Since the fall of the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, the US has shifted from preparing for large-scale thermonuclear war to preparing for a much smaller attack with a radioactive dirty bomb. But as North Korea seemingly continues with efforts to develop long-range nuclear weapons, "the threat picture has changed," says Tener Veenema, a disaster nursing student at Johns Hopkins University who co-chaired a nuclear preparedness conference in Washington DC this month. Participants in the conference, organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, came to a "blunt" conclusion: the US is unprepared to deal with the aftermath of a major nuclear attack, Nature reports.
“Now that thermonuclear is back on the table, we’re back to people saying, ‘We can’t deal with this,’” says public-health researcher Cham Dallas. One of the key issues: a lack of medical personnel with the know-how (and inclination) to treat radiation victims, according to a 2017 study. Also, as Nature notes, detonation of a nuclear bomb could result in hundreds of thousands of burn victims and there are just about 300 burn surgeons in the US who know how to perform skin grafting, the best treatment. Meanwhile, optimism that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat, as President Trump previously declared, is fading. Last week, Trump asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to cancel a planned trip to the country because "I feel we are not making sufficient progress." (Read more nuclear weapons stories.)