The session that explored this big question was a departure from the usually optimistic upbeat atmosphere of TED, but yielded a couple of interesting, albeit disquieting, presentations.
Irwin Redlener, a public health doctor, addressed the question of nuclear threat. He described the nuclear threat from 49-91 as being threat of nation-nation nuclear threat, mostly mitigated by the principle of mutually assured destruction. During this period, there was virtually nothing you could do cope with possible nuclear events (despite the futile duck-and-cover campaigns) because a first strike would inevitably be followed by nuclear bombs raining on all participants resulting in mass – and inescapable – destruction.
Redlener pointed out that since 91 the threat has been of a localized blast from terrorists who have access to material from the stockpiles left after disarmament many of which are extremely insecure. In fact, between 95 and 2006, there were a horrifying 175 cases of nuclear theft.
As unsettling as this is, Redlener points out that we have to shift our thinking, because now there is something we could do in case of a localized nuclear attack: namely, ‘duck and cover’ for the initial blast to avoid debris and falling buildings, and then evacuation as quickly as possible out of the zone where fallout will come. Oh yes, and cover your eyes during the blast so you won’t be blinded. Despite the distinct possibility of a terrorist nuclear attack, and the fact that orderly evacuation could save hundreds of thousands of lives, no American cities have a plan. Redlener thinks they should.