Judgment Day: FEMA Is Preparing for a Massive Nuclear Blast in 60 U.S. Cities
WASHINGTON — August 30, 2018
According to an official representative of the Federal Agency for emergency situations of the United States, FEMA immediately updated disaster plans to account for large nuclear detonations amid concerns over North Korea.
On Thursday, a two-day National Academies of Sciences workshop for public health and emergency response was held at the FEMA headquarters across the street from the US State Department. Scientists and FEMA representatives discussed the shift away from planning for small nuclear devices that could be deployed by terrorists toward thermonuclear blasts arranged by “state actors”.
“We are looking at 100 kiloton to 1,000 kiloton detonations,” said chief of FEMA’s chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear branch Luis Garcia.
According to him, the current algorithm used by FEMA was first released in 2010, which looked at 1 to 10 kiloton blasts.
For comparison, this is smaller than the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs that killed more than 200,000 people at the end of the Second World War. Those smaller size detonations had seemed more reasonable after 9/11, with high concerns about an improvised terrorist bomb.
Then Dallas presented a "speculative" analysis of nuclear detonations in several cities — including New York and Washington, D.C. According to calculations, the explosive device will instantly kill several hundred thousand, and about the same number will be wounded or irradiated. Such explosions also cause burn injuries and larger fallout clouds that travel from further away.
According to Dallas, a thermonuclear blast would lead to approximately double the number of fatalities, and many more wounded, since a similar analysis of the 1979 explosion 1000 kilotons in Detroit, in which the number of losses was estimated at 220 000.
The updated FEMA guide accounts for the 60 largest urban areas in the US and will rely on newer detonation models created by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. These models take into account weather patterns that direct and distort weapon clouds, as well as the shelter provided by concrete structures. “A 10 times larger [explosion] yield does not make things 10 times worse,” LLNL’s Brooke Buddemeier said at the workshop. People remaining in shelters in the hours and days after a blast greatly lower their chances of getting radiation sickness.
The new FEMA plan will also have to consider modern contingencies such as cyberweapons striking power plants and cell phone signals before a blast, or a nuclear blackmail scenario where a single bomb is detonated followed by threats to set off more unless demands are met.
In response to an audience question, Garcia said the agency has also considered scenarios where a nuclear bomb, a cyber attack, a coordinated electromagnetic pulse, and biological weapons all hit the US at the same time.
“All states, all large cities have all thought about this before,” the CDC's Strategic National Stockpile Deputy Director Steve Adams said, and they already designate sites for medical supplies after disasters. “I think the challenge for us will be distribution, a very large one.”
The national stockpile now contains medicine and medical material to treat radiation sickness, but Adams expressed concerns about burn kits. Medical specialists from the American Burn Association frequently raised concerns at the two-day workshop about numbers and training of burn experts nationwide, particularly for treating children. Colleen Ryan of Harvard Medical School said that there are only about 300 qualified burn surgeons nationwide and that the burn treatment requirements for medical school training of surgeons were curtailed a decade ago.
Nursing expert Tener Veenema of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health also questioned plans like FEMA’s, pointing to studies suggesting that many nurses and doctors feared radiation above other threats, and might not show up to treat people after such a disaster, fleeing instead. “We need to analyze these plans for nursing shortfalls,” she said, adding that no one has analyzed the costs of such a blast to the national economy to justify the extra spending and training that would be needed to make the plans justifiable to lawmakers.
Similarly, Ron Miller, acting director of the National Disaster Medical System at the US Department of Health and Human Services, raised concerns about the 6,000 doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals showing up after a nuclear explosion.
At the end of the seminar, FEMA officials also recalled two kinds of widespread complacency among the officials that were very disturbing to their work. Thus, mayors and sheriffs from rural areas prepare for nuclear attacks without much eagerness, because of they are sure that their town is far away and 1000-kilotons blast won't affect a local life. On the other hand, officials of large cities have all but silently resigned as the blast will likely kill nearly everyone in its wake making efforts at disaster planning futile, despite that even acute radiation poisoning and severe burns can be treated.
“We have to get past this fatalism,” Dallas said. “There’s a lot of denial going on.”
It is well known that FEMA is considering a nuclear threat from the North Korean government despite the agreement on denuclearization signed by Kim and US President Donald Trump on June 12 in Singapore. Raising concerns about the success of the agreement, on Friday Trump cancelled US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's upcoming trip to North Korea, claiming that “we are not making sufficient progress" on denuclearization. Earlier this week, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency released a report saying North Korea had continued its nuclear tests, despite the June agreement.