Is the Nuclear Disaster Threat Really Over?

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A lot of people reading this probably grew up during the Cold War era where bunkers,  gas masks, and bomb drills were part of everyday life. 

In retrospect, all those “Duck and Cover” posters and home economic lessons on how to furnish a bomb shelter can seem absurd.

Life magazine cover

As the Telegraph says,

This was a period when paranoia ran from the political elites to the ordinary US citizen.

Since nothing obviously came of the Cold War nuclear threat, anyone who mentions the nuclear risk today is quickly dismissed as a paranoid nutshell.

But is the nuclear threat really over?  Are people worried about nuclear warfare and attacks really paranoid – or are they smart to think of their safety and security?

bert the turtle cold war poster - bomb shelter


Is There a Renewed Risk of Nuclear War?

The Cold War has been over for 25 years, but nuclear weapons are still out there.  According to, China, India, Israel, France, UK, North Korea, Russia, and the USA hold nearly 16,000 nuclear weapons. That’s more than enough to destroy the planet 100x over.

Nearly all of these nuclear weapons are held by the USA and then Russia.  These old foes keep nearly 2,000 nuclear weapons at “high alert” and ready to attack each other immediately.

Does that mean nuclear war is possible?

Depending on whom you ask, nuclear war is more possible today than during the Cold War or is “Not on the table” because it makes no sense.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the politics of nuclear war and what the real risks of nuclear war and attacks are.  However, I will quote what NTI says on the issue:

Despite progress, the nuclear threat is more complex and unpredictable than ever.

If you want a more detailed read on the political aspect of it, I suggest starting with this article by Sputnik News on US-Russia-China nuclear politics and this article by National Interest about how Russia could double down on its nuclear threat.

Nuclear Threat from Terrorists

It isn’t just the Soviets that we need to worry about today, or even China and North Korea. Nation leaders are worried about terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons.

It might take a long while before terrorists could build a nuclear weapon.  But that isn’t the only worry. It is no secret that many nuclear sites around the globe are poorly secured.

A terrorist group could look for a nuclear site which was easy to penetrate and hit there, thus making “global nuclear security only as strong as the weakest link in the chain.”

Let’s Not Forget about Nuclear Disasters

If there is one good thing that came out of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, it was that it brought attention to the fact that nuclear disasters are still a real risk.

For those who don’t remember the details, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan trigged meltdowns in the nuclear reactor in Fukushima.  More than 150,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes. By 2017, 70% of these are expected to be able to return to their homes.  However, there are still major concerns about whether it is really safe for these people to return home – not to mention the 45,000 who are not allowed to return.

While Fukushima brought the world’s attention back to the threat of nuclear disaster, it isn’t the only disaster which has occurred in recent times.  Take a look at this list of nuclear disasters by ranking and you’ll see it is actually fairly common for disasters to occur.

Scarily, the International Atomic Energy Authority doesn’t even keep complete historical information about nuclear disasters!

Take, for example, the Indian Point nuclear facility leak in New York.  It happened just a few months ago (June 2016).  You’d think a nuclear leak in the USA would get media attention, but it was barely talked about.

The same can be said of the nuclear leaks which occurred in the Braidwood Generating Station in Illinois.  That leak caused tritium to leak into underground water and get into well water.

A report at NBC News found that tritium leaks were found in at least 48 of 65 nuclear sites.  At least 37 of the leaks were at levels higher than the federal drinking water standards – sometimes hundreds of times the limit.

How dangerous are these nuclear disasters?

As The Conversation points out, we still don’t really know the full health hazards of nuclear accidents.  And I for one wouldn’t exactly trust the government to tell me what is a “safe” level of radiation exposure.

Consider, for example, that the Japanese authorities raised the official “safe level” of radiation exposure after the Fukushima disaster so they could downplay the potential health threat.

Maps of Nuclear Sites

Want to see how much you are at risk of a nuclear disaster?   Here’s some good resources.

Map of Nuclear Power Plants

I’ve included the map below but you can find some better, regularly-updated maps here:

usa nuclear power plants

Map of Nuclear Weapons

Would You Survive a Nuke?

Should You Be Prepping for Nuclear Disaster?

Just like with all other aspects of disaster planning (from hurricanes to pandemics), we can never be completely sure what will happen.  All we can do is take reasonable precautions to prepare ourselves from the threat.

What is reasonable?

For someone with the cash to spend, building a fallout bunker might be completely reasonable – especially because that fallout bunker could also serve as a survival shelter for other types of disasters.

For someone who lives in a big city that might be the target of a nuclear attack but who doesn’t have the means to buy a pricy bunker, stockpiling some potassium iodide tablets might be a reasonable step.

For someone who lives in a rural area that isn’t likely to get hit by a nuclear attack, obsessing about nuclear war isn’t exactly “reasonable”  — especially when you could be spending your time and resources on prepping for the most likely disasters like EMP.

One thing that I do want to point out (especially in today’s political climate) is what happened during the Cold War.  As Inquiries Journal points out, in the USA’s big fear of Communism during the Cold War, the environment ironically started to resemble the very things about communism that we were fighting against.

Are you prepping for a nuclear disaster? Let us know in the comments or join the discussion in our Facebook community!

Image credit: “130810-Z-DE820-017” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by  New York National Guard 

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