Minutes to hours after a nuclear blast are critical for survival. Disaster experts explain how to protect yourself in a worst-case scenario. - Deepstash

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The critical window

The critical window

The minutes to hours after a nuclear blast are a critical window. The potential for radiation exposure decreases 55% an hour after an explosion and 80% after 24 hours, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Immediate actions during those first few hours, like covering your eyes or hunkering down in an indoor shelter, could mitigate your risk of death or serious injury. Here's how to protect yourself in a worst-case scenario.

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First 30 minutes: Avert your eyes and shield your face

  • The best course of action is simply to avert your eyes. When a nuclear bomb strikes, it sets off a flash of light and a giant orange fireball. A 1-megaton bomb could temporarily blind people up to 13 miles away on a clear day and up to 53 miles away on a clear night. 
  • Drop to the ground with your face down and your hands tucked under your body to protect from flying debris or sweltering heat that could burn your skin. If you have a scarf or handkerchief, cover your nose and mouth. But make sure to keep your mouth open, so your eardrums don't burst from the pressure.

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First 45 minutes: Seek shelter indoors away from windows

First 45 minutes: Seek shelter indoors away from windows

  • Survivors of a nuclear attack would have about 15 minutes before sand-like radioactive particles, known as nuclear fallout, reached the ground.
  • People should look for shelter in the opposite direction of fallen buildings.
  • The best shelters are buildings like schools or offices with few to no windows and a basement for camping out. If there aren't sturdy buildings nearby, it's still better to be indoors than outside.
  • If you take cover in a multistory building, choose a central location and steer clear of the top and bottom floors. If the building has windows, stand in the center of a room.

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First 24 hours: Rinse off in the shower and stay inside until further notice

The hours after a blast are critical for reducing radiation exposure.

  • People who were outside during an explosion should shower as soon as possible, making sure the water is warm and soap is applied gently. Scrubbing too hard could break your skin, which acts as a natural protective barrier. You should also cover any cuts or abrasions while rinsing off. 
  • Don't use conditioner, body lotion, or face cream after exposure to a nuclear blast, since these products can bind to radioactive particles and trap them in your skin and hair.
  • Blow your nose and wipe your ears and eyelids, since debris could get stuck in these places.

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