The only such media I've seen is Fallout, which is obviously highly fantastical. I mean, they mutant animals and irradiated zombies running around!

But realistically, is there anyway that life could survive in a highly irradiated world?

Humans could possibly survive in shelters. Most surface life would be exterminated from the initial rise in radiation, but burrowing animals might have a better chance. Any animals that humans took into their shelters could also make it into the new world.

Obviously, humans couldn't stay in the shelters forever. I think the maximum time they could spend in there before they ran out of resources is a few months. They would have to venture out and reclaim the surface within a year at most.

Would it even be possible for humans to survive in such a world? I know they found this strange black moss in Chernobyl that not only can survive high-radiation conditions, but actually needs radiation to survive! Obviously, this means that something alive would still be here. And of course, arthropods are resistant enough to radiation there many species may actually survive to inherit the world. Of course, we obviously wouldn't see giant arthropods. Our world may just end up inhabited by nothing but strange black plants and bugs.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You should decide what you mean by nuclear apocalypse/ highly irradiated world. How highly irradiated? $\endgroup$
    – Marbrand
    Jun 30, 2018 at 6:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This has been asked in different ways several times in the past six months. Short answer is all out nuclear war would affect a few large cities and military installations directly. Within a generation the world would be back to normal. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Jun 30, 2018 at 11:03

4 Answers 4


Radiation damage is a cumulative effect of statistically distributed events.

So, though unlikely, it can happen that some organisms will survive (and the more organism are radiates, the more the chances that one will do).

Just as an example, consider the 6 ginkgo trees which survived the atomic blast on Hiroshima

At the end of World War II on August 6, 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the Americans. The plants and trees in the area around the epicentre were examined in September 1945. Among the survivors were the six Ginkgo biloba trees shown on this page. They were situated near the blast center and appeared to bud after the blast without major deformations and are still alive today.

So, the answer to your question is: basically by chance.

  • $\begingroup$ They say cockroaches can survive nuclear apocalypse. $\endgroup$
    – Mr.J
    Jun 30, 2018 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Mr.J, I don't know if anybody ever bothered checking the survival rates of cockroaches in Hiroshima and Nagasaky. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jun 30, 2018 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ They did a mythbusters episode where they irradiated cockroaches. $\endgroup$
    – Marbrand
    Jun 30, 2018 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, mythbusters actually tested that. Ironically, cockroaches had the lowest resistance to radiation of all the insects they tested. If anything, cockroaches wouldn't be alone to inherit the earth. $\endgroup$
    – user50663
    Jun 30, 2018 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch of all these years, what I know is a lie! $\endgroup$
    – Mr.J
    Jul 2, 2018 at 0:02

You should watch Threads (1984) - the biggest danger in a nuclear exchange is not necessarily the physical incapacitation of the population, but the collapse of society such that food, production, education and technology regresses to a pre-industrial state, likely to medieval levels.

Without collective farming, water distribution and modern infrastructure, the environment would not be able to sustain current population levels, therefore almost every person would die, down to likely a few hundred thousand instead of the 7 billion we have now.

Physically, the survivors would need to contend with:

  • A depleted ozone layer, making any exposure outside harmful
  • Crops and cultivation would be difficult in an exposed environment, with soil in many currently farmed areas likely to be toxic
  • Climate may have changed due to dust in the atmosphere, although it depends on the timeframes you are expecting the survivors to emerge.

Unfortunately you would need to begin again developing culture, expertise and education from the 'ground up' to restore civilisation, except this time the odds are quite significantly stacked against you, so expect it to be a very very long time (or not at all).

  • $\begingroup$ That movie was crazy. Yea, i do not think there would be much chance for survival. Even if it was just unites and russia shooting their nukes only at each other, the rest of the landmass on earth would have nuclear winter. Maybe the southern hemisphere would make it in that specific scenario. $\endgroup$
    – user22106
    Jun 30, 2018 at 23:15
  • $\begingroup$ Not true. Humanity would easily survive nuclear war $\endgroup$
    – DT Cooper
    Jun 7, 2020 at 4:48
  • $\begingroup$ @DTCooper A human could survive (or at least have a 1 in a million or so chance of doing so) at the start. But how long would they live if they are in the lucky few, and would their kids live? And how will they live? The problem is not just 'survive', the problem is that we are are all interlinked more than you know. And now we have to work from the ground up again, but this time contend with the fallout left behind, meaning fragile human culture would have a much harder time second time around. It was almost impossible first time around - all but impossible the next. $\endgroup$
    – flox
    Jun 7, 2020 at 7:34
  • $\begingroup$ @flox I’m building a post nuclear world similar to this. Does that mean human wouldn’t be able to survive my world? What could I do? $\endgroup$
    – DT Cooper
    Jun 7, 2020 at 15:20

Unless the world were orders of magnitude richer and more populous than it is now, "a nuclear apocalypse" would not directly affect most of the planet.

Consider: How much does it cost to build and maintain a nuclear weapon? On the order of millions of dollars. That means that most sparsely inhabited areas are not worth bombing with nuclear weapons. For that matter, most rural areas are not worth bombing with nuclear weapons.

At its peak during the Cold War, the world's total nuclear weapons stockpiles were on the order of tens of thousands of bombs. A large fraction of these bombs were "tactical" weapons, intended for use in highly contested geographical areas (such as Central Europe or Korea). Most of the remaining weapons were targeted at each other. Of the "strategic" weapons intended for attacking cities or non-ICBM military targets, many were redundant (to account for expected losses from anti-ballistic missile systems).

So suppose that 1,000 places are bombed in "a nuclear apocalypse". Suppose each severely damaged area has a radius of 25 miles. That is 700,000 square miles, or about 1 percent of the world's land area. That area is likely to include a large percentage of the developed world's population and ports, but it is much less than the area of either the continental U.S. or European Russia.

  • $\begingroup$ Not to mention neutral countries being exempt from any direct attacks $\endgroup$ Jun 30, 2018 at 7:29

As of today, there are enough known nuclear weapons as to render the world inhabitable for 98% or lifeforms, the 2% being deep ocean fauna, insects that can mutate quickly enough to adapt to the new environment and rats, who can also count on an exceptional breeding factor. And extremofiles bacteria.

A full nuclear exchange will cause a multitude of factors destined to transform Earth into a desert.

  • SOOT: All main cities and military nuclear silos will be targeted first. Cities will turn into blazing infernos, adding the soot of their bonfires to what the explosions launched high in the eair. This soot will include every possible chemical subtance and further radiation if the targets (like Southern Korea or Japan, etc) used to have nuclear power plants of their own. Add to all of this the radioactive dust that ground explosion (remember the military targets) will create.

And we haven't even used ALL of those monsters. in a FS nuclear war, at this point no one wants the other to leave any future advantage. This is a perfect 'lose-lose' situation, in which each side thinks he can win for the keep.

  • COLD: Nuclear winter will soon set in once dust has settled in the atmosphere. The once tropical regions will be suffering arctic temperatures. Average global temperatures will drop so fast and so bad as to surpass what humans suffered during the last great ice age when at least there was food to be found and air and waters were clean.

With sunlight severely reduced for a prolonged period, radioactive black rains all over the world, and prolonged cold, the food chain, which depends on plants, will utterly collapse. everyone dies on Earth surface, except, again, for cockcroaches, flies, and scavengers that can feed on carrions and who found themselves sheltered underground when war fell upon us.

And when, finally, the atmosphere is cleared of the dust, the ozone layer by then is depleted enough to cause a continuous, intense UV bombardment on the surface. Any god-allowed human survivor would be slowly killed by skin tumors and would get blinded.

Furthermore and even worse, those few survivors would remain clustered and scattered in small tribal enclaves unable to contact each other on long distances (no technology and no animals to use for transportation or to carry messages). Withing these enclaves, many men and women would just be infertile due to radiation. Those who could give birth would generate misshapen monsters with a very short life expectancy, and those incredibly rare babies who could reach sexual maturity in relative good health should soon start inbreeding, thus giving birth to once again defective babies. Extinction of humankind

So yes, life would survive, but it will be left to evolution and some million years before you could speak, perhaps, of a sentient species again. And this time, it will be coming from rats.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Jul 1, 2018 at 2:20

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