As communications between North Korea and the United States grow more tense, the threat of a possible nuclear attack from Pyongyang is starting to seem more likely. Toward the end of July, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that, according to American, South Korean, and Japanese analyses, could potentially strike major U.S. cities. Ever since Donald Trump fired back at North Korea, threatening the isolated country with "fire and fury," concerns about a nuclear attack stateside have escalated. But how likely is death by nuclear attack?
It is important to note that although North Korea has reportedly constructed a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on a missile, a heavy payload in an ICBM's nuclear warhead would reduce the missile range and possibly its accuracy. Let's compare this supposedly more compact nuclear weapon to the predicted effects of a one-megaton atomic bomb. In either case, you are more likely to survive the further away you are from the site of the explosion.
According to Alphr, standing within 5 miles of the blast zone of a one-megaton bomb could result in serious third-degree burns, which could be fatal — but chances of fatality increase the closer you are to the center. However, factors like wind speeds and collapsing buildings could get to you even if the blast itself does not. Radiation is another important factor; Alphr indicates that 600 REMs of radiation has an up to 90 percent chance of causing death.
Of course, North Korea's ICBM warhead is probably not going to have the same impact as a one-megaton bomb, particularly given the limitations of payload weight, but the principle of being further away — and hopefully underground — upon detonation still applies if you want to increase your chances of survival. But even if the potential impact of the ICBM is unclear, Americans are still taking steps in the event of a nuclear attack.
Hawaii became the first state to prepare in case of a nuclear attack, and Vern Miyagi — an administrator for Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency — told CNN that nuclear fallout could kill more people than the blast itself. The Independent reported that radiation fallout could travel up to 100 miles, and people who are within this radius of a blast zone may need to remain in a fallout shelter for two weeks to avoid it.
Frantic cries of WWIII may seem like exaggerations, but it would be wise not to underestimate North Korea's nuclear capacity, or its willingness to carry out its threats. Pyongyang reportedly has detailed plans for a nuclear strike against American military targets in Guam — a much more specific threat than it has made in the past.