How to survive a nuclear war

It’s hard to escape the news about crazy dictator Putin threatening the world with nuclear war; its something many of us alive at least up to about 1990 will remember was always a chance occurrence but the old style communists in the Kremlin were a bit more sensible than the big breasted but not very well endowed Putin.

If the worst came to the worst though what can you do except wish you lived in New Zealand? If you live in the U.K. you’d have a 20-25 minute warning if you happened to be by your phone or near a screen of some sort. Not very much time to flee for the hills.

You could stay at home, as may be your natural instinct. You could evacuate to a basement or sturdy building, as the Government is likely to suggest. There used to be a network of nuclear bunkers but short-sighted governments have mostly sold them off or use them to stock cheese and wine for Boris Johnson and his lock-down breaking parties.

Nevertheless for the bunkers that remain, first on the bunker guest list would be the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, military personnel and senior civil servants, all of whom could be sent to the air-locked Defence Crisis Management Centre, a bunker complex under the Ministry of Defence building on Whitehall. From there, the PM could, if he wished, send a code via the Northwood Headquarters 100ft under the Chiltern Hills – through which all communications to the Vanguard-class Trident submarines pass – and out to the sub on patrol to retaliate.

Better known as “Pindar”, after the Ancient Greek poet whose house alone stayed standing when the rest of his city was devastated, the Government’s bunker has meeting rooms, hundreds of beds, supplies, two storeys and advanced telecoms. Pindar is connected to a vast tunnel network underneath Whitehall.

Over the years, it has been rumoured that these tunnels connect to various subterranean military citadels, transport stations and telecommunication stations – supposedly accessed via unmarked doors around the capital, with bicycles found along its route for use by workers.

It may also be connected to Buckingham Palace, another site that urban sleuths suspect must link via tunnels to Wellington Barracks, or Westminster Tube station, the Victoria Line or the disused Down Street station in Mayfair. Or it may have its own bunker. Either way, protocol dictates that the Queen and the Prime Minister are kept apart, as only she can appoint his successor.

The Royal Family would likely be divided, in order to protect the line of succession. During the Cold War, an old coal cellar at Windsor Castle was turned into a bunker, while “Operation Candid” would have seen senior royals disperse with their staffs to the country – though in secret locations.

As for the rest of us, getting underneath something solid and sturdy is about our best bet. However, the advice may differ depending on where you live. People in big cities or near infrastructure targets could be told one thing and issued certain support, such as iodine tablets to help tackle the long-term effects of radiation.

“You would give very different advice to people who were, for example, living in a small town, nowhere near those areas. And then you would give, again, quite different advice to people who are living in remote areas.” Naturally, people would head for these areas, but that’s dangerous. We’ve all seen films of the chaos that breaks out and for many it would be safer to stay put than to be stuck on a traffic jam on the M25 or M1 as all hell breaks loose. I wasn’t one of those weird people who panic bought toilet rolls or anything else in Covid which makes me think I won’t be frazzled in my car at least.

Good old concrete is not to be underestimated. Famously, Eizō Nomura survived despite being only 170 metres away from ground zero during the Hiroshima bombing. He had popped down to the basement of a reinforced concrete building when it hit. This is why many of the disused Cold War bunkers may not be entirely useless: they’re still concrete and still underground.

There are, however, a few basic things you can think about. First you should get inside a brick or concrete building and either head to the middle room (i.e. without an exterior wall) or the basement, it recommends. Removing the outer layer of clothing can get rid of up to 90 per cent of radioactive material, it has been estimated. Then it’s about staying inside and keeping everyone, including pets, from going out.

Your bunker room should include batteries, bottled water, packaged foods, hand-cranked radios, medication, phone charging blocks, clothes, iodine tablets and toiletries. 

According to Outrider, a website set up to calculate the impact of a nuclear blast, a bomb hitting central London today would lead to 280,163 fatalities and a whopping 671,777 injuries. This would produce intense heat, causing catastrophic damage to anyone in the radius who would suffer severe or fatal third-degree burns. though other website have projections going into the millions. And that’s just one bomb. The heat would stretch 80 miles or 125km, and within the radius ,wood, clothing, paper, and plastics would catch fire. Even outside this boundary, the heat would still be intense enough to cause first and second degree burns. So what would Londoners actually do in such a crisis and what help and advice would there be – if any?

In your little makeshift bunker your phone may become a one-way device by this stage. Here, as in many countries, the Government has the ability to restrict access to base transceiver stations (BTS), meaning mobile signals would only be available for the emergency services and energy companies, or for Pindar to send alerts to the population. As for the radio, BBC Radio 4 will quickly be the only thing left. In the Cold War, the BBC kept an office and a bunker at Wood Norton Hall, Worcestershire, which was ready to replace all transmissions in the event of a nuclear strike. At that time, the late Radio 4 continuity announcer, Peter Donaldson, recorded a script to be broadcast, codenamed “Falsetto”.

“This is the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known,” his address began. “Stay tuned to this wavelength, stay calm and stay in your own homes. Remember, there is nothing to be gained by trying to get away.”

Today, it is rumoured that the BBC still keeps a modernised bunker in the grounds of Wood Norton Hall, where there is a super high-frequency satellite. One of the state of the nation checks for commanders on the Trident submarines, which he would use to assess from his under-sea location whether Britain still stands, is to listen out for the Today programme for three days. Should no pips sound, the nation has fallen.

Of course even if you’re in a country that isn’t directly targeted in a nuclear war, life would never be the same again with radiation, food and resource shortages and an all ready teetering eco-system perhaps pushed over the edge.

If like me you are curious about your survival chances or perhaps you just want to pretend you Putin for a few minutes then you can check out which lets you select your preferred target and variety of nuclear bomb and seeing what might happen.

The map above illustrates what would happen if a single nuclear bomb was exploded quite high in the air above London as a ground explosion would have a much more limited impact. I live 4 or 5 miles NW of Edgware in NW London so I might have a reasonable chance of making it through in more or less one piece.

I live in a terrace house so have multiple houses directly attached to the two sides of the house and I do have a middle room which is 95% without an outer wall so my place would be right in there and under the stairs. I think a very solid 200 year old house isn’t the worse place to be but just to spice things up a bit I also live about 5 miles from the European NATO headquarters so depending on whether Putin was just randomly wanting to kill Londoners or initiate world-wide armageddon then it might not make too much difference.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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14 Responses to How to survive a nuclear war

  1. Marilyn says:

    It is all madness!!! I pray if this happens, we will all be in heaven for eternity!!! 🙏🙏🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Contractions of Fate says:

    What a sobering article.
    I live a couple of miles South of Edgware, so I might have more chance of my place collapsing as it’s Gerry-built old crap.
    But the front wall of the living room is a pair of giant, glass picture windows!


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mick Canning says:

    I remember the posters from my youth in the seventies:
    In case of nuclear attack:
    1) Crouch down
    2) Place your head between your legs
    3) Kiss your ass goodbye.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Ankur Mithal says:

    A single lunatic, with an enlarged ego, can bring the whole world to the edge of extinction. How absolutely utterly stupid of human beings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, even if he stopped now, regardless of the people in Ukraine and indeed Russia, he has probably ‘ruined’ another year or two for the rest of us through increased food and fuel prices, tax rises to pay for defence purposes and wasting more precious time to deal with the environmental warnings.


  5. Pingback: The Letters of Last Resort | Stephen Liddell

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