Special Report

Worst Places to Be If There’s a Nuclear Attack on America

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5. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA
> Population density, city proper: 8,304 per sq. mile – #6 highest of 15 cities
> Evacuation rank: #6 worst of 15 cities
> Projected casualties (bombed over target): 645,750 deaths, 1,622,290 injuries
> Emergency preparedness: LA’s Preparing for Nuclear Incidents

Crippling the U.S. economy and dealing a blow to American institutions, including cultural ones, would be the reason for attacking civilian targets. Los Angeles certainly checks both boxes as the second largest metro economy. While the city may not be as densely populated as other cities on the list, it is highly congested. The city’s Emergency Management Department specifically has a plan for a nuclear incident.

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4. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI
> Population density, city proper: 12,060 per sq. mile – #3 highest of 15 cities
> Evacuation rank: #4 worst of 15 cities
> Projected casualties (bombed over target): 626,170 deaths, 1,100,960 injuries
> Emergency preparedness: Chicago’s Nuclear Threat page

With four nuclear power plants within 50 miles of the city – the nearest not 20 miles away – Chicago is another possible civilian target. If these power plants are hit in addition to the city in a nuclear attack, it could exacerbate conditions in Chicago. Any attack on O’Hare International Airport, the world’s fourth largest, would severely cripple travel in North America. The city has the third highest GDP of any U.S. metro area after New York and Los Angeles, so its destruction or evacuation would have a major effect on the national economy.

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3. San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA
> Population density, city proper: 18,629 per sq. mile – #2 highest of 15 cities
> Evacuation rank: #3 worst of 15 cities
> Projected casualties (bombed over target): 507,980 deaths, 582,870 injuries
> Emergency preparedness: San Francisco’s Get Prepared

San Francisco is located at the north end of the San Francisco Peninsula, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, making evacuation extremely difficult. The fourth largest metro economy in the U.S., San Francisco is also home to the expanded Silicon Valley that originated further south in the San Jose area. Though the city has a plan for emergency, it does not mention radiological or nuclear incidents.

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2. New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
> Population density, city proper: 29,303 per sq. mile – #1 highest of 15 cities
> Evacuation rank: #2 worst of 15 cities
> Projected casualties (bombed over target): 1,712,030 deaths, 3,170,500 injuries
> Emergency preparedness: New York’s Plan Now types of terrorist attacks, including nuclear preparedness PSA

The U.S.’s largest metro economy and the most densely populated metro area, New York City is a highly likely civilian target. Home to Wall Street, the city was already the target of several terrorist attacks, including the 9/11 attacks that crippled the city for days. The New York Stock Exchange closed for four days, its longest shutdown since 1933. Perhaps as a result, the city is far more prepared than most. Still, evacuating from Manhattan has proven to be very difficult.

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1. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
> Proximity to: 0 miles from Pentagon
> Population density, city proper: 11,281 per sq. mile – #4 highest of 15 cities
> Evacuation rank: #5 worst of 15 cities
> Projected casualties (bombed over target): 461,240 deaths, 924,160 injuries
> Emergency preparedness: D.C.’S Preparedness Guide

The nation’s capital has more than one highly valued target, not the least of which is the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, which was already a target of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The seats of the executive branch (the White House) and the legislative branch (Congress) are also highly likely to be attacked along with such targets as the nearby CIA headquarters. About 30 miles southeast of the metro’s outskirts is the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, and about 60 miles southwest is North Anna’s Nuclear Generating Station.

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