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Nuclear Attack: Long-Term Issues

Monitoring and Clean-up of Affected Areas

Most of the fallout will dissipate after a few weeks to months. Clean-up activities would focus on areas near ground zero contaminated with long-lasting radioactive isotopes, such as certain plutonium and uranium isotopes. There are temporary measures that can be taken to "fix" radioactive materials in place and stop the spread of contamination. These include "fixative" sprays such as flour and water mixtures, road oil, or water that can be used to wet ground surfaces. In the days and weeks following the attack, officials might be expected to:

  • Establish a plan for careful monitoring and assessment of affected areas.
  • Impose quarantines on contaminated areas as necessary to prevent further exposures.
  • Remove contamination from areas where people might continue to be exposed.
  • Keep citizens informed about the situation.

Control of Contaminated Food Supplies

Public health officials should be able to identify contaminated water and food, such as milk and produce, and replace them with clean food from outside the area.

Economic Impact

Economic impacts would result from deaths, illnesses, loss of jobs, and destruction of workplaces and homes. Increased government spending and stock market swings could significantly impact the national economy. Cleanup, rebuilding, and replacement of lost property and goods could cost many billions of dollars. Local economic impacts could continue even after the site has been cleaned up if people are reluctant to return to the affected area.

Psychological Impact

The psychological impacts of a nuclear attack will vary. Most individuals will prove resilient. Some will experience post-traumatic chronic distress and fear. Many of those who were or believe they were exposed will likely worry about delayed radiation health effects. Depending on how the attack evolves and its aftermath is handled, there may be loss of confidence in societal institutions. If severe damage to the communications network disrupts communication from authorities, public anxiety and fear could be heightened.

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