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Preparing for the Aftermath of Nuclear Terrorism

What would happen if a 10 kiloton nuclear explosive were detonated in downtown Washington, DC at the intersection of 16th and K Streets NW?

That question is posed by a recent study (large pdf) performed for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  It assesses the impact of a nuclear terrorism incident in the nation’s capital and seeks to derive the appropriate lessons for emergency response planning purposes.

It is clear that a nuclear detonation would “overwhelm response resources in the area.”  On the other hand, “the existing Washington, DC structures offered better than adequate protection [for a] shelter-in-place strategy [that] would reduce the number of potential acute radiation casualties by 98%,” the study said.

See “National Capital Region: Key Response Planning Factors for the Aftermath of Nuclear Terrorism” by B.R. Buddemeier, et al, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, November 2011.

8 thoughts on “Preparing for the Aftermath of Nuclear Terrorism

  1. One has to ask how they would shelter in place if like the 9-11 incident, there was no warning? Or was there? Collateral damage? Again, questions whenever issues like this are brought to the attention of outsiders.

  2. Responding to your comment, Norman: The area of total devastation would be significant with a 10kt blast, and nothing could be done for the people in it, but a much larger area would be at disk due to the fallout. Those are the people that would need to seek shelter as best they could until enough of the infrastructure could be cleared/repaired to get them out. The destruction of the twin towers was localized and a fairly brief event but use of a terrorist nuclear device, either a fission bomb or “dirty” device would be neither.

  3. “What would happen if a 10 kiloton nuclear explosive were detonated in downtown Washington, DC at the intersection of 16th and K Streets NW?”

    A lot of special elections a few less lobbyists.

  4. I have lived in Washington, D.C. and witnessed the attack on the Pentagon.
    According to my reading of what occured at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there would be complete devastation between the temperature and the wind blast for approximately 30-60km.
    In otherwords from D.C. to Baltimore nothing could be done. Beyond that would be Ft. Belvoir and Ft. Meade in Frederick which has limited capabilities.
    No one would come out alive.

  5. Paul, You significantly overstate the devastation from a 10 kiloton nuclear bomb. This was the exact size of the Hiroshima bomb and people working in a bank 300 meters from the blast survived. Those in less fortified structures were indeed killed but only over a radius of about 1 mile.

  6. Why they chose where they did for ground zero is a mystery to me, other than my interest that it is two blocks from my office.

    Would not be pretty although the damage estimate quite believable.

    You should have seen the gridlock after our minor (3.9R) earthquake, not to mention Snowmageddon. If you work in DC and work in northern Virginia be sure to have your walking shoes with you if you want to get home.

  7. One longer-term worry if anything like this happens is the socio-economic chaos if there’s a mass exodus from other American cities – or even Western cities in general (I live in England, and I suspect a lot of people would flee London). In the short-term this would negatively affect the relief effort, and in the long term I’m not sure what it would do. Though a nuke in a container port (there was a RAND report on that using a port near LA) since that might trigger a coastal exodus, and severely disrupt global trade – and, most importantly, importation of petrol (which is used to distribute locally-grown food) and food (in countries like mine where a lot of our food is imported).

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