Nearly 80 years have passed since Hiroshima and Nagasaki when nuclear weapons were used. It seems that after the horrific consequences of the catastrophe and the fear of the nuclear threat during the Cold War, humanity should have come to its senses and eliminated nuclear weapons. But the new and most horrific war in Europe since World War II has once again opened the door to nuclear blackmail and potential nuclear catastrophe.
In this article, we will try to understand the likelihood of an attack on Portugal, where a person could hide in the country and how the scale of the disaster can be modeled.
When we were preparing this article, we were initially surprised to find that there was virtually no material on the nuclear threat, citizen's actions in the event of a nuclear attack and government security protocols in the Portuguese information field. Especially if we exclude Brazilian sources. There are no general education lessons where the nuclear threat and how to survive nuclear and atomic explosions are part of the program. Nuclear reactions are mostly treated as an element of scientific knowledge or historical fact, not an actual problem. They also write about potassium iodide tablets, which from some point in 2022 even in Portugal have become scarce (it is interesting that initially lower dosages are sold here than, for example, in Finland).
Actual news about the war, and articles analyzing the threats of nuclear blackmail, everything is limited with this information.
As one Portuguese replied to us, "Here in Portugal we feel that nukes can only happen in other countries, movies or Sting songs. The world could end tonight because of nuclear missiles from Russia, but we are worried about soccer teams and wine."
In this information vacuum, let us try to understand the previously voiced questions with you.
List of the safest countries
The Smart Survivalist, a blog that focuses on aspects of survival in wilderness or disasters, and to which the English edition of The week, for example, refers in its articles, lists the Safest Country in Case of Nuclear War: Top 20 Candidates.
Looking ahead, Portugal is not on the list, despite its distance from Russia or the United States, the countries with the largest number of nuclear weapons.
Most likely, the reason is NATO membership (since 1949), as well as the presence of military alliance facilities on the territory of the country. For example, the United States Forces in the Azores (USAFORAZ) is based at Lajes Airfield, on the island of Terceira (Azores). There is also the JALLC (Joint Analysis & Lessons Learned Center) in Lisbon and the STRIKFORNATO (Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO) Command located in Oeiras.
It is true that Finland and Sweden are on the list, where the first one also became a member of the alliance on April 4, 2023, and the latter has submitted an application that has not yet received the consent of Hungary and Turkey. On the other hand, both countries are much more prepared for a possible threat than Portugal. If you find it easier to digest the information by ear, the blog author has transcribed the article into a video on his channel.
The list of safest countries includes: Iceland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Cambodia, Thailand, Greenland (Denmark), Maldives, Fiji, Tonga, South Korea, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Japan, Philippines and Antarctica. The reasoning for each country is quite interesting, so we recommend studying the article.
Are there any bunkers in Portugal?
In short, no.
Portugal does not have an extensive network of public radioactive threat shelters due to its historically neutral position and geographical location. Portugal is not believed to have ever been a prime target of nuclear threats, despite its membership in NATO for 74 years.
We know nothing about commercial shelter construction projects similar to the American ones: VIVOS, Rising S Company, Atlas Survival Shelters, Hardened Structures (the oldest company on the list, operating since 1997), Ultimate Bunker, American Safe Room, Survival Condo.
Perhaps there are private shelters that are made by enthusiasts on their own (there are even instructions on the internet on how to make your own bunker). Probably the Portuguese media would have written about them by now. As local publications reported about this bunker in 2003. It was built by Almiro Moreira Marques, an immigrant from Switzerland, in the basement of his house in Viseu. He marvels: "In Switzerland everything is different, people think of everything, especially the worst. There, the government advises people to build places where they can take shelter in case of disaster. But here (meaning Portugal), nobody cares!".
Who knows, Almiro may be the owner of the only such shelter in the country. There are no such facilities in Portugal, such as the $5.2 million private bunker in Las Vegas. Perhaps the movie Blast from the past was inspired by just such a facility.
Shelter options in Portugal
So, no bunkers. Here are some options for where to find shelter:
- Deep metro stations in Lisbon: Baixa-Chiado (seems to be considered the deepest, 38.8 meters deep. For comparison, Arsenalna station in the center of Kyiv is 105.5 meters deep, the deepest station in the world), Jardim Zoológico, Parque, São Sebastião, Picoas Station, Marquês de Pombal Station (made it to this list because it is quite deep and located in the heart of the city).
So far, it appears that the blue branch residents have some advantages.
- Abandoned mines.
There are about 100 abandoned mines of various types in Portugal. There are 6 that are even open for tourist visits. You can diversify your excursions, and at the same time you can figure out the suitability of such a hideout. These particular mines are quite far from Lisbon.
A significant disadvantage of such a shelter is the potential danger of such mines in terms of the presence of toxic substances or even radiation. For example, there are uranium and tungsten deposits in the north of the country, which adds radiation to other hazards. If uranium mining stopped in 2001, and since then, they have been busy restoring safety, flora and fauna in the area. That is, there are uranium mines only in an abandoned or mothballed state. For example, one of the most famous tungsten and copper mines, the Panasqueira mine, has been in continuous operation for 120 years.
Reflection of geologist José Miran in an acid drainage tank at the Tinoca mine, whose waters drain into the reservoir of an irrigation dam. Deep inside, solid deposits of toxic materials remind us of the urgent need to treat these sites.
You could probably add operating mines to the same paragraph.
In Portugal are mined: tungsten, copper, tin, gold, silver, feldspar, quartz, granite and other stones for facing, kaolin, marble, bulk materials (sand, crushed stone, etc.). An up-to-date map of developments in Portugal is available here.
In this point, we would like to highlight a local project "Roteiro das Minas e Pontos de Interesse Mineiro e Geológico de Portugal" (Route of mines and points of geological interest in Portugal). The aim of the project is to create a guidebook highlighting the different mines and geological points of interest in the country. For example, one could build an itinerary of the "Roman Golden Route in northern Portugal". Essentially, the project seeks to showcase the country's rich mining heritage and geological diversity. But as part of our theme, you can also explore the possibilities of this type of hideaway.
It seems that traveling through the most beautiful and deepest caves can now also have an educational aspect in terms of finding shelters. There are many articles about speleotourism on the internet, such as "12 most beautiful grottos and caves in Portugal". Furthermore, one of the famous trekking resources, Alltrails offers interesting routes through the country's caves. In fact, there are many more such geological formations in the country. There are some that reach a depth of 100 meters. But many of them are closed to tourists.
- Underground garages of shopping centers as well as apartment buildings.
The second ones, however, are quite difficult to get into if you are not a tenant of the house, as access usually opens a special key or code in the elevator.
In addition to the shelter itself, unlike mines, electricity and technical water could potentially remain there during and after the disaster. How to get out of such shelters is an open question for us.
- All buildings made of concrete.
When choosing between being outside or in a building (preferably made of concrete), it is better to choose the second variant and away from windows. The following picture shows a simple diagram of a safer location.
In this article, we will not discuss with you how to prepare for a disaster, how to assemble a first aid kit, how to protect electrical appliances, how to assemble an emergency backpack, etc. Either this will be the subject of future articles, or you can find this information yourself on the Internet.
Does the Portuguese government have a plan in case of a nuclear attack?
There is not much open information. And, although there are comments on the Internet like "While Portugal was deciding what to do about the nuclear threat, the war was over", open sources, though without details, assure that there is a plan. Moreover, there are regular drills of the emergency services and the military, where the possibility of any kind of nuclear threat, be it a leak or an attack, is taken into account.
What, as we realized, would happen in the event of a nuclear accident/attack.
- The National Directorate of Emergency and Civil Protection (ANEPC) assesses the situation and convenes the National Operational Coordination Center, which will be responsible for deciding on the possible need to activate or upgrade the state of special preparedness.
- At the same time, at the political level, the CNPC (a political coordinating body including representatives from all ministries) may decide to activate the National Civil Protection Emergency Plan under the leadership of the Prime Minister. According to this plan, Civil Protection will have to activate the National Commission for Radiological Emergencies (CNER) to monitor and continuously assess the situation and provide information to the population.
- CNER is also composed of the following organizations: Portuguese Environmental Protection Agency, Directorate General of Health, National Institute of Emergency Medicine, Portuguese Institute of Sea and Atmosphere, Planning and Policy Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture, Superior Technical Institute and Directorate General of Energy and Geology.
However, depending on the specific nature of the radiological emergency, other organizations may be involved in the CNER, such as the Food and Economic Security Authority (ASAE), the Tax and Customs Authority (ATA) or the Directorate General of Food and Veterinary Medicine (DGAV), as well as organizations that provide monitoring, control and verification of the importation of food and goods into Portugal.
Let us hope that in practice we will not have to check it. After all, in fact, if we exclude the threat period, the time required to send and deliver a nuclear missile could take 20-40 minutes. That's not a lot of time to make decisions. Just as there was once very little time, a few seconds, for a disaster to occur at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant.
Visualization and modeling of a nuclear explosion
Anyone with Internet access can simulate a nuclear explosion using the NUKEMAP resource. This is an online tool developed by Wellerstein at Stevens Institute of Technology. By entering numerous parameters, such as the coordinates of the hit, the type of missile and so on, it is possible to get a visualization of the area of impact in terms of the amount of radiation and the probability of people surviving the attack.
A slightly simpler simulator, though more "designer-like" is available on the website of the organization Outrider. Outrider supports multimedia narratives about nuclear threats and climate change, drawing attention to these issues.
Scientists have long been trying to understand what the devastating consequences of a potential nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia would be (video on the subject here).
Several serious studies on this topic have already accumulated, as well as various creations that help to understand aspects of disaster. For example, the illustrators of Kurzgesagt - In a Nutshell visualize different versions of disasters, including nuclear disasters, through fun animations. Like, for each cartoon, the team consults with different experts to ensure that the animated product reflects realistic probabilities as much as possible.
I would like to conclude this article with the phrase of Joshua the computer from the 1983 movie "War Games":
A STRANGE GAME.
THE ONLY WINNING MOVE IS
NOT TO PLAY
Translated from Ukrainian by Rodion Shkurko