Experts' Keys to Surviving a Nuclear Terror Attack

ByABC News
September 15, 2005, 10:19 PM

Sept. 16, 2005 -- -- Imagine this worst-case scenario: a 10-kiloton terrorist nuclear device, constructed with stolen Russian uranium, parked in a small van in one of the busiest intersections in America.

In the moments after the blast, everything within a half-mile radius would simply cease to exist.

That's the scenario documented in an unpublished Department of Homeland Security document, first reported by the National Journal, and obtained by "Primetime."

The report describes an attack in Washington, D.C. But in New York City, according to the report's formulas, the damage would be even more devastating.

Within a half mile -- 10 blocks -- "several hundred thousand people would be killed either by burns, by debris, by the blast, or by exposure to radiation," said Jerry Hauer, the former director of New York's Office of Emergency Management and now an ABC consultant.

However, Hauer adds that if such a blast were to take place in New York, there is also some good news. "If you look up and you see it, you've got a chance. You're not part of that initial blast," he said.

According to experts, Midtown Manhattan's massive steel-and-concrete skyscrapers would absorb and contain the blast. In the next 10-block ring, there would be far less destruction and death. And outside that ring -- the city would be eerily intact.

At detonation plus 15 seconds, the aftermath would look chillingly similar to 9/11.

But rising up five miles into the air above the city would be an iconic -- instantly recognizable and completely deadly image: a mushroom cloud of radioactive dust.

Within 15 minutes, that deadly plume would start falling back to Earth -- and begin drifting with the wind. At that point, time would determine the difference between those who live and those who die.

"Ten to 15 minutes later, you're going to be exposed to a huge amount of radiation," said Dr. Irwin Redlener of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness.