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Calling It “Unthinkable” Doesn’t Help

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From the San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage of a National Academy of Sciences meeting underway in D.C.:

It is a grim, almost unthinkable scenario: a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon, smuggled into the United States, is detonated in a major U.S. city, perhaps even the Bay Area.

Top federal officials and medical experts gathered in Washington on Thursday to consider this nightmare vision. Their conclusion: Cities and states are frightfully ill-prepared for dealing with an attack using a small nuclear bomb.

“Few of them have coordinated response plans for the aftermath of nuclear terrorism,” said Brooke Buddemeier, a specialist in the radiological and nuclear counter-measures division at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “There is a general lack of understanding of the response needs and uncertainty over federal, state and local roles and responsibilities.”

Federal officials are worried enough to have convened a National Academy of Sciences committee on medical preparedness for a nuclear attack by terrorists. The panel is holding its first two-day meeting in Washington this week.

The presentations got specific:

The committee began its first session with a ghastly overview of what a 10-kiloton nuclear blast would look like: If detonated at the White House, it could destroy virtually every building within 1,500 yards. People in an area out to 1.55 miles could suffer second-degree burns, while others would be injured by flying debris and shattered windows. Those 4.5 to 7.5 miles away could suffer momentary “flash” blindness, causing traffic accidents.

A lethal plume of radioactive material would, depending on winds, stretch as far as 9 miles, affecting up to 300,000 people, although injuries would depend on a person’s exposure to radiation.

“It’s not just about radiation exposure,” Buddemeier said. Many of the injured would have shards of glass in their eyes, ruptured eardrums and other impact injuries from the blast’s shock waves.

Read the whole thing and understand that there are millions of people who go to sleep every night and dream of such a scenario –and take pleasure in it.

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