FEMA: D.C. would sur­vive nu­clear blast past area hit

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY ALI­CIA A. CALD­WELL

Hol­ly­wood has of­ten de­stroyed Washington — or New York or Los An­ge­les — with nu­clear bombs det­o­nated by ter­ror­ists. That turns out to be harder to do in real life.

Think­ing about the un­think­able, a U.S. gov­ern­ment study an­a­lyzed the likely ef­fects from ter­ror­ists set­ting off a 10-kilo­ton nu­clear de­vice a few blocks north of the White House.

It pre­dicted dev­as­ta­tion for roughly one-half mile in ev­ery di­rec­tion, with build­ings re­duced to rub­ble the way World War II bomb­ing raids de­stroyed parts of Ber­lin. But out­side that blast zone, the study con­cluded, even such a nu­clear ex­plo­sion would be sur­viv­able.

“It’s not the end of the world,” said Randy Larsen, a re­tired Air Force colonel and found­ing di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Home­land Se­cu­rity. “It’s not a Cold War sce­nario.”

The lit­tle-no­ticed, 120-page study by the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency was hardly a block­buster.

Ti­tled “Key Re­sponse Plan­ning Fac­tors for the Af­ter­math of Nu­clear Ter­ror­ism,” it was pro­duced in Novem­ber by the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment and the Na­tional Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Even though the gov­ern­ment con­sid­ers it “for of­fi­cial use only” and never pub­lished it on­line, it cir­cu­lated months later on sci­en­tific and gov­ern­ment watch­dog web­sites.

The study did not ex­am­ine the plau­si­bil­ity of ter­ror­ists build­ing a nu­clear bomb or smug­gling one into Washington, which is pro­tected with ra­di­a­tion sen­sors and other tech­nol­ogy de­signed to thwart such an at­tack. It didn’t say why it chose the in­ter­sec­tion of 16th and K streets North­west as the epi­cen­ter for its fic­tional nu­clear bomb.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment re­port es­ti­mated the blast zone in Washington from its fic­tional at­tack would ex­tend just past the South Lawn of the White House and as far east as the FBI head­quar­ters. “Few, if any, above-ground build­ings are ex­pected to re­main struc­turally sound or even stand­ing, and few peo­ple would sur­vive,” it pre­dicted. It de­scribed the blast area as a “no-go zone” for days af­ter­ward be­cause of ra­di­a­tion.

But the U.S. Capi­tol, the Supreme Court build­ing, the Washington Mon­u­ment, the Lin­coln and Jef­fer­son me­mo­ri­als, and the Pen­tagon across the Po­tomac River are all in ar­eas de­scribed as “light dam­age,” with some bro­ken win­dows and mostly mi­nor in­juries.

The gov­ern­ment study pre­dicted 323,000 in­juries, with more than 45,000 dead. A 10-kilo­ton nu­clear ex­plo­sion would be roughly 5,000 times more pow­er­ful than the truck bomb that de­stroyed the fed­eral build­ing in Ok­la­homa City in 1995 but only about half the size of the atomic bombs dropped on Ja­pan in World War II.

The flash from the ex­plo­sion would be seen for hun­dreds of miles, but the mush­room cloud — up to five miles tall — would keep its shape for just a few min­utes. The flash would be so bright it could tem­po­rar­ily blind peo­ple up to 12 miles away, in­clud­ing driv­ers on the Cap­i­tal Belt­way. At least four area hos­pi­tals would be heav­ily dam­aged or un­able to func­tion, and four oth­ers would ex­pe­ri­ence dan­ger­ous ra­di­a­tion fall­out.

The gov­ern­ment said it ex­pects to send warn­ings af­ter­ward by tele­vi­sion, ra­dio, email, text mes­sage and so­cial me­dia ser­vices such as Twit­ter and Face­book.

It pre­dicted the se­ri­ous­ness of ra­dioac­tive fall­out, which would drift with pre­vail­ing winds that vary de­pend­ing on the sea­son and ex­pose vic­tims clos­est to the ex­plo­sion to 300 to 800 Roent­gens in the first two hours, enough to kill nearly all of them.

In the spring, fall­out would drift mostly to the north and west of down­town Washington. But in the sum­mer, it would drift mostly south­east. Af­ter two hours, the ra­dioac­tive cloud would move over Bal­ti­more with far less ex­po­sure.

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