Ukrainians given advice to help prepare for nuclear fallout

Basic precautions will save many lives if people prepare for attack, expert tells 'The National'

Russia's Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launched during exercises held by the country's strategic nuclear forces at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia. Reuters
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A new app was launched on Friday that gives Ukrainians a step-by-step guide on how to protect themselves in the event of a nuclear attack.

The “nuclear incident” app was introduced as experts suggest the world is at greater threat from a detonation than it was during the Cold War.

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Russian generals had discussed how they might use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

There are also fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin might use the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant as an improvised nuclear device, using the persistent westerly winds to spread a radiation cloud across the country.

“The nuclear threat is higher now than it was during most of the Cold War,” said nuclear specialist Hamish de Breton Gordon.

“Russian generals are talking about using tactical weapons and we also had the dirty bomb threat from the Russians as a false flag operation, which in Syria was a classic way of trying to cover up their atrocities.”

The British expert, who was asked by the Ukrainian government to introduce a similar app for chemical warfare shortly after the February invasion, said taking the basic steps outlined in the new app would increase the possibility of survival during a nuclear attack.

Anyone within one kilometre of a tactical nuclear weapon strike would be incinerated but many more casualties would be caused by the radiation cloud, known as fallout.

“The danger time is a few days afterwards when the radiation is still moving around in the air but once it hits the ground, it's not such a big issue,” said the former British army officer.

“The biggest problem is contamination, so you've got to assume that the water supply and everything else is contaminated, so it's all about it's all about preparation.”

A man holds his baby inside Azot chemical plant's bomb shelter in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region, Ukraine. Reuters

The most important things to do are to get into a building within 10 minutes of a blast and have enough food and bottled water for 48 hours.

The explosion's electromagnetic pulse would also knock out mobile and internet coverage, so getting a battery-operated radio is advisable.

Spare clothes are also needed, as people will need to shed their contaminated clothing.

The app, accessed via TF26uk on Telegram, requires only 10 minutes of reading with a few question prompts to prepare for an attack.

It also gives tips such as using a mask to offer some protection against breathing in radioactive particles.

Helpful suggestions for personal items to have on hand in case of an attack include a card showing your blood type, a torch, a multipurpose tool, soap and towel, a plastic bag for contaminated clothes and if possible, a military-grade gas mask.

The app, which is in both Ukrainian and English, outlines the symptoms of radiation sickness, including rapid hair loss, seizures, vomiting blood, diarrhoea and intestinal breakdown that “can appear within minutes to days of exposure”.

In the introduction, the app states that a nuclear incident is not necessarily “inevitable, imminent or likely” and adds that people will get some warning of a nuclear attack from the State Emergency Service (SES).

Russian President Vladimir Putin observes exercises held by Russia's strategic nuclear forces in Moscow. Reuters

Mr de Breton Gordon, a former commander of Nato’s Rapid Reaction Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Battalion, created a similar training tool for civilians under chemical attack in Syria.

“If you have a basic understanding of what to do, it isn’t such a problem,” he told The National. “This app helps you to prepare for a nuclear situation and what to do after an attack or accident.”

Tracking the nuclear cloud will be key to saving as many lives as possible by allowing evacuation before the radiation comes to ground.

Ukraine has now set up a wide area network for surveillance for radiation which, given its toxic nature, is easy to track.

“After detonation, the fallout will be dispersed, becoming a downwind hazard, so if you can track it accurately, you can avoid it and save thousands of lives” the expert said.

Simple steps for survival

· Get in, stay in: Head inside a building as soon as you can and stay away from windows. Sheltering inside can help put a barrier between you and any possible radiation. Stay inside for 24 hours or until the SES tells you otherwise.

· Face protection: Try not to breathe in dust which could be radioactive after an incident. If you don’t have a respirator, cover your nose and mouth. A Covid mask, for example, will act as a barrier to particulates in the air.

· Decontaminate: As soon as you can, remove your clothing and shower or wipe off and wash unprotected skin.

· Stay tuned: TV and mobile phone services may be disrupted, so carry a battery-operated or hand-crank radio to tune into official information about when and where it’s safe to move.

· Fallout: Particularly dangerous in the first few hours after an explosion. It can take more than 10 minutes for it to fall back to earth in areas outside the immediate blast. If you’re outside the immediate explosion, you may have only a maximum of 10 minutes to find shelter to try to prevent significant exposure.

· Barrier: Try to put as much of a barrier as you can between you and any possible radiation.

Updated: November 04, 2022, 5:59 PM