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Surviving Nuclear War in New Zealand

surviving nuclear war in nz

I think it is time we talked about “the sum of all fears” (good movie !!), global thermonuclear war.

Whether you believe that “evil Putin is out to destroy us all” or you understand that the fabric of geopolitics is woven a bit finer than that does not really matter. Truth of the fact is that we are closer to a nuclear war than ever. Regardless who starts it, everybody will feel its results if it happens.

A lot of people automatically dismiss any thoughts about preparing for such a nuclear catastrophe by claiming that everybody will die anyway. This is mostly attributed to them either being too scared or too lazy to really think about what the situation would mean for them. Either way ignore it.

While a thermonuclear war would surely kill a lot, if not most of the people, there will be survivors on all continents. The good news is if you are based in New Zealand your outlook does not look as grim as it would look for other places.

But at first, we have to do away with the 2 biggest misconceptions revolving around a thermonuclear war.


Misconception #1: Radiation is going to kill us all.

In the immediate vicinity and immediately after a nuclear explosion radiation indeed is a big and deadly risk, however most of this radiation will dissipate very rapidly within about 2 weeks. Yes, the ground zero(es) will have higher residual radiation than elsewhere for centuries but this will not be enough to fry you if you walk through such a place. There still are people living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, right?

That said, radiation will be a threat after thermonuclear war that needs to be avoided and dealt with. It will just not be the one thing that ends all life on earth. More on this further below;


Misconception #2: The nuclear war will cause an ice age that will kill us all

It is true that scientists during the cold war have proclaimed that a full nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and NATO would throw so much soot into the atmosphere that the global temperature would plummet by about 10 degrees. However, there were quite a few assumptions taken about how much combustible material would be in human cities and how far up a nuclear explosion would propel the soot. The higher up the longer it stays in the atmosphere, and thus the longer it will block out the sun. I could imagine that those scientists back then exaggerated their calculations a bit to deter the decisionmakers from pushing the flashing red button. If that’s the case we owe them our thanks. In a nutshell we do not know for sure how severe a nuclear winter would be. More recent simulations have drawn a bad, but less severe picture.

New Zealand luckily is in a very good spot when it comes to surviving a nuclear apocalypse initially.

First of all, we are not very strategically relevant and at least on paper we are neutral. Although the actions of the recent government have weakened that neutrality. But still, it is unlikely that nukes will find their way here in case of a war, because there will be plenty of bigger more important targets elsewhere.

As for nuclear winter, due to us being an island in a big body of water (the Pacific Ocean) any change in temperature will likely be a lot less severe. The ocean basically tempers any extremes in temperatures, keeping us warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

As for nuclear fallout due to us being located in the southern hemisphere we should see less of it than other countries. This is due to the fact that the atmospheric flows in the northern and southern hemisphere are virtually independent from each other, meaning that there are no mayor air flows between both hemispheres. Most assets of the factions that would most likely be involved in a nuclear war (Europe, USA, Russia, China, India) are all located on the northern hemisphere, meaning most fall out would remain there and only parts of it would reach us, and only after some time.

Sadly, the NATO partner Australia does have military bases with nuclear weapons and other strategic targets and would likely see nuclear explosions. Weather systems usually reach us from over there, which means that we would likely see some radioactive fallout from over there.

This radioactive fallout would likely be very fine radioactive dust evenly deposited by rain. This dust would then eventually settle in gulley’s, riverbeds and rainwater tanks. The result of this would be pockets of elevated radiation and areas that are fine.

This brings us to the first consideration when it comes to preparing for nuclear war. Dealing with radiation. In a nutshell, you are likely going to experience levels of radiation that are only a threat if your exposure is for a prolonged time or if you ingest/inhale amounts of the radioactive dust particles (for example via contaminated drinking water or food).

Thus, you will want to be able to know which areas to avoid and which are safe to stay in, as well as which food and water sources to avoid. One way of doing that is to think about where that radioactive dust went after the rain deposited it. Like I mentioned earlier any place where silt gets deposited will be places with elevated radiation. Your rainwater tank will also be at risk of being contaminated.

An absolutely priceless item during such a time would be a Geiger Counter / Dosimeter. Even the cheaper imported ones that might not give you very accurate readings will be tremendously helpful. Because all you really need is an indication of which places and which food/water sources to avoid and which ones have close to normal levels of radiation.

As for water, any water from an underground source should be fine. If you only have access to river or rainwater any filter that can filter out very fine particles should be able to make your drinking water safer to drink. The best would of course be a reverse osmosis filter that is also able to filter out dissolved substances. Keep in mind that filtering out radioactive dust from water will deposit said dust in those filters making them slightly radioactive, meaning you will want to store them a bit further away between uses. A Geiger Counter will give you good estimates of how efficient your filter worked.

Food is a bit trickier. All your long-term stores (Mylar Bags, cans, jars, …) will be fine to eat as their packaging will have protected them from the radioactive dust. Just make sure the food does not get contaminated after you opened its package.

Any vegetables or fruit might be fine if you give them a good wash and/or peel them but livestock is more problematic. The animals’ bodies will basically start to accumulate radioactive isotopes in their bodies with certain organs accumulating more than others, meaning some parts will be safer to eat than others.

But radiation is not the biggest threat in such a scenario. The situation that follows would be much worse. A thermonuclear war would likely wipe out most if not all infrastructure in all of the industrialized countries. Thanks to the recent governments’ actions over the past years New Zealand is 100% dependent on the import of its energy (fuel). It is safe to assume that refineries and harbours in the places that we get our fuel from would be gone, thus we would eventually run out of fuel. This means no more cars, no more transport, no more diesel for trucks and farm vehicles. At the same time, we also would not be able to import spare parts for any machinery that we have here.

This situation would take decades to resolve as the former industrialized countries slowly rebuilt (if that was still a possibility). Thus, any global nuclear war would push humanity, back into the pre-industrial times and New Zealand with it. This, combined with a cooling in climate will cause an unprecedented famine that will hit the bigger cities hardest.

The scenario from here will basically be the same as for an EMP or a Solar storm. Which is a blogpost for another time.

1 thought on “Surviving Nuclear War in New Zealand”

  1. Thank you for article. Do you have any rough idea how long radiation will start to fall in NZ if there is nuclear war in Europe/US/Asia? I mean if we hear it has happened, how long do we have to prep our house? Also is it best to congregate in the most sheltered part of the house, i.e. the hallway in my house with all the doors closed. I’m assuming the radiation will seep through eventually?


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