What would really happen if Britain came under nuclear attack?

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What would really happen if Britain came under nuclear attack?
« on: September 04, 2017, 07:23:12 PM »
What would really happen if Britain came under nuclear attack?
The Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile North Korea tested last week Credit: KCNA

 Guy Kelly
4 September 2017 • 11:58am
In the event of Britain finding itself under attack by nuclear missile, little is known for certain about what might happen in the immediate minutes, hours and days afterwards, but there is one, irrefutable fact: we won’t have long.
Last Tuesday, as dawn broke over Japan, millions of people in the country’s northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido, were roused from sleep by a beeping alert on their mobile phones.
“Missile launch. Missile launch,” the text message read, at 6.02am. “A missile was fired from North Korea. Please evacuate to a sturdy building or basement.”
Four minutes earlier, a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile had indeed been fired from somewhere near Sunan Air Base in North Korea. It flew right over Hokkaido, then buried itself 500 nautical miles off the coast.
By that time, Japan’s public broadcaster had managed to cut its morning news to a black screen displaying a similar portent to the SMS alert; emergency sirens in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, had started to wail; and train stations around the country froze as passengers were told to seek cover in waiting rooms or in carriages.
North Korea's nuclear threat

In all, the flight time of that missile was 14 minutes, which is about the same notice period Homeland Security reckon residents of Guam have, should North Korea make good on last month’s threats.
Analysts insist that full-blown nuclear Armageddon is far from likely, no matter how much President Trump and Kim Jong-un tussle. Many will still remember the sense of imminence during the Cold War: the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, Ronald Reagan’s ‘Strategic Defence Initiative’ (better known as the Star Wars Programme) in the 1980s, and our own ‘Protect and Survive’ campaign in this country. When the Berlin Wall fell, that threat simmered down, but now, almost 28 years later, the question of what would happen in a nuclear attack has been brought into focus again.
Stay tuned to this wavelength, stay calm and stay in your own homes. Remember, there is nothing to be gained by trying to get away.
The Wartime Broadcasting Service's Cold War warning
Geographically, Britain is safer than a lot of countries, being an island on the edge of a block of allies, not that our locus buys a lot of time. If an intercontinental ballistic missile fitted with nuclear warheads set off from Moscow or central Asia, for instance, it would take around 20 minutes to hit London.
En route, it would of course pass through the airspace of half a dozen Nato allies, but once spotted and the message passed on, you could optimistically have 10 minutes to do something about it at home.
The question is: would you even know?
In many other countries, the given alert system for impending doom is common knowledge. In the Netherlands, for instance, the deafening wails of nuclear alarms are tested at noon on the first Monday of the month. The same happens in America and Japan, with different tones meaning different warnings.
Here, the only similar systems we have are found near flood areas, chemical plants, oil refineries and around Broadmoor Hospital, where they warn of an escapee. Some air raid sirens were kept from the Second World War and adapted for the infamous ‘four minute warning’ during the Cold War, but this was almost entirely dismantled by 1990. As well as the ebbing aerial threat, to some derision, the government cited the rise of double-glazing as a reason to cease sound warnings.
TV and radio would instantly switch to the news. During the Cold War, the Wartime Broadcasting Service, run by the BBC and broadcast from the its nuclear bunker in Wood Norton Hall, Worcestershire, was ready to replace all transmissions in the event of a nuclear strike. At that time, the late Radio 4 continuity announcer, Peter Donaldson, recorded a script to be broadcast, codenamed ‘Falsetto’.
“This is the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known,” his address began. “Stay tuned to this wavelength, stay calm and stay in your own homes. Remember, there is nothing to be gained by trying to get away.”
The Wartime Broadcasting Service was stood down in the 90s (that said, the BBC is rumoured to have a modern system ready in the same bunker, but anyone involved in its construction signed the Official Secrets Act). In that decade, suggestions for the reader of a new message – for all home telephones and fax machines – included Joanna Lumley, Jill Dando and Carol Vorderman. There is no record of any of those three recording a message, but given Donaldson was chosen for his soothing, authoritative familiarity, if there is a modern version, it is more likely Huw Edwards, a Dimbleby or Radio 4’s current senior announcer, Chris Aldridge, has leant their vocal chords to it.

A steel H-bomb shelter in the 1950s CREDIT: AP
A text message is more likely, too, especially since the government has can easily contact every registered mobile phone the UK. What's more, it has the ability to restrict access to base transceiver stations (BTS), meaning mobile signal would only be available for the emergency services and energy companies. In that case, your phone would become a one-way device: you could receive instructions, but not contact anyone.
Where in the world tsunamis, tornados and cyclones – other cataclysmic events with the good grace to call ahead – occur , warning texts from the government are an accepted part of life.
That system was trialled by the Home Office in 2014, for “flooding, air quality incidents, severe weather, explosions, large scale plumes, ‘major incidents’ or situations requiring evacuation,” and a success, but the report stated that the public would be made aware of the messages’ wording and layout through a nationwide trust campaign first. Three years on, we remain unaware.
“As a public, we are woefully under-prepared in that sense,” says John Preston, Professor of Education at Bath Spa University, who specialises in public preparedness for disasters. “How would we know an SMS wasn’t fake? This country is famously secretive about contingency planning, but leaving the public in the dark on this is very strange.”
How to survive a nuclear strike

The time a missile strikes is crucial to our chances, too. According to a model by Nick Jones and James King of Imperial College, if a missile was identified at midnight, it would take the government 8 hours to broadcast a message to 50% of the population (on TV, social media, radio, phones, word of mouth). At 8pm, when more people are awake and together, it would take just half an hour.
It’s likely those messages would tell us to go to the most central room of the house or get underground. In Protect and Survive, the 1980 government pamphlet with advice for saving your family under nuclear attack, householders were told to make a fallout room and within that, an inner refuge, such as a cupboard.
Advice from the US government wash your hair with shampoo, but 'do not use conditioner because it will bind radioactive material to your hair'
These days it may be that Nikita Khrushchev’s warning – “the living will envy the dead” – proves correct, but it holds true that the more dense the material between you and the outside world, the better chance you’ll have.
Even if you are a long way from wherever the bomb lands, outside is risky. Radioactive particles can be carried for hundreds of miles on the wind, and fallout would be at its most severe in the first two weeks. After that, it will have declined to about 1% of its initial level, so the advice would be to get supplies, food that could see you through that amount of time, and to stay as clean as possible. Advice on ready.gov, the US government website for disaster planning, it is suggested you remove contaminated clothing and place it in a sealed bag as far away from life as possible. Wash your hair with shampoo, too, it says, but “do not use conditioner because it will bind radioactive material to your hair.”
Nuclear bunkers are good, though few from the Cold War have been maintained, and fewer still are still habitable. It’s likely there are dozens, rather than the hundreds once dotted around the country. The Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, military personnel and senior civil servants would slip into the air-locked Defence Crisis Management Centre, a bunker complex under the Ministry of Defence on Whitehall. More commonly, the bunker is known as ‘Pindar’, after the Ancient Greek poet whose house alone stayed standing when the rest of his city was obliterated.
According to a source shown the facility during the Kosovo conflict, the management centre, which comes with meeting rooms, hundreds of beds, supplies and advanced telecomms, is connected to a vast tunnel network linking various landmarks, including the BT Tower and Downing Street. Accessed by small, unmarked doors all over the city, bicycles can be found for use along its route. As recently as 2010, in fact, Lord Mandelson and Gordon Brown used the Whitehall portion to discreetly attend a meeting after the general election.
Guards, the former headquarters of the British Army on Whitehall. Underneath is suspected to be a network of tunnels CREDIT: MOD
Those tunnels reportedly include Buckingham Palace on their route, but it’s unlikely the Queen would go to Pindar. Only she can appoint a Prime Minister, should anything happen to the incumbent, so protocol would dictate that she go safely elsewhere.
During the Cold War, the plan was for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh to have a floating bunker, perhaps the Royal Yacht Britannia, that would move at night between the sea lochs of west Scotland. Sheltered from enemy radar by the mountains, they were to be joined by the Queen’s Private Secretary and the Home Secretary, so that a Privy Council-lite could be formed and a new Government appointed.
The Prime Minister might want to hit back at our aggressor, of course, which is where Trident comes in. Somewhere in the North Atlantic, one of Britain’s nuclear, Vanguard-class submarines is always patrolling, and this would be its moment. Only the Prime Minister can authorise the deployment of its missiles. From Pindar, a code would be sent by the PM via the Northwood Headquarters 100ft under the Chiltern Hills, through which all communications with the Vanguard-class submarines pass, and out to sea.
At every stage, the message is confirmed by two people, as a precaution against miscommunication or foul play. The sub commander would then open two safes, one inside the other, and pull the trigger.
simulated fire in a Vanguard-class submarine control room at HM Naval Base Clyde, from where the Trident vessels launch CREDIT: PA
In the worst scenario, there may be no nation left for them to defend. In that case, the same commander would go through a series of checks to assess the state of the nation. One of these includes listening out for Radio 4’s Today programme for three days. Safe in the Worcestershire bunker, Radio 4 would be the only broadcaster left by this stage, utilising Wood Norton’s super high-frequency satellite; if Today fails to air for three days straight, it is safe for them to assume Britain has fallen.
And then, the submarine’s commander will read what’s known as ‘The Letter of Last Resort’, containing the Prime Minister’s final instructions. Whenever a new PM is elected, the Cabinet Secretary immediately has them write four letters, one for each sub, with their recommendation for what to do if the chain of command has collapsed. Retaliate, don’t retaliate, place the boat under the control of the Australian or US Navy, or leave the decision up to the commander – those are the options.
Nobody knows what previous leaders have recommended; the letters are destroyed at the end of each premiership and none, mercifully, has ever needed to be opened. Let's hope it stays that way.

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