Dark Angel - Max's guide to surviving a nuclear attack

Set in 2020 post-apocalyptic America
, Dark Angel is the story of Max, a genetically engineered fighting machine on the run from the government. She is living and working in Seattle, a dangerous area which is still trying to recover after terrorists killed the US economy by detonating an electromagnetic pulse. As Season one is
about to be released on DVD (£59.99) and video (£39.99) by 20th Century Fox, Sci-fi-online brings you Max's guide to surviving a nuclear attack...

The detonation of a nuclear bomb over a target such as a populated city like Seattle causes immense damage. The degree of damage depends upon the distance from the centre of the bomb blast, often referred to as the "hypo-centre" or "ground zero".

The closer you are to ground zero, the more severe the damage. Damage is caused by several things including: a wave of intense heat from the explosion, pressure from the shock wave created by the blast, radiation, and radioactive fallout (clouds of fine radioactive particles of dust and bomb debris that fall back to the ground), and an electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

Imagine a very bright flash in the sky! No one is hurt but, your transistor radio stops playing, your car won't start, the telephone doesn't ring, lights go out, and we suddenly find ourselves in the Stone Age. This is an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. Electric and magnetic fields created by a nuclear explosion cause the destruction of all electric and electronic circuits. If exploded in high altitude, a nuclear device could create a massive EMP without any other type of nuclear blast damage.

The development of modern high-tech semiconductor devices permeates the developed world. Communications have been made faster, automobiles more fuel-efficient and maintenance-free, TV sets, videotape recorders, and virtually every other piece of electronic equipment have been improved by the advent of the semiconductor and its high-tech advancements.

A nuclear attack on the North American continent could bring the country to its knees by frying all of the circuitry in our electronic equipment. All nuclear explosions produce EMPs. The induced voltages and currents produced in conductors (wires and cables) are comparable in strength to the strongest of lightning bolts. EMPs may reach 3 million volts and 10,000 amperes for a total of 30-billion watts of energy.

The largest commercial radio stations in the US and Canada radiate 50,000 watts, or approximately one-millionth that much power! Indeed, three ten-megaton thermonuclear weapons detonated 250 miles above the United States or Canada would produce EMPs strong enough to knock out the entire electrical power grid of North America including the entire civilian-telephone network, and just about every broadcast station. Virtually, every piece of unprotected electronic equipment in the country, radios, TV sets, computers, electronic controls in homes, office buildings, factories, cars, aeroplanes, and instruments in hospitals, would be damaged, if not destroyed. The pulses would also damage or destroy large portions of the military command's control and communication system, and chain reactions would also be set in motion at nuclear power plants.

With a typical nuclear attack, at the hypo-centre, everything is immediately vaporised by the high temperature (up to 500 million degrees Fahrenheit or 300 million degrees Celsius). Outward from this, most casualties are caused from burns by the heat, injuries from the flying debris, and acute exposure to the high radiation. Beyond the immediate blast area, casualties are caused from the heat, radiation, and fires spawned from the heat wave. In the long-term, radioactive fallout will occur over a wider area because of a prevailing winds. The radioactive fallout particles will enter the water supply and be inhaled and ingested by people over a great distance from the blast.

In the 1980s, scientists proposed the theory that a "nuclear winter" could occur. In this scenario, the explosion of many bombs would raise great clouds of dust and radioactive material that would travel high into Earth's atmosphere. These clouds would block out sunlight. The reduced level of sunlight would lower the surface temperature of the planet and reduce photosynthesis by plants and bacteria. The reduction in photosynthesis would disrupt the food chain, and cause mass extinction of life, including humans.

Nuclear weapons have incredible, long-term destructive power that travels far beyond the original target. These horrific set of possibilities are why the world's governments are trying to control the spread of nuclear bomb making technology and materials and to reduce the nuclear weapons that were deployed during the Cold War. There is always the danger of a rogue nation or terrorist group getting hold of a nuclear device and causing a global catastrophe. Many have already tried to obtain the necessary equipment and knowledge. Some may soon possess it, if they haven't already.

Whether it were the result of a terrorist or the first salvo of an all out nuclear war, what you did during the first few moments following a nuclear blast would mean the difference between life and death.

You can survive quite close to ground zero if a small nuclear device explodes. A good shelter can be the ticket to surviving a nuclear attack and you could survive a similar blast even if you're just a mile from ground zero. Of course, the farther you are from ground zero the better off you'll be.

For this reason, one good survival strategy is to be away from areas that are apt to attract attacks. Big cities may be glamorous, but they are prime targets for attack. Those living close to large harbours or military installations are also most at risk. Moving away from such areas will probably keep you safe from limited nuclear attack for the rest of your life.

The release of energy during the explosion super heats the air around it until it is hotter than the face of the sun. This air expands violently making a blast wave that races from ground zero at up to 4,000 miles per hour (fortunately this speed drops off quickly as the distance from ground zero increases). The air ahead of the blast wave is compressed; it bends light and appears slightly luminous and will appear as a sheet of glass moving out from the centre of the explosion. As the blast wave storms away from ground zero, the fireball that created it rises so quickly that it creates a vacuum under it. The vacuum pulls air back toward ground zero so that the blast wave is followed by a counter wave sucked back toward the area of the explosion to fill the vacuum. Both the blast wave and the counter suction wave are destructive.

All in all, you won't have trouble knowing a nuclear explosion has occurred especially since its fireball will be four times as bright as the sun.

With thanks to Paula at DSA

Season one of Dark Angel is out to buy on 24 February 2003 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
(£59.99 DVD & £39.99 Video)

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