Monday, January 17, 2011

Duck and Cover

On this day in 1955, the United States nuclear-powered submarine began it’s first test voyage. It was seen as a positive use of nuclear energy and much different from the bombs and missiles that had become such a threat during the Cold War.

It all began in 1949. The United States’ monopoly on nuclear weapons ended when the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear device. With nuclear weapons in the hands of our enemy, the US became much more vulnerable to attack than it had ever been previously. And America needed answers on how to protect themselves in the event of a nuclear bomb.

From Wikipedia: Duck-and-cover exercises quickly became a part of Civil Defense drills. Every American citizen, from children to the elderly, practiced these in order to be ready in the event of nuclear war. In 1950, the movie Duck and Cover was produced.

However, duck and cover was not a one-size-fits-all solution to prevent injury in the event of a nuclear explosion. In fact—depending on the explosion's height and yield—ducking and covering would offer negligible protection against the intense heat, shock waves, and radiation that would accompany and follow such a nuclear detonation.

According to Wikipedia: The advice to "duck and cover" holds well in many situations where structural destabilization or debris may be expected, such as during an earthquake or tornado. At a sufficient distance from a nuclear explosion, the shock wave would produce similar results and ducking and covering would perhaps prove adequate. It would also offer some protection from flying glass and other small, but dangerous, debris.

Ducking and covering would also reduce exposure to the gamma rays. Since they are mostly emitted in a straight line, people on the ground will have more chance to have obstacles such as building foundations, cars, etc. between them and the source of radiation. The technique offers a small protection against fallout - people standing up could receive a large, possibly lethal, dose of radiation, while people protected will receive less of it. The technique assumes that after the initial blast, a person who ducks and covers will move to a more sheltered area. It is a first response only.

Duck and Cover was a suggested method of personal protection against the effects of a nuclear weapon, which the United States government taught to generations of United States school children from the early 1950s into the 1980s. This was supposed to protect them in the event of an unexpected nuclear attack that, they were told, could come at any time without warning. Immediately after they saw a flash they had to stop what they were doing and get on the ground under some cover—such as a table, or at least next to a wall—and assume the fetal position, lying face-down and covering their heads with their hands.

Proponents argued that thousands could be saved through this precaution, without which people would instead run to windows to find the source of the big flash. During this time a shock wave would cause a glass implosion, shredding onlookers.

So, there’s some concern that the duck and cover procedure would be effective in reducing physical damage. Fortunately, we haven’t needed to test it so far. Let’s hope it stays that way. Meanwhile, if you want to practice the procedure again, just to see if your old bones can still bend like they did in 1955, check out that video again.

No comments: