How To Prepare For and Survive a Nuclear War

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With increased activity in testing of nuclear devices, North Korea is one step closer to making good on its threat to nuke some portion of the USA or its territories.  It is still not an imminent threat since North Korea apparently lacks the technology to build a warhead can withstand the extreme heat of high-speed reentry into the atmosphere—the last two missile warheads burned up on reentry.

Even more disturbing is that North Korea has long been suspected of being the “trigger event” for a third world war between Russia, China, and the United States.  So, with President Trump threatening a military response, it’s time to take nuclear preparations seriously.  That said, I do not think Russia and China are ready yet to take on the US in a full blown war (until into the next decade) so it is still possible that another Korean war may not cause Chinese and Russian intervention—though you should count on that as an absolute.



First, let’s be clear about one thing:  nuclear war is very survivable, even with minimal preparations, so don’t believe the “everyone is going to die” claims about nuclear winter and total destruction.  50% of Hiroshima survived without any preparations, though many were very sick.  Keep in mind too that even Russian and Chinese war doctrine doesn’t include nuking American cities on a first strike, despite the verbal threats.  In reality, they intend to nuke US and NATO military facilities first and blackmail the West into submission.

There are 3 phases of nuclear war that you must be prepared to confront:

1) Initial blast and radiation.  The blast area of destruction is only 5-7 miles from any nuclear target, so don’t prepare against blast effects, which is very expensive—relocate instead.  Avert your eyes immediately from even a distant explosion and duck behind anything that will shield you from the instantaneous line of sight radiation and intense heat and light. Most will never see any blast effects, but almost everyone will have to deal with residual radiation from anywhere from 2 weeks to a month, which is not that difficult if you prepare in advance.

2)  Immediate panic and cut off of electricity and supplies.  Because both Russian and Chinese nuclear doctrine dictates the use of high altitude Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse weapons (EMP)  just before a physical nuclear strike, the electric grid will go down—which guarantees a lot of panic as people are plunged into darkness, lack of communication, and the cessation of all government services, like sewer and water.



Don’t believe the hype about Iran or North Korea doing an EMP strike.  It takes six simultaneous high altitude nuclear weapons exploding to blanket the entire US grid, not one.  So, only Russia and China have that capacity.  Remember too, that a total loss of electricity, including all TV and Radio may be your best immediate warning that a physical nuclear strike is about to fall within 15 or 20 minutes.  That’s not a lot of time, but it may allow you to get a head start out of town or make a quick call to warn the family.

This threat requires preparation to get to your secured home or retreat very quickly without getting caught in major traffic snarls.  Don’t get on a freeway that is already packed.  Use secondary roads, and map out routes that allow you to cross any freeways at an over or underpass NOT associated with an on-ramp or an exit.  Those will be the only ones not blocked with traffic.

3) Long-term famine and Social Unrest:   This gets into full swing within 3 days of an attack and may last more than a year depending on how quickly parts of the grid can come back up and how well industry can re-establish supplies lines.  While it’s hard to predict how these things will play out, this is where your long term food and water storage supplies come in.  Don’t expect to be able to grow a garden that first year in a suburban area during high levels of social unrest without lots of theft. That will only be possible in rural and secluded areas.   That’s where having a rural retreat is a good long term solution.

This article will deal mainly with the first threat—surviving the radiation.   It takes a heavy mass of materials to shield from gamma radiation, which is much more potent than X-rays, so forget about using medical grade X-ray shielding materials. Your wooden house and roofing materials are like paper to gamma rays, so not much shielding there either.

Nuclear protection purists would demand a reduction in radiation that is almost total requiring  13.8 feet of water, 10 feet of earth, 6 feet of concrete, or about 1.3 feet of lead—a Protection Factor (PF) of a billion, all of which are very costly to achieve.  This Survival Blog article discusses the relative protection factors for various materials.

As a practical matter, we have to arrive at a compromise between cost of construction and shielding.  You need less shielding the farther you are away from an explosion since radioactive dust starts to fall out from the sky closest to the detonation and only the finer high altitude particles travel longer distances, depending on the wind direction.  In short, you get less radiation the farther from blast zones you are located.

For example, Immediately to the West of Seattle, which has multiple nuclear targets around Puget Sound including the trident submarine base, you would probably need a PF of 1000 to shield against several inches of radioactive dust on your roof.  That amounts to 22 inches of concrete or 3 feet of dirt. But, further to the West in Idaho, the radioactive dust from Seattle would be a fraction of that, requiring much less shielding.

Many experts demand a “one size fits all” PF of 1000, but that means that very few could afford to build a shelter or safe room—and they don’t.  Because most areas of the country, not directly downwind and within 50 miles of a blast one, are not subject to those high levels, most people can survive with a protection factor of only 32, meaning that that radiation level is reduced to 1/32 of normal.  That involves 12” of concrete over your basement shelter—not 22”, which is doable, and not too costly.

Because of the much higher costs of protection close in to target areas, I recommend that your money is better spent relocating, even within the same general area, to avoid being directly downwind or close to a nuclear target.


Choosing the type of shelter:  Your two basic choices are to buy a prefabricated tank style shelter that is buried underground, or to build a basement style shelter within your own home, or as an extension.  The only advantages to the buried tank shelter are that it is quicker to install, and covering with dirt is cheaper than concrete.

However, they are more expensive per square foot of usable space, and they often come designed with expensive blast doors and valves, which you don’t need outside of a blast area.  Sadly, many also are designed with costly NBC or HEPA filters inside the shelter, but the sheet metal filter enclosures are not thick enough to stop radiation trapped in the filter from reaching those inside the shelter. The average cost is $50k-$75k, and you can build a lot of basement for that price.

But the worst problem with buried shelters is the fact that you have to go outside and open a hatch to get inside.  The notoriety of bringing in a huge tank shelter on a semi-truck and burying it in your backyard with a crane guarantees that the whole neighborhood is going to know about it.

How do you get in if that entrance is surrounded by others wanting shelter?   All your loading of supplies and equipment is down through that vertical ladder well, which is not easy.  In addition, the ventilation pipes emerge from the ground and are subject to tampering or blocking.  If you do use a buried shelter, put a shed or building over it.  That way the vents are protected from view and tampering.  Still have to cross open ground to get into the shed, which is a security risk.

The basement shelter avoids all of those disadvantages since you access it and stock it with supplies from within your home.  No one can view any of that activity.  Vents go up through walls into the attic, and HEPA air filters can be concealed in or under normal cabinets. The basement safe room or shelter (never call it a “bunker”) is also easier to conceal, and it should be concealed.  In cases of massive social unrest, you want to have the option of avoiding confrontation by hiding out in a concealed safe room with a steel security door, communications, and alternate battery powered electricity.

If you do an extension to your home with a basement shelter underneath, label the basement part as non-livable “storage” only, and don’t show any of the plumbing that might pertain to a future shelter.  Install all that after the occupancy permit is granted.  This book on the Secure Home has all of the architectural details on how to do that plus detailed listings of all the equipment necessary to outfit the shelter.

But, if you have an existing basement the best way to achieve total privacy without a permit or inspection, is to build a concealed shelter within the basement.  We have engineered plans to do just that here.

As a minimum, prepare your home to give you added protection without a formal shelter.  In a basement, that would involve building two addition stacked walls of concrete block (6ft high and 8ft across) into a corner of a room away from any window, but leaving a 24” entryway.  Cover that with a makeshift ceiling of 2×4 on 12” centers with ¾” plywood.



Then stack 3 levels solid 4” concrete blocks on top of that makeshift ceiling.  That will give you the minimum radiation protection you need.  Have a port-a-potty inside as well as some food and stored water.  It will be tight, but at least you’ll survive.  If you don’t have a basement, you’ll have to do four block walls inside an above ground room to get the sidewall protection. Do the lowered ceiling on top of those 4 six foot high walls.

It takes about two weeks for gamma rays to dissipate so you will need to buy a radiation meter to tell when it is safe to come out or to go back into a shelter (since in a war, there may be multiple nuclear events).

Life Straw


  1. I’m not sure what map you used for reference in this article, but the last time I checked Idaho was well EAST of Seattle NOT WEST. It is difficult to take you seriously if you cannot get simple directions correct.
    For what it is worth I spent 7 !/@ years flying foe the company.

  2. Well, while I DO find this article interesting, dead links tell no tales. Here’s what I found when I went to your links. Perhaps it’s my settings? I’m not sure… Firefox can’t find the server at

    Check the address for typing errors such as instead of
    If you are unable to load any pages, check your computer’s network connection.
    If your computer or network is protected by a firewall or proxy, make sure that Firefox is permitted to access the Web.

  3. “….quick call to warn the family” after an HEMP event? What cellphone or landline do you think will be working? Perhaps some of the fiber-optic backbone but forget the switching centers, towers and electronic infrastructure. The article isn’t clear about alpha, beta and gamma radiation sources – most survey meters are gamma-only. A dosimeter for each family member is a good investment so you can track your exposure. If you go out for brief periods but dwell/sleep in a well-protected space, your total dose will be far less.

  4. ” a total loss of electricity, including all TV and Radio may be your best immediate warning that a physical nuclear strike is about to fall within 15 or 20 minutes. That’s not a lot of time, but it may allow you to get a head start out of town or make a quick call to warn the family.”
    “This threat requires preparation to get to your secured home or retreat very quickly without getting caught in major traffic snarls. Don’t get on a freeway that is already packed. Use secondary roads, and map out routes that allow you to cross any freeways at an over or underpass NOT associated with an on-ramp or an exit. Those will be the only ones not blocked with traffic.” Am I missing something here… If we are “EMP’D” the phone won’t work much less the cars.

  5. Check out the book “Nuclear War Survival Skills” by Kresson Kearney. He used to work for the Government at Oak Ridge Tennessee, if I remember correctly. LOTS of good information on nuclear survival and even regular survival. The book was written based on a Government program specifically designed to teach people how to prepare in less than 48 hours. The book might be out of print but a few years ago I learned that somebody else was printing it. Your book store will not carry it, but they might be able to order it. It might also be available from

  6. I believe all of these who think that spelling, grammar and punctuation is so important. Trufully speaking probably shouldn’t be reading things that provide survival techniques. I found the article to be very interesting. Most people cannot afford or have the time or ability to even attempt to do any of the suggestions. I found myself thinking more about what I could do with may travel trailer. I live in the country no major cries around for a hundred miles. We do have an AFB withiin a hundred miles but SSE from here and unless we get a severe weather change here our winds are usually N, NE, NW, W or SW. so we are actually sitting in a pretty good region. With a few hours notice and a dirt mover I could move enough dirt out of a hillside to back my trailer into. With a few good friend or family by stripping one of my out buildings to put a structure over the top of my trailer and the front and with the remaining dirt fill in where needed. Just an idea for some of you to think of in a similar situation.

  7. Did you just say that after the EMP it’s good to make a quick call to family to advise them nukes may be falling in 15-20 minutes? What makes you think the cell phones and towers will be operating?

    This is a common problem with us all…. we assume cell phones will always work. During Hurricane Charley in FLA, cell phone service was largely lost in Central Florida. My girlfriend and I had Nextel “walkie-talkie” function in our phones at the time and that worked, but only because it used the emergency signal systems to operate…otherwise, people didn’t have cell service for days.

    Have a non-commo-based plan in place. If the family realizes an EMP has gone off, and they need to get to shelter, they need to be able to do that on their own if you’re at work. Don’t be commo-based… everyone is to know the signs and take the right action. Then have a plan to join up later at a time and place pre-designated.

  8. Just a few thoughts, I’m not sure 2 x 4’s, even at 12″ on center will carry the load of 12″ of solid concrete blocks. Maybe if the span was only 4 or 5 ft. Get out the carpentry books and do some calculations. And then with regards to a basement, city services will be disrupted, yes? Then the sewage and storm drain pumps will be kaput. So backup into your basement will be certain. You will need to install some kind of manual shutoff valves into those lines where they exit the house. Now for the porta potty, it will need to be emptied every few days, you will need to give that some thought. I suppose a 55 gallon drum with a vent into the attic might work. Now if your a country dweller with a septic tank the sewage backup wont be an issue.

  9. I purchased the book at Barnes and Nobel (Nuclear War Survival Skills) several months ago on the discount shelves for around $ 8.50. Great read. I think the author stated that because it was printed with government assistance that it had an open copy right. Just thought you would like to know.


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