illness or death in large doses. By taking a potassium iodide tablet, your body would take the iodine from the tablet and load your thyroid, meaning not much radioactive iodine can latch on, thus protecting you (from that particular isotope - NOT any of the others). Well, in the U.S. at least, almost all the commercial salt sold to restaurants and grocery stores is "iodized salt" - so in an emergency scenario, find a salt shaker and iodize yourself. While not perfect, it is something.

Plans are one thing. Keeping your head in panicky situation and handling it well is something entirely different.

Regarding your personal situation, nuclear attack survival planning is dependent upon several factors, listed from what I regard as the most important down to least important:

  • Are you in an area which is targeted?
  • Is the wind blowing fallout towards you or away from you?
  • Is the wind blowing fallout towards or away from a reservoir or river you depend on? 

Your Neighbors
  • Do you have good working relations with your neighbors? 
  • Are they generally as prepared as you are?
  • Have you worked with them in the past as part of a group effort, whether in a civic organization or local government? 
  • Which ones are veterans?
  • Which ones are cops? Firefighters? Belong to the National Guard?
  • Which ones own firearms?
  • Do you trust them?
  • Do you live in an area with a history of violent ethnic tensions?

Your Preparations
  • Are you prepared? If you had to blink for the slightest second at that question, please head over to this FEMA resource and see if your preparations meet their suggestions for getting ready before an attack.
  • If you do not have a fallout shelter, where is your designated shelter? Is it in your home? At a local center or shelter?
  • If you are relying on your home, say a basement, do you require a sump pump to keep it dry? What happens when the entire power grid goes down for an extended period of time?
  • Do you have enough water? If you quickly answered yes, you are lying to yourself. You will need more water than you ever imagined. If you do not believe this, conduct a "stress test" of your emergency preparations. Pick a three-day weekend and shut off the power and water to your house. Survive on your supplies. Stay in your home or yard (whatever you think the scenario is you want to test). See what you think of your prepping after three full days.
Your Proximity to Federal or State Government Power Centers
Being close to major power centers can be a blessing and a curse. The elites will need their technocrats, soldiers, and workers able to serve them. This should lead to at least some level of shelter and supply.

On the flip side, the elites will get all "eggs must be broken to make our omelets" and that might mean a lot of razor wire fences, deportations, and shots fired.

In the Medium Term

Longer term issues begin to arise in the weeks and months post-attack. Reading through civil defense documents from an era such as the 1950's, there are often assumptions that city folks, or at least a big fraction of them, can leave town and find shelter with friends and/or family back on the farm. Well, those days are long over. Rural America has been strip-mined by corporate agriculture practices. There is no longer a huge network of mixed-product farms where at least some fraction of calories can be grown locally. The soils have been worked so hard that even carving up these large plots means a soil without the necessary microbes and organic matter to grow much of anything without inputs in the form of bulk fertilizers, anhydrous ammonia, chemical pesticides, etc. 

This has real implications. Urban life will be severely disrupted for a very long time. Historically in times or war or collapse, urban centers have suffered and rural areas (at least the ones not caught in a war zone or in the path of brigands or a leaderless mob that was once an army) have managed to survive. Would that be the case now? The bridge from here to there has to span an enormous learning curve. In our quest for efficiency and specialization, vast skillsets have been lost by the bulk of the population. Growing food for real, as in, you and your kids will eat what you grow or you will actually starve, is hard. Very hard. Learning it on the fly, worrying about fallout getting in the food chain, etc. These would be tough.

And that is just the aspect of food. Play out similar scenarios for getting the basics of life without reliable transportation networks or electricity. Hospitals and clinics would become little more than places where the sick could be made a little more comfortable and where amputation would make a comeback. Infection would kill those who now can just go to a pharmacy and get a $10 prescription for keflex.

Lastly, always remember, success and survival is a team sport. You can't watch your own back every hour of every day. If all your neighbors decide to vote and come over with their rifles and redistribute your year's supply of food, where does it leave you? Unless you've volunteered it, it leaves you at a minimum and outcast and quite possibly dead. Your neighbors, your family, your friends - these people can help you survive trying times. They'll all be suffering as well. There is strength in numbers. Yes, I know, groups of people are a pain in the ass. Just figuring out the agenda for a Lodge meeting, or coming up with a speaker and menu for a civic group luncheon can be trying - how much worse would it be in a disaster scenario? Granted - but we have evolved as social animals. It is what it is.

Clown Show Disclaimer 
Due to the subject matter of this post, it will be necessary to provide the following disclaimer. Blog posts like this tend to bring out comment trolls ready to gin up the Clown Show of name-calling, knee-jerk willful misinterpretation, and angry discourse generating much sound and fury, but which in the end, signifies nothing. Such comments will be deleted. 

I am not promoting nuclear war. I am not attempting to wish such an attack upon any population anywhere.  I am attempting to provide a plausible scenario which might lead to the use of nuclear weapons. My expectation is that you will use this scenario to war game whatever plans you may be putting into place to deal with this new era we find ourselves in and see if you are as ready as you hope.

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