How to survive a nuclear war

Jilin Daily, the official state newspaper of the northeastern province that shares a 1,200-kilometer border with North Korea, has taken the unusual step of issuing a full-page advisory (in Chinese) on how to survive a nuclear war, including cartoons reminiscent of the rather hopeful public service announcements in 1950s America advising children to ‘duck and cover’ to survive a nuclear attack,” notes the Washington Post.

  • Among the pieces of advice: Scrub boots with water, clean ears out with cotton buds, and force vomiting if contaminated food is consumed.
  • State tabloid Global Times noted in an editorial that while there is no immediate risk of nuclear attack, “it’s natural that Jilin Province is more sensitive to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, given its special geographic location,” according to Quartz. The Global Times editorial has apparently been deleted.
  • The original article came from the Jilin Provincial People’s Air Defense Office and does not specifically mention North Korea. An official with the office told Chinese media that “the outside world should not overinterpret it,” the Post reported.
  • Meanwhile, CNN reports that South Korean leader Moon Jae-in will travel to Beijing next week to meet with Xi Jinping to discuss denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. It will be the third meeting between the two leaders, as relations between the two countries have shown signs of improvement in recent months.

Plan Ahead

Planning for a nuclear incident, particularly a nuclear attack, can mean the difference between life and death. It can also mean the difference between suffering and living a healthy life. To plan, you need to consider where you will go and what supplies to have on hand. Let’s start with where you will go.


Safety during a nuclear attack requires you to be indoors and behind thick walls. To protect yourself from radioactive fallout, you must be inside for the first 48 hours because the radiation decreases by at least 80% or more within that time frame. It is best to stay inside for at least two weeks before going outside.

There must be enough heavy, dense material between you and the radiation outside that you have minimal exposure. Materials that can block radiation and provide a protection factor of 1,000 include:

  • Lead—4 inches
  • Steel—10 inches
  • Concrete or brick—24 inches
  • Packed earth—36 inches
  • Water—72 inches
  • Wood—110 inches

Keep in mind that a protection factor of 1,000 means that there is 375 pounds of material mass per square foot of the area being protected.

If you have a bug out location that you know is in a radiation-free zone then it’s just a matter of getting there. For this, you need to have a bug out plan in place. This must be an area that is far away from potential targets and is not in the path of prevailing winds carrying nuclear fallout. However, most people don’t have this option.

Staying in Your Home

Most homes do not offer a lot of protection against radioactive fallout. Your basement is your best option in your house. In a two-story brick house, the standard basement will cut radiation exposure by 1/20. However, fortifying your basement is best.

Choose an area of your basement where you can make a fallout shelter. Double- or triple-line the walls and ceiling of the basement with one or more of the materials listed above and build additional walls to form a room. You can use sandbags or concrete blocks. Whatever is available.

You can then stock this room with food, water, and supplies and have it ready for whenever you need it. You can store away anything you would generally store for SHTF. If you already have supplies, just move some of them into the shelter you have created.

If you don’t have a basement and you are desperate, you can still use materials in your home to build a “fort.” You can build this small shelter out of bookcases, mattresses, and any other furniture you have on hand. You can even line the walls of your fort with fish tanks if you keep fish.

Options Outside Your Home


One of the safest places to be during a nuclear attack is the basement of a tall office building.

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If you do not have your basement fortified or you don’t have a basement, then you must get to a safe place. You best bet in this situation is to get to the basement of a tall concrete building, such as an apartment building or an office building. If the basement is not an option, then get to the center of the building.

You will need to be familiar with the buildings that are within a few minutes of your home. These should be places you can get to and gain access to quickly. Check out the buildings ahead of time if possible. You need to know if and how they can be accessed.

It won’t do you much good if you show up at an office building with 10 minutes before the radiation hits you and you can’t get into the basement. A pry bar is helpful when you need to access to locked areas.

Getting Caught Outside

If you get caught outside when a nuclear attack occurs, you need to take the appropriate action. Should you be within 20 miles of the blast zone, find a depressed area and lay flat on the ground inside it. If you don’t have a depressed area around you and you have time, then dig.

It is important that you make sure as little skin as possible is exposed and open your mouth to reduce the pressure on your eardrums. You might have to lay and wait for a few minutes before the shock wave and heat reach you, so be patient and stay put. When you can move again, get to shelter immediately.

When you go in from outside, you need to decontaminate yourself. Start by removing all your clothing. This eliminates as much as 90% of any radiation contamination. Put this clothing in a sealed plastic bag and place it as far away from humans as possible. Then you need to shower and wash your hair. But avoid using conditioner, as it will help bind radiation to your hair.

If you are unable to shower, then wipe your skin down with a wet cloth. Blow your nose gently and wash your eyelids and ears. Be careful not to rub any skin too hard or break it, otherwise radiation can enter the body more easily.

Necessary Supplies

There is also gear and equipment you can buy that will help protect you from radiation. From protective clothing to radiation detection, you will need a few extra items in your preps to be sure you can survive a nuclear attack.

Potassium Iodide Pills


A dosimeter will tell you how much cumulative radiation you have been exposed to.

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If you can get your hands on potassium iodide pills, stock some. These will protect the thyroid against the absorption of radioactive iodine. These are especially useful for infants and children. Adults over the age of 40 are less susceptible to the effects of radiation exposure of the thyroid and should only take potassium iodide if their exposure to radiation is severe.

Geiger Counter & Dosimeter

You need a way to measure radiation levels. A Geiger counter will measure the level of radiation in your environment, including on surfaces. This will help you know where it is safe to go once you can go outside again.

You also need to know how much radiation you have been exposed to. A dosimeter is a type of radiation detector that you can easily wear or carry. It will record cumulative exposure so you know how much exposure you have had over time.

Full Face CBRN Gas Mask

Otherwise known as an Air Purifying Respirator, a gas mask is an essential piece of equipment during a nuclear attack. If you have one and wear it, it will protect you from inhaling or ingesting nuclear radiation. Make sure the mask has a tight seal and is made from CBRN resistant rubber like butyl. The best gas masks for nuclear fallout also have speech diaphragms so you can easily be heard, and drinking systems so you can stay hydrated while on the move. 

Eye Protection

If your gas mask does not have eye protection, then you will need goggles. Ensure the goggles fit properly and form a good seal with your skin.

Nuclear Fallout Suit

A nuclear fallout suit, or nuclear radiation suit, is essentially a Hazmat suit that is made with materials that will help shield against radiation. The suit can be made from any combination of materials such as fabric, rubber, lead, boron, and activated carbon. The suits are best at protecting against Alpha and Beta particles, but can offer some protection against gamma radiation, as well.

Gloves & Footwear

If gloves do not come with your suit, then use thick gloves. Butyl gloves are ideal because they offer increased protection over rubber. The same can be said for footwear. Biochem over-boots are the best option.

Donning and Doffing Your Gear

A person in a protective suit and gas mask being sprayed down for decontamination.

Having the proper radiation suit, gas mask, and gear can save your life.

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To stay as safe as possible during a nuclear attack, you need to know how to put your nuclear hazard suit on and take it off.


When you put your suit on, make sure of the following:

  1. The suit MUST be the proper size for your body.
  2. Put the suit on, legs first and then arms. Do NOT put the hood up yet.
  3. Put on your gas mask and eye protection. Ensure these are secure.
  4. Pull up the hood.
  5. Fully zip the suit.
  6. Put on your gloves and foot covers. It is a good idea to double up your gloves, wearing a pair of surgical gloves beneath the butyl gloves.
  7. Squat and stretch in the suit to ensure it fits properly.
  8. Seal the gloves, foot covers, and mask to your suit with duct tape to ensure everything is well sealed.

Taking off your suit is more complicated. Remember that it might be contaminated with radiation and you don’t want to touch it. As you do all the steps included here you must never touch the outside of the suit with your bare hands or any bare skin. Do the following to remove the suit:

  1. Remove any tape sealing the suit.
  2. Unzip the suit and take the hood down.
  3. Reach behind you to pull the suit back and remove one of your arms. The butyl glove will come off with it. Allow the arm of the suit to go inside out as you pull your arm out of it.
  4. Reaching inside the suit with your ungloved hand, pull the other sleeve off your arm. Again, allow the butyl glove to come off and the sleeve to turn inside out.
  5. Roll the suit down the body, pushing off the foot covers as you go.
  6. Touching the inside of the suit, bundle it up and put it in a plastic or biohazard bag.
  7. To remove the gas mask and eye protection, you must grasp the equipment in an area that was covered by the hood of the suit and pull it off.


Please remember that even when you are wearing the proper gear, there is no guarantee that you won’t be exposed to radiation. If the levels of radiation are high or you are exposed for a long period of time, you can still get radiation sickness. So, be sure to limit your exposure time as much as possible.

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