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Chapter 23 - Page 1


Man-Made Hazards gif

Nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons have become potential realities on any modern battlefield. Recent experience in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and other areas of conflict has proved the use of chemical and biological weapons (such as mycotoxins). The warfighting doctrine of the NATO and Warsaw Pact nations addresses the use of both nuclear and chemical weapons. The potential use of these weapons intensifies the problems of survival because of the serious dangers posed by either radioactive fallout or contamination produced by persistent biological or chemical agents.
You must use special precautions if you expect to survive in these man-made hazards. If you are subjected to any of the effects of nuclear, chemical, or biological warfare, the survival procedures recommended in this chapter may save your life. This chapter presents some background information on each type of hazard so that you may better understand the true nature of the hazard. Awareness of the hazards, knowledge of this chapter, and application of common sense should keep you alive.


Prepare yourself to survive in a nuclear environment. Know how to react to a nuclear hazard.

Effects of Nuclear Weapons

The effects of nuclear weapons are classified as either initial or residual. Initial effects occur in the immediate area of the explosion and are hazardous in the first minute after the explosion. Residual effects can last for days or years and cause death. The principal initial effects are blast and radiation.


Defined as the brief and rapid movement of air away from the explosion's center and the pressure accompanying this movement. Strong winds accompany the blast. Blast hurls debris and personnel, collapses lungs, ruptures eardrums, collapses structures and positions, and causes immediate death or injury with its crushing effect.

Thermal Radiation

The heat and light radiation a nuclear explosion's fireball emits. Light radiation consists of both visible light and ultraviolet and infrared light. Thermal radiation produces extensive fires, skin burns, and flash blindness.

Nuclear Radiation

Nuclear radiation breaks down into two categories-initial radiation and residual radiation.

Initial nuclear radiation consists of intense gamma rays and neutrons produced during the first minute after the explosion. This radiation causes extensive damage to cells throughout the body. Radiation damage may cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even death, depending on the radiation dose received. The major problem in protecting yourself against the initial radiation's effects is that you may have received a lethal or incapacitating dose before taking any protective action. Personnel exposed to lethal amounts of initial radiation may well have been killed or fatally injured by blast or thermal radiation.

Residual radiation consists of all radiation produced after one minute from the explosion. It has more effect on you than initial radiation. A discussion of residual radiation takes place in a subsequent paragraph.

Types of Nuclear Bursts

There are three types of nuclear bursts—airburst, surface burst, and subsurface burst. The type of burst directly affects your chances of survival. A subsurface burst occurs completely underground or underwater. Its effects remain beneath the surface or in the immediate area where the surface collapses into a crater over the burst's location. Subsurface bursts cause you little or no radioactive hazard unless you enter the immediate area of the crater. No further discussion of this type of burst will take place.

An airburst occurs in the air above its intended target. The airburst provides the maximum radiation effect on the target and is, therefore, most dangerous to you in terms of immediate nuclear effects.

A surface burst occurs on the ground or water surface. Large amounts of fallout result, with serious long-term effects for you. This type of burst is your greatest nuclear hazard.

Nuclear Injuries

Most injuries in the nuclear environment result from the initial nuclear effects of the detonation. These injuries are classed as blast, thermal, or radiation injuries. Further radiation injuries may occur if you do not take proper precautions against fallout. Individuals in the area near a nuclear explosion will probably suffer a combination of all three types of injuries.

Blast Injuries

Blast injuries produced by nuclear weapons are similar to those caused by conventional high-explosive weapons. Blast overpressure can produce collapsed lungs and ruptured internal organs. Projectile wounds occur as the explosion's force hurls debris at you. Large pieces of debris striking you will cause fractured limbs or massive internal injuries. Blast over-pressure may throw you long distances, and you will suffer severe injury upon impact with the ground or other objects. Substantial cover and distance from the explosion are the best protection against blast injury. Cover blast injury wounds as soon as possible to prevent the entry of radioactive dust particles.

Thermal Injuries

The heat and light the nuclear fireball emits causes thermal injuries. First-, second-, or third-degree burns may result. Flash blindness also occurs. This blindness may be permanent or temporary depending on the degree of exposure of the eyes. Substantial cover and distance from the explosion can prevent thermal injuries. Clothing will provide significant protection against thermal injuries. Cover as much exposed skin as possible before a nuclear explosion. First aid for thermal injuries is the same as first aid for burns. Cover open burns (second-or third-degree) to prevent the entry of radioactive particles. Wash all burns before covering.

Radiation Injuries

Neutrons, gamma radiation, alpha radiation, and beta radiation cause radiation injuries. Neutrons are high-speed, extremely penetrating particles that actually smash cells within your body. Gamma radiation is similar to X rays and is also a highly penetrating radiation. During the initial fireball stage of a nuclear detonation, initial gamma radiation and neutrons are the most serious threat. Beta and alpha radiation are radioactive particles normally associated with radioactive dust from fallout. They are short-range particles and you can easily protect yourself against them if you take precautions. See Bodily Reactions to Radiation, below, for the symptoms of radiation injuries.

Residual Radiation

Residual radiation is all radiation emitted after 1 minute from the instant of the nuclear explosion. Residual radiation consists of induced radiation and fallout.

Induced Radiation

It describes a relatively small, intensely radioactive area directly underneath the nuclear weapon's fireball. The irradiated earth in this area will remain highly radioactive for an extremely long time. You should not travel into an area of induced radiation.


Fallout consists of radioactive soil and water particles, as well as weapon fragments. During a surface detonation, or if an airburst's nuclear fireball touches the ground, large amounts of soil and water are vaporized along with the bomb's fragments, and forced upward to altitudes of 25,000 meters or more. When these vaporized contents cool, they can form more than 200 different radioactive products. The vaporized bomb contents condense into tiny radioactive particles that the wind carries and they fall back to earth as radioactive dust. Fallout particles emit alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. Alpha and beta radiation are relatively easy to counteract, and residual gamma radiation is much less intense than the gamma radiation emitted during the first minute after the explosion. Fallout is your most significant radiation hazard, provided you have not received a lethal radiation dose from the initial radiation.

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Updated: 12 January 2008
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