DHS SCENARIO: Scenario #1- Nuclear Detonation , A 10-Kiloton Improvised Nuclear Device

Source: globalsecurity.org

  • By: Global Security
  • Posted on: Feb. 10, 2014

Homeland Security Planning Scenarios

Scenario 1: Nuclear Detonation – 10-Kiloton Improvised Nuclear Device


Casualties Can vary widely
Infrastructure Damage Total within radius of 0.5 to 1.0 mile
Evacuations/Displaced Persons 450,000 or more
Contamination Approximately 3,000 square miles
Economic Impact Hundreds of billions of dollars
Potential for Multiple Events No
Recovery Timeline Years

Scenario Overview:

General Description –

In this scenario, terrorist members of the Universal Adversary (UA) group assemble a gun-type nuclear device using highly enriched uranium (HEU) – used here to mean weapons-grade uranium – stolen from a nuclear facility located in the former Soviet Union. The nuclear device components are smuggled into the United States. The 10-kiloton nuclear device is assembled near a major metropolitan center. Using a delivery van, terrorists transport the device to the central business district of a large city and detonate it. Most buildings within 1,000 meters (~ 3,200 feet) of the detonation are severely damaged. Injuries from flying debris (missiles) may occur out to 6 kilometers (~ 3.7 miles). An Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) damages many electronic devices within about 5 kilometers (~ 3 miles). A mushroom cloud rises above the city and begins to drift east-northeast.

Geographical Considerations/Description – This scenario postulates a 10-kiloton nuclear detonation in a large metropolitan area. The effects of the damage from the blast, thermal radiation, prompt radiation, and the subsequent radioactive fallout have been calculated, based on a detonation in Washington, D.C. (details are not provided in this executive summary but are presented in the full-text version in Appendix 1-A). However, the calculation is general enough that most major cities in the United States can be substituted in a relatively straightforward manner. If the incident happened near the U.S. border, there would be a need for cooperation between the two border governments. Additionally, the IND attack may warrant the closure of U.S. borders for some period of time. If the detonation occurs in a coastal city, the fallout plume may be carried out over the water, causing a subsequent reduction in casualties. On the other hand, the surrounding water will likely restrict the zones that are suitable for evacuation. Bridges and tunnels that generally accompany coastal cities will restrict the evacuation, causing delay and an increase in the radioactive dose that evacuees receive. This delay may be substantial and the resulting dose increase may drive a decision to shelter-in-place or evacuate-in-stages.

Timeline/Event Dynamics – The response timeline will begin the instant the detonation occurs. Initially, only survivors in the immediate area will conduct rescue and lifesaving activities. Later (minutes to hours), rescue teams will begin to arrive and provide assistance. With the current state of education, training, and equipment, it is likely that many of these responders will subject themselves to very large (perhaps incapacitating or fatal) doses of radiation. As various command posts are setup (which may take hours to days), the response will become more coordinated.

For a nuclear detonation, the actual occurrence of injuries does not stop when the immediate blast effects have subsided. The most critical components of the post-detonation response may not be the lifesaving efforts that assist the victims directly injured by the detonation. Instead, it is likely that the most effective lifesaving activities will be those that address the evacuation or sheltering-in-place decisions for the potential victims in the immediate fallout path, the effective communication of instructions to the affected population, and the efficient decontamination of the evacuated population.

Secondary Hazards/Events – The detonation will cause many secondary hazards. The intense heat of the nuclear explosion and other subsequent causes will produce numerous fires located throughout the immediate blast zone. Damaged buildings, downed power and phone lines, leaking gas lines, broken water mains, and weakened bridges and tunnels are just some of the hazardous conditions that will need to be assessed. Depending on the type of industries present (such as chemical or petroleum production, industrial storage facilities, and manufacturing operations), there could be significant releases of hazardous materials.

Another secondary effect of a nuclear explosion is the EMP that will be produced by the ionization and subsequent acceleration of electrons from the air and other materials by the intense radiation of the detonation. This EMP is a sharp, high-voltage spike that radiates out from the detonation site. It has the potential to disrupt the communication network, other electronic equipment, and associated systems within approximately a 5-kilometer (~ 3-mile) range from the 10-kiloton ground blast.

There likely will be significant damage to the general public support infrastructure with potentially cascading effects. These systems include transportation lines and nodes (e.g., air, water, rail, highway); power generation and distribution systems; communications systems; food distribution; and fuel storage and distribution. There will be concerns about the safety and reliability of many structures (e.g., dams, levees, nuclear power plants, hazardous material storage facilities). Structures may be damaged that are used to provide essential services (e.g., hospitals, schools).

Key Implications:

A full description of the fatalities and injuries for a nuclear detonation is difficult and complicated. There will be casualties directly associated with the blast, which will cause “translation/tumbling” (the human body being thrown) and subsequent impacts of people and other objects. A nuclear detonation will also produce a great deal of thermal (heat) energy that will cause burns to exposed skin (and eyes). There are two general “categories” of nuclear radiation produced in a detonation. First is the so-called “prompt” nuclear radiation, arbitrarily defined as being emitted within the first minute – it is actually produced as the device detonates or shortly thereafter.

For a 10-kiloton blast, this radiation may expose unprotected people within a distance of a few kilometers (a couple of miles) to extremely large gamma ray and/or neutron doses. In addition, a detonation of a nuclear device near the surface of the ground will result in a great deal of fallout (in the form of dirt particles) that is radioactively contaminated. This fallout will settle out of the radioactive cloud over a period of minutes to weeks. By far, the most dangerously radioactive fallout will be deposited near the detonation site and will happen within the first couple of hours after detonation. Radioactive fallout will exponentially decay with time, but may expose many people to large doses and will certainly contaminate large areas of land for years. Many fatalities and injuries will result from a combination of these various effects.

The largest radiation concerns following an IND incident will be the “prompt” radiation (gamma ray and neutron) and the gamma dose received from the “ground shine” (radioactive particles deposited on the ground) as people are evacuated from the fallout areas. These effects are likely to have significantly larger impacts on the population than internal doses. Internal doses tend to expose the body to relatively small radiation doses over a long period of time, which produces different effects than large radiation doses received during a short period of time.

As the distance from ground zero increases past 20 kilometers (~ 12 miles), the injuries due to acute radiation exposure (from prompt radiation and the subsequent fallout) will decrease, and lower level contamination, evacuation, and sheltering issues will become the major concern. In general, at distances greater than 250 kilometers (~ 150 miles) from ground zero of a 10 kiloton nuclear detonation, acute health concerns will not be a significant issue. However, contamination of people and the environment will still be a concern.

Years later, there will still be health consequences in the form of increased probabilities of cancers in the exposed population. The number of these cancers will likely run into the thousands and will extract a large human, social, and financial cost.

It is likely that the blast and subsequent fires will destroy all buildings in the immediate area of the detonation. Historically, decontamination of sites involves the removal of all affected material, so most buildings in the immediate downwind fallout path will likely have to be destroyed in the decontamination effort. As the distance from the detonation site increases, the contamination level will decrease. At some distance, the buildings will not have to be destroyed and removed but will still require decontamination of all affected surfaces. This decontamination process will take years and will be extremely expensive. The decontamination will produce a far greater challenge and cost much more than the actual rebuilding of the destroyed structures. Approximately 8,000 square kilometers (~ 3,000 square miles) of land will have to undergo varying degrees of decontamination. This effort will last for many years and will cost many billions of dollars to complete.

Service disruption will be extensive in the area near ground zero and in the fallout path for several miles downwind. Services in these areas will not be restored for years because the land affected will not be returned to use until the decontamination is complete and the structures rebuilt. Service disruption will be much less dramatic in areas that are less severely contaminated or not contaminated at all.

The electrical power grid is likely to be damaged by transients produced by the destruction of substations, as well as other power production and distribution installations, and perhaps by the EMP of the detonation. It is likely that the grid damage may cause power outages over wide areas, perhaps over several states, but these outages should be repaired within several days to a couple of weeks. The communication systems in the area will suffer similar damage and will likely be repaired within similar timeframes.

City water mains will likely survive without major damage. The city water supply is unlikely to become substantially contaminated with radiation via water main breaks, but it is possible that some small amount of radioactive and non-radioactive contamination may enter the lines.

To varying degrees, all government services will be impacted over some geographical area. The national economy will be significantly impacted. Decontamination, disposal, and replacement of lost infrastructure will cost many billions of dollars. Replacement of lost private property and goods could add billions more to the cost. Additionally, an overall national economic downturn, if not recession, is probable in the wake of the attack.

Mission Areas Activated:

Prevention/Deterrence/Protection – Law enforcement attempts will be made to prevent development and detonation of the device. Site boundaries must be protected and surveyed after the detonation. Officers must respond to any additional threats or looting/theft issues.

Emergency Assessment/Diagnosis – The detonation will be easily recognized as nuclear. Actions required include dispatching response units; making incident scene reports; detecting and identifying the source; establishing a perimeter; collecting information; making hazard assessments and predictions; coordinating hospital and urgent care facilities; coordinating county and state response requests; and coordinating monitoring, surveying, and sampling operations.

Emergency Management/Response – Evacuation/shelter-in-place decisions must be made immediately. Required actions include alerting the public, providing traffic and access control, protecting at-risk and special populations, supporting requests for assistance, directing and controlling critical infrastructure assets, and directing pubic information activities. Location and removal of injured and disabled people will be a significant undertaking that will be greatly complicated by the need to keep the radiation dose of the individual workers as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA). Initial emergency workers will likely receive high doses of radiation and must be trained on how to avoid as much as possible.

Incident/Hazard Mitigation – Self-evacuation should occur in the short-term, and the greatest factor impacting the reduction of the effects of the detonation on the general population will remain the speed and appropriateness of the decisions that are made and the effectiveness of the dissemination of this information (e.g., evacuation/shelter-in-place instructions).Evacuees must be promptly decontaminated.

Public Protection – Actions should include making and communicating protective action decisions, monitoring and decontaminating evacuees, implementing decisions to administer prophylaxis to the affected populations, protecting special populations, protecting schools and day care facilities, and providing shelter/reception facilities.

Victim Care – Tens of thousands will require decontamination and both short-term and long-term treatment. Due to a high number of casualties, the level of care may be significantly lower than normally expected. When overwhelmed with victims who need care, decisions must be made based on the fact that the sooner the onset of the symptoms, the higher the dose received and the less likely the victim is to survive (even with medical intervention).

Investigation/Apprehension – Attribution activities at the detonation site will rely largely on scientific forensic techniques and will be provided by specialized national teams. Actions of incident-site personnel will include site control and criminal investigation. Federal authorities or the military will probably conduct “apprehension” activities.

Recovery/Remediation – Expected radiation levels will limit the total time workers can spend in the affected area, quickly leading to a shortage of willing, qualified, and trained workers. The volume of contaminated material that will be removed will overwhelm the national hazardous waste disposal facilities and will severely challenge the nation’s ability to transport the material. This effort will be the most expensive and time-consuming part of recovery and will likely cost many billions of dollars and take many years.

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Updated: February 12, 2014 — 10:56 am

The Author

Rich Fleetwood

Rich is the founder of SurvivalRing, now in it's 24th year, author of multimedia CDs and DVDs, loves the outdoors, his family, his geeky skill-set, and lives in rural southern Wyoming, just below the continental divide (long story, that...). Always ready to help others, he shares what he learns on multiple blogs, many social sites, and more. With a background in preparedness and survival skills, training with county, state, and national organizations, and skills in all areas of media and on air experience in live radio and television, Rich is always thinking about the "big picture", when it comes to helping individuals and families prepare for life's little surprises.

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