Gov’t Study Asks: What Happens if Someone Nukes D.C.?

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Washington, DC, suffered a nuclear attack? Apparently, some of DC’s higher-ups were wondering the same thing and, like everything else they’re curious about, they decided to conduct a study.

Turns out, 10-kiloton nuke would be very, very bad for D.C., Northern Virginia, and Maryland (shocker, I know).

“The study—‘National Capital Region: Key Response Planning Factors for the Aftermath of Nuclear Terrorism’—simulates and prognosticates a nuclear strike at 16th and K Streets, the heart of downtown DC and only a couple blocks from the White House. The kind of spot a terrorist would want to plant a bomb,” Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle writes.

However, as easy as it is to snicker at the study’s findings (What? D.C. would be destroyed? You don’t say!), the report also “paints a horrifying, incredibly detailed radioactive portrait” of what would most likely happen should someone detonate the nation’s capitol.

“Unlike the Cold War-era bombs of yore, which were designed to erase entire capitals, a ‘smaller’ bomb like the one in question here would, hypothetically, leave survivors. What happens to us?” Biddle asks.

First, as the 2011 study shows, there would be “Three Layers of Destruction”:

Photo courtesy Gizmodo

The Severe Damage Zone (half mile radius): Most buildings destroyed, hazards and radiation initially prevents entry into the area; low survival likelihood.

The Moderate Damage Zone (half to 1 mile radius): Significant building damage and rubble, downed utility poles, overturned automobiles, fires, and many serious injuries. Early medical assistance can significantly improve the number of survivors.

Light Damage Zone (1 to 3 miles radius): Windows broken, mostly minor injuries that are highly survivable even without immediate medical care.

All federal building in the “severe damage zone” (e.g. The White House, Treasury Department, the National Mall, etc.) would be totally obliterated.

And then, of course, there is the dreaded “fallout.”

“The study notes fallout patterns would vary wildly with the time of year,” Biddle writes, “in April, Washington’s affluent Bethesda suburb is hit with an enormous column of radioactive dust, while through much of the rest of the year, the city’s poorer lower quadrants and Northern Virginia are exposed to aerial poison.”

Photo courtesy Gizmodo

As the fall 2011 report notes:

Within 10 to 20 miles of the detonation, exposures from fallout would be great enough to cause near-term (within hours) symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

The orange area depicts exposures of 300 to 800 R for those who do not shelter soon enough. Most would experience immediate health effects (e.g., nausea and vomiting within 4 hours), and some fatalities would be likely without medical treatment For those in the dark blue area who do not take immediate shelter, outdoor exposures (>800 R) would be great enough that fatalities are likely with or without medical treatment. Evacuation is not an option in this area because fallout would arrive too quickly (within 10 minutes) to evacuate.

Which is to say, if the initial blast doesn’t get kill you, the aftermath of the attack surely will.

So the obvious question is this: how do we avoid this? The best suggestion the report comes up with sound like it was written at the height of the Cold War:

DUCK and COVER: After an unexplained dazzling flash of light, do not approach windows, and stay behind cover for at least a minute to prevent injuries from flying and falling debris, such as broken glass.

We’re pretty sure that the “duck and cover” method is just as inadequate now as it was in the 1950’s. Personally, we believe best way to prepare for a nuclear attack would be to ensure that it never happens in the first place.

But how do you do that?

Read the full report here:


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