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Posted at 10:48 AM ET, 03/16/2012

Government study predicts the fallout of a nuclear terrorist attack in D.C.


The U.S. Capitol wouldn’t survive a nuclear attack in downtown D.C., a FEMA study found. (Jacquelyn Martin - AP)
What would happen if a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon exploded in downtown Washington?

A recent study conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) analyzed the specific implications of nuking the intersection of 16th and K streets NW.

The key to the question, it seems, is the size of the bomb. Ten kilotons is considered “small” by nuclear weapon standards and would presumably leave survivors, according to the study.

Here’s a preview of what we can expect:

“The brilliant flash that can be seen for hundreds of miles can temporarily blind many of those who are outdoors even miles from a nuclear explosion. The explosion can turn several city blocks into rubble and may break glass over 10 miles away. Dust and debris may cloud the air for miles, and fallout that produces potentially lethal levels of radiation to those outdoors falls in the immediate area and up to 20 miles downwind.”

Within a half-mile radius of the detonation, called the “severe damage zone,” buildings would be destroyed, radiation would be high and the survival rate would be low. The White House, Capitol and Mall would be destroyed.

As little as three miles out, the impact would be less severe, including broken windows and minor injuries.

But the real disaster would be nuclear fallout, the result of radioactive dust poisoning many in the District, Northern Virginia and Maryland.

If it needs to be said, there is no silver lining in this scenario. A nuclear attack would “overwhelm” emergency response teams. Curiosity would lead people to flock to windows just as a blast wave shatters them, the study predicts. Fear would inspire people to flee the area, exposing them to dangerous radiation.

“Unfortunately, our instincts can be our own worst enemy,” the study says, noting that people should stay indoors and avoid driving.

Duck and cover — so reminiscent of the Cold War-era advice to get under a desk in the event of a nuclear attack — is the best advice there is.

PDF: Read the full study here.

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By  |  10:48 AM ET, 03/16/2012

 
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