For the last several months, we’ve watched as the rhetoric out of North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, has grown more and more belligerent. While aggressiveness out of the small nation is nothing new, it has in recent times been coupled with a vast investment in increased nuclear and missile technology. They are specifically threatening the United States of America with a ballistic nuclear strike, although we are not alone in being recipients of their threats; both South Korea and Japan appear to be on their target list as well.
In the summer of 2016, North Korea was believed to have an estimated 18 to 21 nuclear warheads, adding to their inventory at a rate of 4 to 6 per year. While nothing when compared to the thousands that the United States and Russia have, or even the 260 that China has, if launched in a preemptive strike, they could take the hearts out of 20 or more cities in their targeted county.
There are several questions that still remain about North Korea’s nuclear and missile capability, specifically about their ability to mate a nuclear warhead to their missiles, which apparently requires “miniaturizing” the warhead. Nevertheless, with them conducting one missile test per week, it’s clear that their technology is improving rapidly. It’s also clear that the rogue regime is bent on unleashing nuclear hell upon the world, regardless of the cost.
North Korea’s most recent missile test (as of this writing), on the 4th of July, 2017, was a direct slap in the face of Uncle Sam, intentionally scheduled to be on our Independence Day. This Hwasong-14 missile, the first of its type, landed over 900 km from its launch site, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff. This put it into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, making it a real threat to the Japanese as well. The 37 minute flight time of the missile would have been enough for it to reach an altitude of 2,800 km, giving the missile a total range of 8,000 km or more. That would allow it to reach Alaska, Hawaii and possibly Seattle as well.
This is North Korea’s first true ICBM and it performed well on its maiden flight. Considering how their missiles weren’t even flying just a few short months ago, this development shows the massive effort that they are putting into their missile program. This is the type of effort that any country typically puts into new military technology when they are expecting war to break out any minute.
This successful launch creates a very real threat to the world and to us here in the United States. It clearly won’t be long until North Korea and their unstable government is a true nuclear power, in the worst possible sense of that term.
Besides the Hwasong-14, North Korea also has the Pukkuksong-1, a submarine launched nuclear ballistic missile. As of this writing, they only have one nuclear ballistic sub in service, but a second one appears about ready to launch. This gives Kim Jong-un a much bigger stick, even though the Pukkusksong-1 only has a 500 km range and the sub can only carry two of them. But even with that, launched from the Gulf of Mexico, it could take out targets in all of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and about half of Texas. Launched from either the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, it could take out even bigger targets on the East and West Coasts, including Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, DC.
Any such attack would bring instant retaliation from the United States, and our much larger arsenal. But that doesn’t seem to be any worry to North Korea’s leadership, which claims that they can win a nuclear war against us. Hopefully, we’ll never find out the answer to that question.
War Options for North Korea
I am not an expert military strategist, but rather a survival strategist. But I did serve as an officer in the U.S. Army. Growing up in the Cold War and getting my start as a survivalist during that time, I invested what time I could into learning about nuclear war. So, while I am no expert, I’m not ignorant on the subject either.
North Korea has always taken the role of being the aggressor. In 1950, they attacked South Korea, kicking off the Korean War, which lasted three years. That war, which was fought to a standstill in 1953, leading to an armistice between the warring powers and the division of the Korean peninsula into the two countries we know today. But before that could happened, combined US and South Korean forces had all but beat the North Koreans, pushing them all the way back to the Yalu River, North Korea’s border with China. Had the Chinese not intervened, North Korea would have been beaten.
Since then, North Korean forces have crossed the DMZ more than 70 times, attacking into South Korea. While some of these were nothing more than short-range missiles or shots fired across the DMZ into South Korea, others involved small groups of troops crossing the border. Clearly North Korea has taken on the role of the aggressor, regardless of what their propaganda says.
Nuclear arms and ballistic missiles greatly expand the North Korean’s options. They are no longer limited to surface warfare against the South, they can also attach them at a distance, with missiles, as well as attacking Japan or the United States. Depending on the type of attack they decide to conduct, they could either destroy the grid with an EMP or take out major cities with conventional nuclear warfare.
Even within the realm of conventional nuclear warfare, it’s hard to say what they would do. While we know they have nuclear bombs, and their missiles are intended to carry those bombs, we don’t really know their size or capability. Nor do we know if they are clean neutron bombs or dirty bombs.
EMP would be the worst option for us, shutting down and destroying a large part of our electrical grid, if not all of it. That would result in the deaths of as much as 90 percent of our population, according to the report of the EMP Commission. Dirty bombs would actually be a step up from that, even with the mass killings and contamination of the affected areas until well past our lifetimes.
While it’s impossible to know what Pyongyang is thinking, they’ve made it clear that nuclear warfare is on the table, as far as they’re concerned. Apparently, the idea of their own country being destroyed in a retaliatory strike is not a concern to them. Either that, or they’ve read us so wrong as to think that we would not retaliate in some manner.
Perhaps that would have happened under Obama’s presidency, as he hated the United States anyway, but I don’t see any way that Donald Trump allowing such an attack to go unpunished. While I am not sure that he would retaliate with a nuclear barrage, turning their country into a parking lot and sending in the Marines afterwards, to paint the stripes, he would not simply allow the North Korean government to attack us and kill our citizens, without some sort of appropriate response; most likely, one aimed at their military and government.
But we want to talk about how to survive such an attack, not what our government would do. You and I really don’t have much influence on that, but we do need to survive, should such an occurrence happen.
Conventional Nuclear War
There is a lot written about surviving the potential problems of an EMP both by me and by others. But hardly anyone talks about conventional nuclear war anymore. Yet that is a possibility that we might have to contend with. Planning only for an EMP, without planning for the other possibilities could be disastrous, so I want to talk about that. I’ve written about EMP elsewhere.
When I was young, thermonuclear war with the now defunct Soviet Union was the big danger. That’s actually what got me started as a survivalist. So this is an area I’m rather comfortable with, in an age where few are even considering it a possibility.
The only nuclear bombs which have ever been used in warfare were used against Japan, ending World War II. The two bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, both cities with important military targets, caused such great destruction, that it horrified the world. That horror has protected us for 70 years from such a thing happening again. But that time may be nearing an end.
There are three primary effects of a nuclear explosion: heat, radiation and the blast wave, which manifests in high winds. Each of these there has the ability to cause massive destruction.
ICBMs are not fused to explode at ground level, but rather before hitting the ground. That way, their effect covers a wider area, killing more people and destroying more buildings. At ground level, some of the blast would be absorbed by the ground and the heat, wind and radiation coming from the bomb would have to pass through buildings, before getting to other buildings, farther out.
Upon the instant of destruction, massive amounts of radiation are released, which travel outwards from the epicenter at light speed, striking everything in their path out to the horizon. People who are miles away from the blast epicenter itself can be hit by this radiation, causing burns and radiation sickness. The only saving grace for those people, is the distance they live from the blast. The farther out, the more the radiation is diluted, as the rays travel in straight lines. So they will get a smaller dose of radiation.
Heat from the explosion would create a fireball that was 20,000°F, hotter than the surface of the sun. everything within the fireball would be instantly vaporized by this extreme heat, even the surface of the Earth. This heat would radiate out from the fireball, burning buildings, melting metal structures and killing people. Everything that could burn within a sixteen mile radius of the blast would catch fire.
That heat would be carried along by the gale-force winds created by the explosion. Just outside the fireball, winds would be over 600 miles per hour, enough to destroy any man-made structure. While that would gradually die, at ten miles the wind speed would still be over 200 miles per hour, which would destroy homes, offices and factories. Only the strongest of buildings would have any chance of survival.
One would have to be quite a distance from the epicenter of the blast or hidden well underground in a bunker to survive such a blast. Even outside the radius mentioned above, many people would be injured by flying debris, burnt by the heat from the explosion and blinded by the flash of light. Those who were not, would have the risk of radiation sickness to contend with.
Prepping for a Nuclear Explosion
Your probability of surviving a nuclear explosion is directly related to your distance from the epicenter. People who are close to the explosion will have no chance at all. Those farther out will be able to take some measures to help ensure their survival. So where you live is an important factor in surviving this war.
If you live in a major city or near an important military target, your risk of dying is drastically increased. Probably the worst cities to live in, as far as an attack from North Korea is concerned, are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. Those are the largest, closest targets for Pyongyang to attack. Of course, if they decide to attack from their nuclear sub, the list grows greatly, including any major city within about 300 miles of the coast.
Moving away from the center of the city and to the outskirts would increase your chances of survival, as it is fairly safe to assume that the bomb would be targeted at the downtown area. But you’d be better off if you could move to a smaller town. It is unlikely that Kim Jong-un would want to waste one of his few missiles and bombs on a smaller town. He’ll want to get the most bang for his buck that he can.
Assuming that you’re living far enough away from the epicenter to survive the initial blast, you’ll need to get to shelter and stay there for about 14 days, avoiding the fallout. So you will need supplies prepared and ready to take into that shelter. One way to handle this is to prepare yourself a shelter, stocked with supplies. The other is to pack a large backpack, stuffed with non-perishable food, water and other basic necessities that will be essential during that time.
Building a Fallout Shelter
The best shelters for surviving a nuclear blast and the fallout to follow is an underground bunker. The packed ground around the shelter would be some of the best protection against radiation you could find. If you could build it so that the ceiling was at least three feet below ground level, that would be best. But don’t build it with the ceiling more than 10 feet below ground level, in case you have to dig your way out.
Ideally, a shelter for nuclear explosions should ideally be made out of reinforced concrete, with the walls one to three feet thick. This is the specification that the Swiss use, who are considered to be the world’s experts on nuclear shelter design.
The reason for such strong construction is for protection from the radiation, as well as protection from the damage caused by the wind. Even so, the majority of the radiation protection comes from the ground itself, which makes an excellent radiation shield. But that doesn’t help against flying debris, which will come from any nearby structures that can easily be destroyed. In addition, there is the risk of them falling upon a weak underground structure and crushing it.
If you can’t build an underground concrete bunker, then prepare yourself a shelter in your basement. Determine which wall is most likely to be facing the blast, and build the shelter up against it. You’ll want the strongest walls you can construct; but more importantly, you’ll want overhead protection from the house collapsing, so that the material does not fall down on you.
Make sure that ventilation for your shelter is protected from gamma radiation and fallout. For this, you don’t want it on the side facing the blast. Nor do you want any openings facing straight up into the sky. Rather, you want the opening parallel to the ground, so that the opening is protected from fallout entering. Add a manually cranked blower, to allow you to move fresh air in and stale air out.
Surviving a Nuclear Explosion
Assuming that you survive the initial explosion, the flash of it will be your warning that it happened. As that and the radiation travel at the speed of light, they are much faster than the blast wave, which is moving at 600 miles per hour, and is your biggest immediate concern. Use the seconds you have to get into shelter, either your underground bunker or your basement bomb shelter. If you are not near those, get down on the ground, behind a concrete wall.
The old slogan they taught us to protect ourselves was to “duck and cover.” This is still good advice, not so much to protect you from the radiation, but to protect you from flying debris. So, lay down as close to your cement wall as you can, covering your head with your hands and crossing your legs. Wait there until the blast wave has passed.
Once the blast wave has passed, watch out for falling objects. Like a tornado, the blast wave will drop all sorts of debris in its wake. You want to avoid being hit by this debris, if possible.
There will be a second, lesser blast of wind, as the wind returns back to the epicenter of the explosion. This is what causes the characteristic mushroom cloud shape. But there will be some seconds between the two. Take that time to get to better shelter, if you can. Remember that this second blast of wind will be coming from the other direction. It won’t be as strong, but it could still carry debris with it.
Surviving the Fallout
Fallout is dust and ash from the burnt area inside the fireball, with nuclear material attached to it. There is actually very little mass lost in a nuclear explosion. But along with everything else that gets destroyed by the nuclear explosion, the radioactive material used to create the explosion is destroyed, blown into dust sized particles. These attach themselves to the dust and ash and eventually fall back towards the ground.
Fallout can travel a considerable distance, especially when it is carried by the faster winds that exist higher up in the atmosphere. While the greatest concentration of fallout will come down within the first 24 hours, it will continue falling for as much as two weeks, so it will be necessary to be prepared to stay in your shelter for 14 days.
Fallout can contain all three types of radiation: alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays. While alpha and beta can only do minimal damage, essentially killing the one skin cell that they hit, gamma rays can pass right through you, killing a line of cells all the way through your body. If enough gamma rays hit you, it will damage enough tissue to cause serious problems, including organ failure.
It would be a good idea to have a Geiger counter or other radiation monitoring device available, so you can see how much cumulative radiation you are receiving. This is important, as more than 100 roentgens/rad of radiation exposure can cause radiation sickness. A dosage of 400 roentgens/rad of radiation can cause death in half of the people who receive it and serious health problems for the rest.
While professional grade Geiger counters are rather expensive, there are some smaller, less expensive options that you can buy, including one miniature Geiger counter that plugs into your smartphone. There are also cards, which you can carry in your wallet, which will give you a cumulative reading on how much radiation you have received.
Some of the symptoms that could indicate radiation sickness include: bloody stool, bruising, diarrhea, fainting, hair loss, nausea and vomiting, open sores on the skin, skin burns and vomiting blood. If you experience any of these symptoms, you will need to get to medical help immediately.
This is the one case in which you should come out of your fallout shelter before the 14 days are completed. Seek medical help or emergency personnel immediately. If the army is present in the area, working on disaster relief, get in touch with them and they will get you to medical help. Move quickly as you leave your shelter, as you will probably be exposed to more radiation on the surface.
Radiation sickness can be avoided in some cases by taking potassium iodide. While it cannot prevent all injury caused by radiation, it can prevent radioactive iodine from concentrating in the thyroid gland, which causes radiation sickness. Potassium iodide does this by saturating the thyroid with stable iodine, thereby preventing any radioactive iodine from entering the thyroid.
Generally speaking, you should not take potassium iodine unless public health officials say that it is warranted. But if you do not have access to such information, taking it might be advised. The downside side-effects are minimal, so there isn’t much risk in taking it as a precaution. Proper dosage depends on age of the individual. Consult the paperwork packaged with the product for correct information on dosage.
After the 14 Days are Over
Once the fallout period is complete, it is safe to come out of your fallout shelter. But that does not necessarily mean that it is safe to stay in the area or return to your home. Fallout on the ground or even on the roof of your home could continue putting gamma rays into the atmosphere for a considerable amount of time, depending on the type of bomb used and the half-life of the radioactive material used in the bomb.
This is another time when a Geiger counter would be useful, allowing you to check the radiation level in and around your home. Don’t assume that it will be the same throughout your home, but do a walkthrough, checking the entire house, your yard and the surrounding area. Small particles of fallout could make one end of your home dangerous, while leaving the other end relatively safe.For your best protection, wait until you receive the all-clear from the military or from government health workers. They have much more expertise and much better equipment for finding fallout and for determining whether or not it is safe to remain in your home.