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"The White House has warned state and local governments not to expect a "significant federal response" at the scene of a terrorist nuclear attack for 24 to 72 hours after the blast, according to a planning guide."
"A 10-kiloton nuclear explosion would level buildings within half a mile of ground zero, generate 900-mph winds, bathe the landscape with radiation and produce a plume of fallout that would drift for hundreds of miles, the guide says. It was posted on the Internet and sent to local officials."
"The document is designed to help local officials craft plans for responding to a nuclear blast. The prospect is anything but far-fetched, says Rick Nelson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Do I think in my lifetime I'll see the detonation of a nuclear device? I do."
One challenge he says, will be to persuade survivors to stay indoors, shielded from dangerous radiation until they're given the all-clear or told to evacuate. "In all likelihood, families will be separated," he says. "It's going to be scary to sit tight, though it's the right thing to do."
The government's planning scenarios envision a terrorist strike in an urban area with a 10-kiloton device, slightly smaller than the roughly 15-kiloton Hiroshima bomb. A 10-kiloton device packs the punch of 10,000 tons of TNT.
The chaos that would inevitably follow such a blast would make it difficult for the federal government to react quickly. "Emergency response is principally a local function," the document says, though "federal assistance will be mobilized as rapidly as possible."
"Disaster experts say local governments aren't prepared for a nuclear attack. "There isn't a single American city, in my estimation, that has sufficient plans for a nuclear terrorist event," says Irwin Redlener of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
The message for families is simple, he says: Stay put. Wait for instructions. If you've been outside, dust off, change, shower. "What citizens need to know fits on a wallet-sized card," Redlener says. "A limited amount of information would save tens of thousands of people."
"The new focus on nuclear terrorism emerged recently in the Nuclear Posture Review report made public last week that identified nuclear terrorism as "today's most immediate and extreme danger."