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US Nuclear Target Map: Most Safe and Unsafe Areas

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The threat of nuclear war has been a significant shadow looming over the 20th and 21st centuries. Although the focus on nuclear weapons is one that comes and goes from popular consciousness, the reality of nuclear proliferation will likely never go away. What are the safest or most unsafe areas?

The most safe areas in the US in a nuclear war include the upper Midwest, Maine, West Texas, and multiple small pockets, usually in areas that don’t have large populations. The most unsafe areas include most of the East Coast and anywhere near a major city, a key infrastructure location, or military installation.

To find the safest potential areas, it helps to know the locations that an enemy might target. Here is a map created by the government that shows the estimated primary targets for Soviet ICBMs, found on Amazon.

Based on my research of numerous sources, this is the consensus on the least safe and most safe areas in the United States in the event of a nuclear attack.

United States Nuclear Target and Safe Zone Relief Map
Red Zones= Least Safe, Blue Zones= Most Safe

This map is based on average outcomes based on modeling and predictions. Keep in mind, that nowhere is truly safe. Bombs can stray off target, and win patterns can vary during the seasons.

There are a number of risks one must assess when preparing for the threat of a nuclear attack. In this article, you will find details on various probable targets in the event of a nuclear exchange, as well as information that will help you assess your preparedness to deal with an incoming attack.

Related Article: 4 Best Gas Masks for Biological Warfare or Chemical Attacks.

Which Cities Are the Biggest Nuclear Targets?

Among some of the most commonly attested targets for potential nuclear attacks are large urban centers. Foreign militaries target significant population centers due to their potential for lost lives and the psychological impact that entails. Large population centers also commonly house critical strategic targets such as factories or ports. 

The only known examples of nuclear ordnance used in war were centered on large urban centers (Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

The U.S. cities most likely to be the biggest nuclear targets include New York, NY; Washington D.C.; Dallas-Fort Worth; and Jacksonville, FL. These cities could be potential targets due to their large populations and strategic value.

Although these are the most likely high-priority targets, any significant population center could potentially come under attack. FEMA and the National Resources Defense Council actually published a map in 1990 showing potential nuclear targets. 

Other major cities that could become targets for a nuclear attack include:

  • Miami, FL
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Houston, TX
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Honolulu, HI

Another way of categorizing potential targets is based on the locations of known nuclear stockpiles and military bases. In the event that a hostile country attacks the U.S. preemptively with nuclear weapons, it is highly likely that they will want to cripple the U.S.’s ability to launch a retaliatory attack.

Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the book “Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940” from Amazon.com, published a map showing various military bases and nuclear stockpiles that would likely be significant targets in the event of a nuclear exchange between Russia and the U.S. 

The map and the targets listed are discussed in this article published by Independent in 2017.

It is worth noting that a large amount of the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal is based on strategically placed nuclear submarines across the world. These placements allow the U.S. to retaliate against a hostile nuclear attack even if the continental supply of the U.S.’s arsenal was neutralized entirely.

Which U.S. Cities Are the Lowest Priority Targets?

Determining the lowest priority targets in case of a nuclear strike is difficult. Many places that might seem safe actually house important military bases or nuclear plants that could potentially become targets in a nuclear war. However, there are a few places that stand out as reasonably safe in a few states across the U.S.

The US cities that are the lowest priority targets for a nuclear attack on the continental U.S. are Maine, Central Idaho, Oregon, and Northern California. These are likely to be largely untouched in a nuclear exchange due to their sparse populations and lack of strategic targets.

Since a large-scale nuclear attack may trigger earthquakes, it is recommended to avoid zones that are prone to seismic activity. 

Places with a lower likelihood of earthquakes include:

  • Eastern Montana
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Minnesota
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • Kansas

Here is a nuclear target map that shows the potential fallout effects of a full-scale nuclear exchange. Special thanks to Martin Vargic of halyconmaps.com for making this information part of the public domain.

Nuclear Exchange Map Martin Vargic by halyconmaps
Source

For more maps and details on the potential threats of nuclear war and radioactive fallout, you can check out the nuclear preparedness page at Ki4u.

What Is the Safe Distance From a Nuclear Explosion?

The actual blast radius of modern nuclear devices is a complicated issue. A nuclear device poses a number of different threats, all of which present other challenges to people intending to survive a nuclear detonation.

The safest distance from a nuclear explosion is over 53 miles (86 km). A one-megaton bomb could potentially blind people up to 85 km (52.8 miles) away. The heat from such a bomb will cause third-degree burns up to 8 km (5 miles) away. 

The shockwave created by the detonation could produce 180 tonnes of force within a 6 km (3.7 miles) radius. The detonation itself will cause blinding light and searing heat within the immediate area of the bomb. 

The energy released is enough to vaporize people and buildings, while the shockwave from the detonation will reach much farther, with enough force to potentially level buildings and infrastructure.

Lastly, the radioactive fallout can last for a very long time, and it will be carried by the winds. This means that the area potentially affected by even a single nuclear bomb is vast.

It is important to note that most modern nuclear weapons are much larger than one megaton. The most powerful nuclear device ever known to have been tested is the 50 megaton Tsar Bomba that was tested in Russia in 1961. 

More recent weapons may even be more powerful.

This video illustrates the various sizes of nuclear explosions that have taken place:

More important than the blast radius from the bomb itself is the threat of nuclear fallout. Due to wind conditions, the radioactive fallout from a nuclear detonation could potentially affect the entire continental U.S.

There are a number of areas that are considered high-risk when it comes to fallout, which includes, but are not limited to:

  • Colorado
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota

If you live in one of these areas, it is recommended that you have an exit strategy prepared in the case of a nuclear attack. It is also a good idea to obtain gas masks and potassium iodide tablets, like these found on Amazon, to help deal with the potential radiation.

You can also check out the U.S. government’s own website for nuclear preparedness.

Where Is the Safest Place in the U.S. for Nuclear War?

The safest place in the U.S. for nuclear war is considered to be the state of Maine. Maine is deemed to be safe due to its lack of nuclear plants and urban areas. Other potentially safe areas include Oregon, Northern California, and Western Texas.

Main Map With US Flag Overlay
Could this be where civilization is rebuilt?

There are a number of places across the United States that are considered low-risk in the event of a nuclear exchange. However, the potential threats of all-out nuclear war are very difficult to gauge, so it’s always a good idea to have a number of contingencies planned out.

There are a number of risks that come along with a nuclear strike. 

The first is the blast radius itself. A nuclear bomb releases heat, light, and kinetic force that can affect a wide area. It can be assumed that most high-priority targets near urban centers will be completely decimated in the event of a nuclear strike.

That being said, there are a number of cities and areas across the U.S. that are unlikely to be the target of a nuclear attack for a number of reasons. These reasons include a sparse population and a lack of strategic assets such as factories or nuclear plants. 

The threat of nuclear fallout is still high in many places, so it’s essential to plan accordingly.

In addition to the low strategic value and relatively sparse population of these areas, they are also at low risk of being affected by radioactive fallout. It is very likely that a nuclear attack on the United States would prioritize strategic targets. Hence, the threat to civilians comes mainly from the effects of radioactive fallout as it blows across the U.S.

Conversely, the places that are most at risk from nuclear fallout include Colorado, Missouri, Montana, and other states. 

Wind patterns prevail from the west to the east across the United States, but potential fallout patterns encompass large swathes of territory. 

For more information on how various areas across the U.S. could potentially be affected by nuclear war, you can visit this page at the modern survival blog. It is recommended that if you hope to survive a nuclear exchange, you’ll want to form communities of like-minded people to pool resources and information.

It’s also a good idea to learn about bomb shelters and other resources in your local area. 

Many local governments have localized nuclear response efforts that typically take the form of bomb shelters and response plans. Check out your municipal and state government websites for more information.

How Many Nukes Are Aimed at the U.S.?

Row of heavy nuclear missiles against blue sky with clouds

Arms control keeps an updated tab on the known nuclear weapons arsenals across the world. In the event of a large-scale nuclear war, anything could happen, which means that every nuclear-capable military is a potential threat, and their arsenals should be reliably measured and tracked.

There are a combined total of over 13,000 nukes aimed at the U.S., while 90% of these are controlled by Russia and the U.S. Russia possesses the most at an estimated 6,490 warheads. The most likely adversary toward the U.S. in the event of a nuclear war is Russia. 

They possess the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and are allied to other nuclear-capable countries such as China. 

There are also military analysts such as Seymour Hersh who believe that Israel will likely launch a massive retaliation known as The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy if they come under threat of nuclear attack. This book is available from Amazon.com.

The known nuclear arsenals across the world are as follows:

  • Russia: 6,490
  • United States: 5,550
  • China: 350
  • France: 290
  • The United Kingdom: 225
  • Pakistan: 165
  • India: 156
  • Israel: 90
  • North Korea: 50

Keep in mind that these are official numbers, and the real arsenals could potentially be much larger or even smaller than the governments officially declare. Many of these weapons are also not ready to be used, and some of them are in storage waiting to be dismantled.

It is generally assumed that a large-scale nuclear exchange is most likely to be instigated between Russia, China, and the United States. In each of these scenarios, the U.S. will either strike first or as a retaliation to a preemptive strike by Russia or China.

If the U.S. shoots first, then the nuclear arsenals of other countries will likely be reduced by the initial attack. This means that the potential retaliation from these countries is much lower than the potential damage from a preemptive attack from one of these countries. 

The most commonly examined scenarios include a 2000-warhead scenario, if Russia or China attack first, or a 500-warhead scenario if the U.S. attacks first.

In both of these scenarios, it is safe to assume that the radioactive fallout will eventually affect the entire continental U.S. However, there are some areas, such as Maine or Oregon, where the threat of radioactive fallout is considered less severe.

Final Thoughts

Nuclear war is one of the scarier threats faced by the modern world. Although there have been recent strides in the efforts to disarm the nuclear world, it is unlikely that the major powers will completely surrender their nuclear potential.

The best we can do is educate ourselves on the potential threats posed by a possible nuclear detonation. We can use this information to prepare ourselves with exit strategies, as well as survival resources and awareness of local nuclear shelters.

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to ask away in the comments section.

For more, check out Can an EMP Harm a Human? | What You Need To Know.

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