Planning Guidance Review

Walmer E. Strope 

I have completed my review of Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation, First Edition, January 16, 2009 and find it to be disappointing,  incomplete, and not representative of the state of knowledge available. As a result of these weaknesses, this guidance document misleads the planner and operator in some instances. For example, the fallout event anticipated from a 10-kiloton surface detonation is described vaguely as a wavy pattern about 10 to 20 miles long(Fig. 1.4), indeterminate width, and said to be the 10 R/hour contour at some indeterminate time.  Since most of the response planning will pertain to the fallout event, this description needs to be corrected and augmented by reference to the dynamic data in The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, 1977, especially Table 9.90 of that document. To see how that can be done, go to the site “,” click on “commentary,” and read Chapter 1 of my paper, What is Needed to Survive and Recover from a Terrorist Nuclear Explosion. You will find that all the lethal fallout is on the ground within the first hour, a rapidity that will dominate response planning.

Chapter 2 of the planning guidance, which purports to provide a zoned approach to planning response without actually doing so, is a bit muddled. Three damage zones—light damage (LD), moderate damage (MD), and a close-in crater region labeled NoGo—are offered but the LD damage is said to be inconsequential and NoGo speaks for itself, leaving only the MD zone requiring response planning. There is also the DF zone of dangerous fallout, which overlaps portions of the LD, MD, and NoGo zones forming new zones of differing operating environment. These are not discussed. Actually, this concentration on weapons effects hides important response planning information. The region of significant direct effects ( MD and NoGo) extends over about 3 square miles. The average area of American cities with over a million residents is about 300 square miles. Ninety-nine percent of such cities will not suffer significant damage. Washington has less than a million residents but is a prime terrorist target as the seat of government. It has an area of about 63 square miles, so 95 percent of the city will remain intact. The first item in the Key Points box should be that 90 percent or more of the city will not suffer damage and the second item should be that the infrastructure of the public safety forces will remain functional.

My reaction to the material in Chapter 3 can be summarized by the statement that, of the 8 items in the Key Points box, 4 are not true. Consider, for example, item 2: “The best initial action . . .is to take shelter in the nearest building” and item 7: “No evacuation should be attempted until basic information is available regarding fallout distribution and radiation dose rates.” Item 2 accomplishes nothing if the nearest building offers little or no protection. As to Item 7, evacuation is immediately available. Just get in your vehicle and drive away from the nuclear explosion. You will easily outrun the fallout, which moves at wind speed. Having everyone do this invites traffic jams but it is a reasonable planned response in tracts without nearby shelter. This guidance acknowledges single-story, wood-frame, basementless houses offer no fallout shelter but ignores large tracts of steel frame buildings with plastic or sheet metal siding. Built on concrete slabs and used as warehouses or light industry (e.g.,commercial bakeries), these also offer no shelter. The guidance should explain or reference how to survey the urban area, particularly for no-shelter areas, as was done 40 years ago in the National Fallout Shelter Survey (NFSS.)