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This is a world building question in a preventative context because those people or countries would be left fully functional while others gone and the safe areas is where the world building would begin.

What countries would be the least likely to get nuclear bombed or have fallout if a full nuclear exchanged occurred? With the new massive hypersonic ICBMs that can travel up Mach 20 would give you only minutes to get to a safe place. So it would be best to just live where it is safe.

Which country has a good economy and be the least likely to be included in World War III directly or indirectly?

Is there a anti-war map or a shaded map showing the safest areas on Earth?

This country has a nuclear war plan that is followed out so there is already list targets in countries that are still going to get a nuking even if they are not directly involved.

The Tzar Bomba has been decommissioned in the 60s, but that was 60 years ago and who knows if more powerful nukes has been made.

https://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/ https://nuclearsecrecy.com/missilemap/ These links are Google powered online programs used to calculate missile range, nuclear bomb blast radius and fall out.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 18 '18 at 5:09
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    $\begingroup$ A big problem with having an "anti-war map" is that as soon as someone defines this space as "safe", that's where important individuals will seek refuge, and once the area is filled with HVT's, it becomes a priority target and is no longer safe. $\endgroup$ – AAlig Sep 18 '18 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ So this question is ignoring nuclear winter? All of NA and EU are uninhabitable but the rest of the world doesn't feel it? $\endgroup$ – Jamie Clinton Sep 18 '18 at 16:41

17 Answers 17

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The Vasily Arkhipov scenario, with a twist.

Many answers have hinted at just how important it would be to determine exactly how the specific scenario plays out, but I haven't seen any take this concept and run with it.

During the cuban missile crisis, Vasily Arkhipov is often credited with preventing a Soviet nuclear strike and, potentially, an "all out nuclear world war 3" that very likely would have ensued afterward.

So for your world building setup, you'll need to start with a similar situation: competing/conflicting world powers gradually increase tensions until someone goes to far with their posturing and threatening behavior, and the other side feels they have no other option but to launch a pre-emptive strike, but this time there's no Arkhipov on site to stop it.

Which nuclear power is most likely to launch such a strike? Most answers speculate that it would be North Korea, while others mention China, Russia, Pakistan, and the US. NK is, hands down, the most frequently mentioned, for obvious reasons that I don't feel the need to include in my answer. But personally, my money says it's actually the US that launches the first nuclear weapon...at NK...in response to what they believe to be a clear and present danger to themselves from whatever antics NK is up to at the time.

From this point, just work through the responses of all the other nuclear powers. I suspect US would launch a single strike, hoping it will be enough of a deterrent, on its own, to prevent further conflict. But they will also certainly have their finger 'on the button' of many more, just in case. NK will not have any Arkhipov stand-in available and will certainly retaliate, and China will join in, though not "all out" at this point. China will hope to "nerf" the US nuclear capabilities and end the conflict that way, but NK is not likely to hold back anything that the US didn't destroy with it's first nuke, they'll launch it all. As soon as the NK nukes are detected, the US will respond with enough to make sure NK has no threat whatsoever left, but will only attempt to "nerf" China in the same manner that China attempted to "nerf" the US. While the US volley is still in the air, the "all out nuclear war" phase kicks off in earnest as China and anyone else that thinks China might win, will send their "all out" volleys at US targets, prompting the US and their allies to send their "all out" volleys in return. But hopefully by this point, some of the initial "nerf" attempts have at least partially succeeded, dramatically lowering everyone's nuclear arsenals, with relatively low impact on civilian populations during that phase. The "all out" phase would see many population centers targeted that the "nerf" phase was unconcerned about, but with reduced firepower the choice of targets would have to be more selective. NK would launch all of theirs before getting hit by the first US nuke. US and China would both be heavily nerfed. Their allies would likely launch most of their nukes before being nerfed themselves.

In the end, only Russia and the US, and possibly China, have enough nukes to strike a relatively large number of targets even after the initial "nerf". US will strike NK and China, and anyone that joins them. China will strike the US and anyone that joins them. I must say I'm not sure what Russia might do, they could pick either side, for a variety of reasons, or they could try to wait till US and China beat themselves up, and then finish them both off (India and Pakistan might also try this type of thing, waiting till the big three pummel each other, and then try to kick them all while they're down).

But the point is that, with the sole possible exception of NK, none of them will be trying to destroy the world, they'll all be trying to make the whole event as tactically precise as possible, and end things as quickly and cleanly as possible, if for no other reason than self preservation, as an uninhabitable world doesn't benefit them in the slightest, and they know that. So primary targets will be nuclear launch capable facilities for the vast majority of the entire conflict, until no one knows of anyone else's nukes that haven't already been launched or destroyed. At that point, the conflict will turn to attacks on other military installations and population centers in retaliation for any missiles that still come in from launch sites that weren't known far enough in advance to be targeted in the "nerf" volleys. But most parties will quickly cease fire when they realize that any missile they launch, and even other, non-nuclear military actions, will be met with nuclear retaliation against their biggest, still-standing, population centers.

When the dust settles, the devastation will indeed be massive, and widespread. The fallout will certainly be a major issue. But because of the tactical precision from most of the missiles involved, and the targets selected, there will be large areas of the planet that are, relatively, unaffected. Nowhere will be entirely untouched, certainly, but there will be plenty of reasonably intact land to go around.

Personally, I'd pick rural inland Brazil, but the area surrounding Lake Victoria in Africa would also be good for similar reason to my selection of Brazil:

  1. These are climates good for agriculture, and which are likely to remain good climates for agriculture, even with mild cooling of the climate from nuclear-winter-like effects. (At this point I'm operating under the assumption that, for whatever reason, nuclear winter will not be so severe that your story fails to have a starting point at all). The choice of what to plant might have to change with the climate, but that's true of anywhere in the world.

  2. Political stability before the nukes is not likely to be relevant, as chaos will ensue, worldwide, and it's very unlikely that any currently existing country will remain intact in the aftermath. The world will be reduced to city-states and barter systems, if not worse, so whoever is in a particular region is not likely to be able to migrate far, at least initially, and is not likely to care what another group of people even a meager 100 miles away is doing. They'll be interested in sustaining themselves, and cooperation for survival with anyone else in their local area is as good a reason to form a clan/tribe/etc. and get to the business of making food for their new community. No matter where you end up, it's going to come down to luck of the draw whether you end up in a group that decides to farm, a group that decides to hunt, a group that decides to loot, etc. So the original government of the area isn't really a factor to consider. Instead, potential food productivity of the land is likely to be the deciding factor for if and when a region regains some semblance of civilized society, so getting to such an area in advance is your best bet for finding the higher number of farmers to cooperate with and the lower number of looters to contend with.

  3. They are not likely to be significant targets in any phase of conflict, and are not likely to be downwind for fallout of any significant targets during any phase of the conflict. Sure, they might have alliances, allegiances, treaties, and agreements, with parties on either side, but they don't have any strategic or tactical importance in the actual nuclear aspect of the conflict. Again, nowhere on the planet will be entirely immune, but these two places should receive the lowest portions of both direct and collateral damage.

I just picked Brazil, over Africa, because I'm more familiar with it, and I suspect it's agricultural potential to be even greater than that of Africa (though I admit that could be a misconception based on my own bias).

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New Zealand. Nowhere in the southern hemisphere is a likely target for nuclear weapons, but New Zealand is further south than any other countries except Chile and Argentina, has a stable economy and government, a temperate climate, and is self-sufficient in food. It’s also far enough from anywhere else that it’s unlikely to be swamped with refugees from further north.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 18 '18 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ And all those sheep! $\endgroup$ – Sherwood Botsford Sep 18 '18 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ New Zealand is a good choice for escaping the first hits but to survive the ongoing effects I'd want to be closer to the equator, it might still be possible to grow hardy cold weather crops in the tropics in the years immediately after the bombs drop. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 23 '18 at 12:27
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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll add three.

North Korea is the most likely country to start throwing missiles around. This is the map of the range of their ICBM's:

SK ICBM range

Let me highlight a detail:

Deal with it, Kim

Brazil is a country that is neutral on every major conflict, with important ties to all sides. Being outside the range of the first wave of missiles, it will have the most land where you won't die of radiation poisoning in minutes, so that's where everyone will go for the final battle of sticks and stones as predicted by Einstein.

To summarize in an image:

Come to Brazil

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    $\begingroup$ More or less a joke answer but still correct and still earns my upvote. +1 $\endgroup$ – tox123 Sep 16 '18 at 3:44
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    $\begingroup$ But Brazil is not really a stable country, and not really safe even now. I understand it's more of a joke answer though $\endgroup$ – Mranderson Sep 16 '18 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Mranderson Actually, being less developed, with more potential for farming, and high temperatures is a big plus: You have everything you need for immediate survival, and you'll have less problems dealing with the nuclear winter that will follow WWIII. The big cities are screwed, of course, but the small farmers will be the ones who survive. Brazil also has the plus that it gets its wind from the Atlantic, so less fallout to poison the surviving farmers. $\endgroup$ – cmaster Sep 16 '18 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ Also I love how the flags are attached to the countries fairly well. America is a fat old white dude, and DPRK is being beaten up the most, and China's trying to push DPRK back up. $\endgroup$ – tox123 Sep 17 '18 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ -1 for being focused on North Korea. Seriously, there are more than enough other threats, and NK is the only country without global reach $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok Sep 17 '18 at 8:15
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Europe, North America and Asia will get bombed into oblivion, or covered in thick nuclear fallout.

Most countries in Africa are underdeveloped and would quickly collapse into chaos and anarchy, or a tighter dictatorship or military rule than what exist as of today. And they'll get some bombs lobbed at them by the virtue of having military bases from the nuclear power presents all over the continent.

Most South American countries are already teetering on the brink of anarchy, not a good choice.

Australia would probably get a few 'stray bombs' just by virtue of being allied with the US or Europe, in order to deny any surviving government a potential shelter there. Which means that New Zealand is likely to get nuclear fallout, if not a couple bombs as well, for the same reason than Australia would.

Which leaves the less habitable parts of the world: Greenland, though winds and water current would probably carry some nuclear dust over it, Antarctica, but getting there is a journey in itself, and you cannot live here, or some island in the Pacific or Indian Ocean.

But, basically, in a WWIII nuclear exchange, no country will be spared, whether it gets some nuclear missiles lobed at it or through the consequences of the bombing and the utter collapse of anything global, from the economy to the internet to the international shipping lanes.

No country would be left fully functional following such a massive bombing. Everything would have to be rethought to take into account that supplies from the rest of the world are gone.

Middle-East would become a nice shiny mirror, which means that fuel would become extremely scarce. Most rare earths and minerals would become unavailable because the mines will be in radiation zones or inaccessible for some reason. The factories in Asia that produces most of the technological stuff that we use everyday will be vaporized or glow in the dark, thus no more new stuff and no spare parts to fix the old stuff.

And I'm not even talking about the panic that would instantly spread through the population of the world once the news spread that nukes have been launched or have began falling on various places over the world.

Basically, even a country spared the nukes will need to have a strong and level-headed government, a calm population, and will have to basically invent a new way of life to cope with the instant disappearance of all the supplies it was getting from the rest of the world.

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    $\begingroup$ New Zealand will be fine even if Australia gets nuked. Actually, Australia is so huge that most of Australia will be fine even if the major cities get nuked. Anyway, the reason New Zealand will be fine is that the fallout from Aus will be super dilute and pretty much below background radiation levels by the time it reaches NZ, and even then most the fallout will rain out over the west coast / southern alps or just keep going: NZ is an extremely windy place. Even if any major city in NZ takes a nuke the prevailing winds will blow the fallout out to sea. $\endgroup$ – Blake Walsh Sep 16 '18 at 8:31
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have a basis for saying 'Most South American countries are already teetering on the brink of anarchy'? This could reasonably be said of Venezuela, but I'm a bit at a loss when it comes to any other nation on the continent... $\endgroup$ – Patrick N Sep 16 '18 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Sava this is a huge generalization for an entire continent at least as diverse as North America or Europe. South Brazil and Venezuela are about as similar as California and Honduras, or Norway and Romania. South America has areas that could be compared to first world countries, and areas that are a few years away from reverting to cannibalism. $\endgroup$ – taylor swift Sep 16 '18 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @taylorswift I am very aware that I'm generalizing about South America, as much as I am generalizing about the rest of the world in my answer. I've done that because my main point was that no country would be left fully functional in the event of WWIII, even if they're spared a direct hit by a nuke or the fallout from the explosions. $\endgroup$ – Sava Sep 16 '18 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Sava also, according to the U.S. gov't travel advisories, everywhere except Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela are safer than France. travelmaps.state.gov/TSGMap $\endgroup$ – Patrick N Sep 17 '18 at 1:57
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On top of Raven Rock. As the quote of disputed origin says, "the living will envy the dead."

More seriously, it is an interesting question exactly where the remaining Cold War arsenals are targeted today. And how big those arsenals are.

The weapons can be classified as deployed, stockpiled, and retired. A deployed weapon is just that, on top of an ICBM or SLBM or waiting to be put onto an aircraft. A stockpiled weapon could only be launched if a delivery system was found, which could be difficult in the chaos after a nuclear strike.

The nuclear powers would have to consider the possibility that key enemy targets are covered by workable missile defenses. To pull a number out of thin air, assume that a place like Offut or Kaliningrad is going to be targeted with half a dozen warheads in the hope that one gets through. If all get through that increases the local fallout, but perhaps not the death toll -- the second hit just rearranges the debris.

Call it 3,600 warheads on 600 cities or bases. This might include the big metropolis of Thule or Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky for all we know.

With that in mind, the entire southern hemisphere might get away with just a handful of targets, and of course the fallout. This fallout will be bad but not on a scale to end mankind.

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    $\begingroup$ Imo a very valuable answer, putting into perpective what Megadeath statistics often miss: The annihilation would not be spread out (barring a Skynet-like event), but harshly focussed. Many such foci would be on (relatively) remote installations, population centers and infrastructure massings. Assuming a 10x10km ' dying' zone around every hit, even dropping every last one of the global 15000 nukes (most mothballed), will 'only' directly affect 1℅ of global landmass. Thats a thought - the random release of all arsenal might be less harmful than the directed unleashing of the active part... $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Sep 17 '18 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ @bukwyrm, the other way around. A deliberate release would include massive overkill on some targets, and perhaps even fratricide as the first nuke to get through obliterates the rest. A truly random release would be less efficient at killing armies and more efficient at killing mankind. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Sep 18 '18 at 3:31
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As others have pointed out, countries are targets. The sea is not. So the best option would be to get yourself a large ship, a crew and enough supplies to sustain for a few years. As long as you stay away from land (and don't pose a threat to nuclear powers) you are relatively safe from direct hits and you can move away from nuclear clouds coming your way.

The nuclear war probably doesn't last long, everyone will want to fire fast. Waiting risks your nuclear strike capability being taken out. Even nuclear submarines will want to take out enemies early, as leaving them risks giving the enemy time to fire on your own country.

When the war is over, you need to evaluate your options. Luckily, you have that big ship to move around at sea.

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    $\begingroup$ Getting food and water for a few years might be a bit tricky. Maybe turning a tanker into an arc with greenhouses would be a neat option but unless you're a very rich guy this surely is no option. $\endgroup$ – DarkDust Sep 17 '18 at 8:12
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    $\begingroup$ @DarkDust there's a lot of water in the sea. As long as it's not contaminated with too much radiation it can be filtered and treated. How long food lasts depends on the size of the crew (a large ship can bring a lot). Again, the sea provides, just need to know how to fish (and have equipment). In the long term, fuel is probably the most difficult to get. $\endgroup$ – JJJ Sep 17 '18 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ The ship must be equipped with a desalination unit in this case, which is not very common AFAIK. And is yet another component that may fail, by the way. But you're going to need a competent mechanic, spare parts and tooling equipment anyway if you're living on a large machine for years… In summary, living on a large ship sounds pretty cool and might be feasible but requires a lot of ahead planning and resources. $\endgroup$ – DarkDust Sep 17 '18 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ @DarkDust you're always going to have to make sacrifices and tough decisions in a post-nuclear world (and before that happens too). No place is going to be 'pretty cool'. You could make port somewhere but that highly depends on the situation. $\endgroup$ – JJJ Sep 17 '18 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ You need to make sure you are far away from any fleet or sub at the time it all goes down, though. Those are big enough military 'installations' to warrant some kt. $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Sep 17 '18 at 14:59
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I'm staying at home, a few km from the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island - at one point in the 1960s, an American military study suggested that it could be a good place to be (although that could be just folklore). I figure that since the prevailing westerly winds carry the air across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and keep our air quite clean (if they carry on after a nuclear incident like this), and Canada is a fairly stable government.

Vancouver and Victoria would likely get a nuke, since they have harbours and are fairly large, but the mountains between where I live and those cities would protect from a lot of the direct radiation from these events. And I like it here too :)

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    $\begingroup$ not so sure this is an answer or an anecdote $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 16 '18 at 5:02
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    $\begingroup$ I like it please don't be a stranger and check out all of SE. $\endgroup$ – Muze the good Troll. Sep 16 '18 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ It is an answer to the question - I just phrased it incorrectly. I could rearrange the answer to have the unattributed American Army publication to say that the west coast of Vancouver Island was a relatively safe spot and then carried on with my comment, but I don't usually write that way. My point was the west coast of Vancouver Island is a good spot as well as the others listed here $\endgroup$ – user469106 Sep 17 '18 at 1:50
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The center of Africa, counterintuitive as that may be.

You arrive at this through exclusion.

  1. You want to not be in anything that is a primary target. Any major city of any nuclear power is out, as is anything near a military base in those countries.
  2. The next charge of warheads will be targeted at allied countries and secondary military targets. Ports, power plants, major industrial or railway hubs, airports.

That means that Europe is out completely (too many NATO members, two nuclear powers, and everything is close enough together that if nukes fall on all the primary targets, the areas inbetween will be down as collateral damage).

It means east and west coast in the USA are history, as are the major cities in Russia and China. Australia and New Zealand are US allies and will certainly get a couple nukes. As will the middle east, to eliminate oil and because there are both US and Russian/Chinese allies there.

Asia will be toast thanks to having no less than 5 nuclear powers (Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea).

South America and Africa are the continents most likely to get only a couple stray nukes. Of these, South America has the more challenging climate, the closer proximity to the USA and the higher dependency on outside connections.

Africa has fewer industrial centers and is generally regarded as a backwater place not worthy of attention. However, the place is so friendly to humans that we evolved there, strongest evidence you can get. And the people of Africa are used to making do with whatever is there. Improvisation is a major talent that will be in high demand after a WW3 scenario.

You want to be in the center because the major ports and cities that may or may not get a nuke just because are mostly at the coast. You also want to be away from waves of refugees which may come likewise arriving at the coast first. Somewhere in the mountains, near a fresh water source and with farms around would be an ideal location.

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TL;DR: It depends on what you mean by "all out nuclear war", and whether or not you plan to remain in the same place post-war... but generally speaking, the farther north or south of the equator, the better, with both the north and south poles receiving the lowest exposure over time due to more self-contained wind patterns. Politically speaking, it's really anyone's guess what might happen, so I'd say you have creative free rein on that.

As for physically surviving the weapons themselves, consider this: by 1962 (after hundreds of above-ground tests conducted by the US, USSR, UK and France), there was no place on the surface of the Earth where radioactive isotopes from nuclear weapons could not be found, thus prompting the first international treaty to limit testing in 1963, followed by the "SALT" talks in the 1970's.

So if you're talking about the "mutually assured destruction" scenario from the time of the Cold War, where literally thousands of nukes would explode on the same day, then the dispersion of radioactive material would be so immense that no place on Earth would be even close to "safe" for many years, possibly even resulting in the fabled "nuclear winter" scenario (nobody really knows for sure). An "all out nuclear war" today would likely involve far fewer, but they are also likely to be far more powerful weapons, thus producing higher local damage with less global fallout. Either way, if any combination of the major nuclear nations today engaged in an "all out nuclear war", it's pretty safe to say that a very large portion of life on Earth would be extinguished within about 6 weeks time, mostly due to the global dispersion of neutron-active isotopes. Of course, due to the enormous number of people on the planet, there would still always be some survivors living in pockets here and there depending on their local geographies and prevailing winds.

There are two primary radiation risks. The first is the the instantaneous (speed of light) exposure to the immense energy released by each blast. This is full-spectrum electromagnetic energy, from long-wave, to infrared (heat), all the way through the visible, x-ray, and even gamma rays. The exposure to this would generally have the same devastating impact on all life forms above sea level that are not at least partially protected by very significant barriers like mountain ranges. (Some x-rays and all gamma rays would still pass through mountains, but the lower frequencies will not.) The intensity of exposure will depend on distance. Line of sight exposure drops off at the rate of the inverse square law (at double the distance, one receives one fourth the intensity; at triple the distance, one receives one ninth the intensity, etc.). If a human is exposed to this direct radiation and they survive the blast, they may have severe burns, or extreme dermatitis which may still kill some in the first hours or days. Marine life would be minimally impacted by the initial blasts, affecting only that which is close to the explosion.

The other risk is, of course, the fallout. It would affect all surface life that receives it. It would affect marine life as well, with the worst effects in the shallow regions and less so in the deep. There are many factors that affect the amount of radioactive particles that get ejected into the stratosphere, among them the proximity of the detonation to bodies of water and the altitudes at which the individual weapons are detonated. Most of the deadly radioactive isotopes created by a nuclear explosion are very heavy, and would gradually, but slowly, sink into the ocean depths, but losing their effect over time.

Radioactive isotopes decay at roughly a rate of a 7:10 ratio between time and intensity (for each 7x increase in the amount of time since the blast, the radioactivity of its fallout decreases by about 10x), but the bigger the blast, the more of those isotopes are floating around in the first place and eventually it all settles on the ground. Most estimates speculate the lethality of any particular bomb's fallout to last on the order of months, but of course, the areas closest to ground zero will receive the greatest volume of fallout and will remain dangerous for a longer period of time.

Bottom line: there are such a large number of variables affecting survivability that for your world-building task, a tremendous range of outcomes are plausible, which gives you a lot of wiggle-room to create it the way you want. In order to minimize the overall threat, my advice would be to focus on dry mountainous regions located at latitudes greater than 30 degrees either north or south, with locations on whichever side of the mountain range receives less precipitation. At between 30 & 60 degrees of latitude, the drier side of the mountains would typically be the East side, and at even higher latitudes, the drier side of the mountains would typically be the West side.

Best of luck with your project.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes I wish I could bring you to my secret refuge but I only have room for me and my girl clone. $\endgroup$ – Muze the good Troll. Sep 16 '18 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ "An "all out nuclear war" today would likely involve far fewer, but they are also likely to be far more powerful weapons" is not really true - since the peak of the cold war, nuclear arsenals have decreased both in number and in power of warheads; as more accurate targeting has reduced the need/benefit of very large payloads. The current global arsenal consists almost exclusively of sub-megaton, and often ("just") ~100kt warheads. $\endgroup$ – Peteris Sep 17 '18 at 10:17
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    $\begingroup$ X-rays and gamma rays aren't much of a threat. The atmosphere is nearly opaque to X-rays (most of the fireball of a nuke comes from X-rays being absorbed by the air), so you won't get a measurable dose if you're more than a few kilometers from the explosion. Gamma rays pass through the air (and mountains, and people, and...) just fine, but while they're busy passing through, they're mostly not interacting, and interaction is what causes the harm. Again, get a few kilometers from the explosion, and you won't notice them. $\endgroup$ – Mark Sep 17 '18 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ Good stuff... thanks for the additional info, guys. $\endgroup$ – ColdCold Sep 18 '18 at 4:57
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I'm going to post a bit of a counter-intuitive answer: it's not going to be nearly bad as you might expect. Sure, billions of people will die. But most countries aren't getting bombed.

You might have this image of 'missiles flying everywhere', and every major population center getting destroyed... but that's really not realistic. There are only a handful of nations in the world that have nukes. So unless your country has angered one of them to the point where they want to slaughter your people 'just because', you're likely safe from being targeted. After all, just because the US, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Korea are all launching nukes at each other, why would any of them be launching a missile, at, say, Peru? Even if you say, "Well, what about Nation XYZ? Their leader is flat-out crazy, and will just want the world to go down in flames." Ok - but how many nukes does their country actually have? Sure, Korea might have a crazy person at the helm, and they might do something silly like bomb Australia or Canada for no real reason... but they're not going to be able to bomb everyone by themselves.

If it helps, think of it this way: we've detected missiles coming in from Russia. We're sending missiles back at Russia. Why on earth would we decide, 'Hey, why not nuke Italy while we're at it? Let's launch a few at Rome just for kicks!'

Short answer? I think we'd have a pretty substantial climate shift, and a lot of areas of the globe devastated... but we'd also have large portions of the globe where life would continue on.

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  • $\begingroup$ You also have to consider Nations who harbor nukes for another nation including Islands. New question in Space SE forthcoming+1 $\endgroup$ – Muze the good Troll. Sep 17 '18 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ I agree. Sure, crazy leaders might throw nukes wherever, but they are much more likely to throw a couple extra ones at the chaps they hate. Even if there are some bizarre hate relationships out there (India apparently hate Denmark...?), it still seems unlikely that all countries worldwide would eat mushrooms. $\endgroup$ – Spoki0 Sep 20 '18 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ Why would they hit Peru? Eliminate future world power in the post-war world, where the warring nations will be thrown back to 1750 (at least) and the ones with an intact industrial base will rule. $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Jul 23 at 16:56
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Either Africa, South America or British Columbia in Canada. Africa and South America are both dry spots as far as nuclear armed countries. Of course, the farther south, the better, less chance of radiation. Canada is too close to America to be useful for the most part, but B.C. or Nunavut might be far enough North to manage. Greenland is also a pretty good choice, surprisingly. Australia also has a good chance of surviving, but may get nuked just because its a large enough country.

So all and all, the farther south you are the better, since anything in the northern hemisphere is most likely going to be completely destroyed by radiation polluting the trade winds. Greenland may fair better than most countries, but Chili or other countries on the southern tip of south America are the best bet for survival.

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  • $\begingroup$ You’ll have trouble growing food in Greenland or Nunavut. And both Africa and South America go far enough north that there will be millions of refugees moving south. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Sep 15 '18 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ In Nunavut you would need to hunt mostly, but if you're living there you probably know somewhat about hunting. Especially if you're descended from a native tribe. And it will take a while for refugees to traverse the entire continent. Especially if you have undeveloped forests in between you and them like in Africa. Chili has mountains which is another good way to keep them out. @MikeScott $\endgroup$ – Clay Deitas Sep 15 '18 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ Speaking as someone who actually lives in Nunavut...no, you're going to die. Also, living in Nunavut I live about two kilometers from what's likely to be a target of a nuke. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Sep 16 '18 at 6:07
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    $\begingroup$ @ClayDeitas, I can look out my living room window and look at one of the central radar sites for NORAD's North Warning System. We sort of assume that it's a target. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Sep 17 '18 at 2:55
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    $\begingroup$ Australia WILL get nuked. However, since it's basically a contintent with VERY few but high priority population areas, it will have cleaner spots left $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok Sep 17 '18 at 8:19
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All of the nuclear powers and countries possessing nuclear weapons are in the northern hemisphere (US, UK, France, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, NK, Israel). Their main rivals are also in the northern hemisphere. In a large scale nuclear war it would be expected that the nuclear powers would first strike at their enemies and those in military alliances with them. Most of them would still be in the northern hemisphere, some like Australia and New Zealand are in the southern hemisphere and would probably get involved by defense arrangements between them and UK via the Five Powers Defence Arrangements. Also South America is linked to the US with the Rio Pact. From the southern hemisphere only Africa lacks strong ties to any nuclear powers.

Why does this matter? From any nuclear bomb most of the radioactivity is anyway deposited near the explosion as larger the particles are the faster they fall to the ground. Only a very small fraction that is in small particles that are lifted very high to atmosphere can travel far. Due to wind patterns this will take weeks to travel along latitudes around the globe and months to spread along longitudes within a hemisphere, but it will take over a year to spread to the other hemisphere (Figure 4-12 in the linked material). So as most of the bomb will explode in the northern hemisphere be at the southern. From the southern hemisphere Africa is the least likely to get involved.

TLDR; Be in southern hemispheric Africa.

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Contrary to popular conception, there aren't enough nukes to "destroy the world", as in, the surface of all landmass on Earth. There are enough nukes, however, to destroy civilization, or cities. So, in the middle of nowhere, far from major cities, anywhere on Earth, is far enough to survive the bombing.

So, the hotspots will be the (former) cities. You won't be able to live there. The next concern is fallout. Because of global winds, it will be blown everywhere. enter image description here

However, this isn't a big concern; even with radiation and fallout, life will still thrive: Wolves, eagles, and bison freely roam Chernobyl three decades after the nuclear disaster. You'll still be able to live into your 40s or 50s before the cancer overwhelms you; long enough to see your grandchildren if people start marrying at 15 again.

So, just get a good 50 or 70 miles from any major city, and you'll be as fine as anybody else on the planet.

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  • $\begingroup$ @Muze At most, half the US, but the problem is, it can't, because it doesn't exist anymore. It was blown up in 1961. $\endgroup$ – user151841 Sep 17 '18 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ So they say and the technology to build a bigger one then that one would is possible. . $\endgroup$ – Muze the good Troll. Sep 17 '18 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Muze-- they didn't say; the whole world saw it in the seismology readings. That's how we found out about it. Also, the technology exists to build more nuclear weapons, which, theoretically could blow up even smaller cities and middles of nowhere, but will they be built, and aimed at middles of nowhere, and actually launched after the first exchange? It's all theoretical at this point. Where the world is now, with the current stockpile, you're safe outside of major cities. $\endgroup$ – user151841 Sep 17 '18 at 18:51
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I'd say Switzerland. It's neutral and has nuclear shelter capability for all its citizens.

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    $\begingroup$ can you explain how do they cope with nuclear fallout coming from all around? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 16 '18 at 9:16
  • $\begingroup$ They don't. But they can stay safe inside for up to five days, thus avoiding the worst of the radiation clouds, shockwave and such, before having to move away. It does increases their chance of survival quite a bit. $\endgroup$ – Sava Sep 16 '18 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ Not voting, but I doubt it. Switzerland would probably try to piggyback on NATO defenses (historical precedent exists and NATO would probably be ok with it), which might be enough to trigger a couple of direct hits depending on the aggressor. Switzerland is not able to produce enough food and Switzerland decommisioned its cold war era mountain bunkers (which could house the entire populace) a while ago. The individual bunkers are often not well maintained (I know my parent's wasn't) and the municipal bunkers are only meant for those without their own bunker. But food is the real problem. $\endgroup$ – Nobody Sep 16 '18 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ You'll freeze to death in Switzerland in the nuclear winter (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_winter) that will follow WWIII. You might enjoy some fantastic skying while you still can, though... $\endgroup$ – cmaster Sep 16 '18 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ My info for Swiss bunkers comes from the mid-80s when the cold war was still ongoing (ended 1991), and if it's out of date is a good point, so I checked, and it's still a legal requirement there to provide bunkers for everyone, at least in 2009: swissinfo.ch/eng/prepared-for-anything_bunkers-for-all/995134 Not from that source, but the large bunkers didn't get decommissioned like military ones because they're dual-use. In peacetime, the space is used for leisure facilities etc. $\endgroup$ – Robin Hodson Sep 18 '18 at 13:14
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Targets

The two major nuclear powers are the USA and Russia. Other — relatively minor — nuclear powers are the UK and France (US allies as well), China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.
In an all out nuclear war, all these countries are primary targets.

Under NATO's nuclear sharing policy, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey have American nuclear weapons available as well. It is believed Saudi-Arabia has a similar deal with Pakistan.
Other countries may not have nuclear weapons themselves, but may be strong allies to primary targets — NATO comes to mind.

Because of this, North America, Europe, and most of Asia will either be direct targets or close enough to targets to make life difficult to say the least.

Australia and New Zealand are not NATO members, but are NATO partners and will likely be considered allies of the USA and Europe by the enemies of those, so they may very well be targeted. However, both New Zealand and Australia are sparsely populated. There are a few major cities that will likely be targets, but a lot of almost empty land around them. This sets them apart from other targets.

Canada is a NATO member and a such a target, but is like Australia and New Zealand sparsely populated outside the major cities.

Non-targets

South America nor Africa is a target for any of the nuclear powers, except for the odd army base. But those would probably receive a single hit, not a nuclear barrage.

Maritime Southeast Asia (the southeast of Southeast Asia; basically Indonesia and the islands around it) would probably not be a target either.

Fallout and Nuclear Winter

It is quite likely that fallout and nuclear winter will make most of the northern hemisphere uninhabitable. So while Canada may have offered a fair chance of survival initially, the longer term outlook is far worse. The same goes for northern Africa.

Chaos

Not all states (of the ones left) have a stable government. Some are only able to remain in place because of support by one of the countries listed as targets.

Then again, you may be able to use the chaos to your advantage. But be aware of it.

Conclusion

Southern South America, southern Africa, the Australian outback, or possibly New Zealand.

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  • $\begingroup$ you forgot europe's little switzerland: Andorra and Val d'Aran. 3km above sea level, surrounded by tall mountains, it's own wind currents, yeah, might get cold, but there's warm natural hot springs eveyrwhere, hunt material, fertile AF soil, and are not targets or members of any organization. $\endgroup$ – CptEric Sep 18 '18 at 6:16
  • $\begingroup$ @CptEric not targets, but close enough to targets to make life there very unpleasant. You may survive the initial massacre, but that's about it -- nuclear winter is coming. $\endgroup$ – SQB Sep 18 '18 at 6:23
  • $\begingroup$ That should have been the accepted answer. I wouldn't count on South America escaping because both sides may launch genocidal attacks thinking on the post-war situation. Also, at least in Brazil's case, the population is friendly to America, even if the government isn't. If the war broke today, I would expect city-killing missiles in Rio and Sao Paulo at least, to forbid that Brazil become a power in the post war order. The same with Argentina and Mexico and Indonesia (in asia) $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Jul 23 at 16:45
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You want to be as far away from any major city as possible.

Even if the city is not targeted, any disruption of food distribution will doom our major cities and just about everyone in them. As soon as everyone knows the hammer is going down, they will head straight to the nearest place where food it stored or sold and loot all they can carry, and come back until the food is all gone or they think they have enough to ride out the storm.

Once the looting is done, there will be roving groups looking for stashes of food. Some of these groups will claim some kind of authority, while others will be robbers without pretense, but their modus operandi will be the same: they'll take whatever they can carry off.

The police who aren't directly participating in the looting will be overwhelmed and ultimately ineffective. Fire services will cease in short order, so fires will rage unchecked in many places. Hospitals will eventually shut down due to looting and a lack of supply.

As food dwindles, the people who survive will remember that lowering the denominator will increase the quotient, so there will be struggles to exclude more and more people from receiving any share of the remaining food.

Law and order will have completely broken down in the first week, but it will eventually be restored when there are no longer enough people alive to do any fighting.

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Primary targets will depend on who, where, and why the bombs start flying but if the world's current nuclear powers empty their arsenals nowhere is going to be safe. If you're not a direct target then you will get caught by either the global fallout of highly radioactive particles or the temperature drop caused by the soot from burning cities and vegetation intercepting sunlight.

There could be as much as 5 years between growing seasons while the atmosphere cleans itself of particulate matter. Most countries have a year or so of food as a strategic reserve, no country on Earth has food reserves for 5 plus years. There will be food riots and starvation anywhere where a reasonable percentage of the population are still breathing.

Note that the real radioactive fallout will be worse than any of the models I've ever seen; none of them take into account how many nukes are aimed at nuclear targets, either known enemy weapons facilities or known active reactor sites. Each hit at such a site will vapourise literally tonnes of radioactive material and spread it on the global winds of the upper atmosphere.

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protected by L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 16 '18 at 13:09

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