Healing Our World: Weekly Comment

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

Could Doomsday be Approaching?

“I believe that we are summoned now to awaken from a spell. The spell we must shake off is a case of mistaken identity, a millennia-long amnesia as to who we really are. We have imagined that we are separate and competitive beings, limited to the gasp of our conscious egos, hence essentially fragile, endlessly needy. This delusion has brought us some high adventures, but also much suffering, and it will destroy us and our world if we don’t wake up in time.”
-- Joanna Macy

Ever since 1947, the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” has kept a clock that measures how close the world is to nuclear Armageddon. Until recently, the Doomsday Clock has been poised at nine minutes to midnight, midnight being nuclear war. But since the Bush administration has been practicing cowboy diplomacy with other nuclear powers in the world, the hands of the clock have been moved closer to midnight – nuclear holocaust – than ever before.

On February 27, 2002, the Board of Directors of the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock, the symbol of nuclear danger, from nine to seven minutes to midnight.

This is the same setting at which the clock debuted 55 years ago. Says the “Bulletin” website, “Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, this is the third time the hand has moved forward.”


Nuclear blast (Photo courtesy Sandia National Lab)
Founded by a group of World War II-era Manhattan Project scientists in 1945, the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” has regularly warned the world of nuclear dangers and they have been trying to wake up the citizenry to the continued nuclear threat.

The nuclear threat to our environment and our world may never have been greater. Eight known nuclear powers maintain more than 31,000 nuclear weapons, a decrease of only 3,000 since 1998.

The U.S. and Russia hold 95 percent of these weapons, and more than 16,000 are operationally deployed. The United States and Russia continue to target thousands of nuclear weapons against each other in spite of their recently announced arms reduction plans scheduled to take place over the next 10 years.

Most of the U.S. warheads removed from the active stockpile will be placed in storage, along with some 5,000 warheads already held there, and not dismantled, as most people believe they will be. The intention of the government is to maintain the capability to re-deploy them in the future. The total U.S. stockpile, therefore, remains at more than 10,000 warheads for the foreseeable future.

Russia, on the other hand, has sought a verifiable, binding agreement that would ensure retired U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons are actually destroyed, a position supported by the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.”

The latest escalation of tension between the U.S. and North Korea should remind us all of the reality of the nuclear threat. While it is important that we continue to protest the posturing of the U.S. to elected representatives, it might also be prudent to remind ourselves, and those who govern us, of some of the realities of nuclear war – and prepare for the worst. Any activism should be accompanied by reasoned preparation for the worst case.

As painful and depressing as it might be to discuss such possibilities, it would seem prudent to do so, especially since our political leaders are having such discussions. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has developed detailed scenarios and plans for the event of nuclear conflict, including information on potential targets in each state and maps that show how fallout would travel.

But just as with public health issues of any kind, the government plans are designed to protect government and community. Little attention is paid to the protection of any particular individual.

The Health Physics Society (HPS), formed in 1956 by professionals in the nuclear industries, provides information on the effects of nuclear explosions and facts about nuclear fallout.

A nuclear explosion releases a tremendous amount of energy and, depending upon the size of the weapon, can kill and completely destroy the environment near the point of the explosion and damage structures up to five miles away.


Steel fallout shelter measuring 4 x 12 feet and meant to be buried 3 feet underground. (Photo courtesy Two Tigers Radiological)
During an actual attack, possibly the most important thing you can do is increase your distance from the place being attacked, since that will decrease the intensity of the blast, heat, and radiation.

Next, you need to shield yourself from the blast, heat and radiation by seeking shelter. The basement of a home, a car, or even under a desk can provide some level of protection. If you are outside, you can use natural terrain such as a ditch or a hill. The more shielding you have from the direct line of sight of the blast, the less the radiation intensity you will experience. You will also want to minimize the time you are exposed to the radiation emitted from the blast.

In summary, reduce the amount of time spent near a source of radiation, stay as far away from the radiation source as possible, and place some type of shielding between you and the source.

After the initial blast, fallout would be the next major concern. Particles of radioactive material can travel great distances in the atmosphere and fall out of the air onto buildings, the ground, and you. Any ecosystem in the path of the fallout would be contaminated, in some cases for many years. Water, soil, animals, and air become deadly.

Finding shelter is vitally important. If you have a basement, you should go there, but if you do not have one, then a location near the center of the house, such as a utility or clothes closet, is best.

The HPS advises that if you have time before the fallout arrives, “seal windows and other openings to keep out radioactive dusts and turn off air conditioners or vent systems that may force contaminated outside air into the house/shelter until after the fallout has settled onto the ground.”

You should have enough emergency supplies to stay in your shelter for about two weeks to allow for the radiation intensity of the fallout to decrease.

Fallout will contaminate unprotected water sources and boiling the water will not rid it of radioactive contamination. Clean water can come from water in your water heater, bottled water, deep well water, or covered reservoirs. The links below will direct you to examples of family disaster plans and give sources for supplies.


Little Boy, the first operational nuclear weapon ever detonated, weighed 9,000 lbs and had a yield of 15,000 tons of high explosives. It was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan in World War II. (Photo courtesy U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency)
Since the first atomic bomb exploded above Hiroshima, a shame all Americans must acknowledge for all time, our perception of the universe has forever changed. No longer is it a certainty, as it was for so many thousands of years, that our children and their children would always walk the same Earth and breathe the same air.

Since that time, we have been able to envision a future where our children inherit a nightmare. What has this awareness done to our psyches? How has this awareness forever changed our notions of the concepts of safety, security, and peace? Author and activist Joanna Macy calls this nuclear awareness the pivotal psychological reality of our time.

And we all should be afraid.

Until we find ways of acknowledging and integrating the awareness of the danger we are in, we repress it; and with that repression we are drained of the energy we need for action and clear thinking.

The effect of this repression on our daily lives is profound. Each act of denial, conscious or unconscious, is an abdication of our powers to respond. But it is only when we can honestly contemplate this horror that we can begin to master it. Until we have done so, the pain and fear have us in their grip. There is a deep, inner strength that comes from identifying our personal fears, calling them our own, and realizing that they are the same fears shared by others. We all need each other in this time of reawakened awareness.

Maybe our world can be safe once again for us all if we feel and cry and act together.


1. Visit the "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" at: http://www.thebulletin.org/

2. Learn of the global efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons at the Abolition 2000 website at: http://www.abolition2000.org/

3. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains a website called “Understanding Radiation” at: http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/index.html

4. See the “Nuclear War Survival Skills” book, online at: http://www.oism.org/nwss/

5. The Health Physics Society has a complete description of how to protect yourself in the event of the explosion of a nuclear weapon at: http://www.hps.org/publicinformation/ate/q1141.html

6. Find out what the potential targets are in your state at: http://www.radmeters4u.com/list.htm

7. Understand radiation detection equipment and get your own radiation meter at: http://www.radmeters4u.com/survival/detectors/index.htm

8. The Preparedness Center has just about any conceivable disaster planning supply you might want at: http://www.preparedness.com/

9. Dispel many myths about the dangers of nuclear exposure at this part of the Radmeters site.

10. Find out who your elected representatives are and contact them. Tell them that wanting peace is not being unpatriotic. You can find them at: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle and the author of "Healing Our World", A Journey from the Darkness Into the Light," available at: http://www.xlibris.com/HealingOurWorld.html or your local bookstore. His new book of photographs and thoughts on interconnectedness, “Of This Earth, Reflections on Connections,” is now available. Learn about it at: http://ofthisearth.org. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com}