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What would happen if a ten-kiloton nuclear bomb were to explode without warning in a major American city? Tens of thousands of people would be killed immediately, many more would die later, damage would be catastrophic, and emergency services would be overwhelmed. That scenario, and how the government can act to prevent further catastrophe if it occurs, is the focus of a new report, “The Day After: Action in the 24 hours following a nuclear blast in an American city,” co-authored by Kennedy School Professor Ashton B. Carter.
The report is based on the “Day After Workshop,” an off the record discussion featuring an array of government civilian and military officials, scientists, policy experts and analysts sponsored by the Preventive Defense Project.
“The Day After is a grim prospect to contemplate. But policymakers have no choice, since the probability of nuclear terrorism cannot be calculated but is surely not zero,” the authors write. “The actions of public officials on the Day After will affect the lives of many thousands, the welfare of many millions, and the well-being and even cohesiveness of the nation and the world.”
“Fortunately there is much that can be done to reduce the consequences for society if government plans realistically,” Carter said. “No more consequential public policy can be imagined.”
The report outlines several policy recommendations intended both to reduce the probability of such an event from occurring and to increase the preparedness of emergency responders should such a catastrophic event actually occur. The recommendations include beefing up federal government planning efforts; emphasizing short-term sheltering rather than prompt evacuations; and developing a response plan that assumes, as is likely, that terrorists have more than one bomb.
Report co-authors are Ashton B. Carter, chair of the International Relations, Security and Science faculty at the Kennedy School of Government, and co-director of the Preventive Defense Project; Michael M. May, professor emeritus, Stanford University; and William J. Perry, co-director, Preventive Defense Project. The report is available online at: http://bcsia.ksg.harvard.edu/publication.cfm?program=CORE&ctype=book&item_id=521
The Preventive Defense Project is a research collaboration of Stanford University and the Kennedy School of Government. More information is available at: http://www.preventivedefenseproject.org
IMAGE: Courtesy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory