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In the Terminator movies, Skynet attacked mankind and its first step was the nuclear strike. In T-3 we see the blasts too.

But a few people survived the attack, so because of this, Skynet started to create the T-series. I don't understand, how can people survive this? Okay, some of them could go to bunkers or basements, for example, or just weren't in the area of the explosion and the effects. But there would be a huge radiation level all over the world, radioactive clouds in the sky and nuclear winter. Even if people survive, how can they walk under the open sky? Don't they get cancer? What can they eat?

Or is it possible, Skynet launched only a few smaller bomb, and it attacked the other big cities with non-nuclear bombs?

I don't know so much about the biology, so, can somebody tell me his/her theory about this? (Well, I like only the first two films, and I separate the 3-4. My "Terminator world is only the T1-T2 :) )

  • hand wave they have time travel, surely they also have the tech required to protect themselves from radiation hand wave – Colin D Nov 13 '13 at 20:01
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    I think, Skynet had the time-travel technology. The human army just used the machine, after they take it from Skynet. And this was not on the early years of the war. – Wexeed Nov 13 '13 at 20:32
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    Back in the 1960's, in the event of a nuclear war, they taught us to duck and cover. I believe anyone in the Terminator universe that had a school desk to cower beneath would have been OK. – Major Stackings Nov 13 '13 at 22:58
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How can people walk around without getting cancer?

From Ready.gov:

The three factors for protecting oneself from radiation and fallout are distance, shielding and time.

  • Distance - the more distance between you and the fallout particles, the better. An underground area such as a home or office building basement offers more protection than the first floor of a building. A floor near the middle of a high-rise may be better, depending on what is nearby at that level on which significant fallout particles would collect. Flat roofs collect fallout particles so the top floor is not a good choice, nor is a floor adjacent to a neighboring flat roof.
  • Shielding - the heavier and denser the materials—thick walls, concrete, bricks, books and earth—between you and the fallout particles, the better.
  • Time - fallout radiation loses its intensity fairly rapidly. In time, you will be able to leave the fallout shelter. Radioactive fallout poses the greatest threat to people during the first two weeks, by which time it has declined to about 1 percent of its initial radiation level.

How can people survive the attack?

Even in apocalyptic situations, it's difficult to get 100% mortality rate. So of course there will be survivors not killed by the blast or radiation.

Assuming the human mortality rate for Judgment Day after a decade was 99.9%, that still leaves 7.046 million survivors. Even if the mortality rate was 99.99%, that's still close to a million survivors.

How are the survivors walking around under open sky?

(Note: I believe in the first 2 Terminator films, the scenes set in the future show dark skies, which could well be due to smoke/ash in the atmosphere.)

Current models of the nuclear winter resulting from launching the world's entire nuclear arsenal (most versions of Judgment Day only involve launching the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles) predict average global temperatures dropping by 7~8 °C (way more than that during the ice age, which was -5 °C) for a decade, then dissipating to -4 °C, though certain regions over land could see drops in temperature by as much as 20 °C, and places like Iowa would see subzero temperatures for over a year.

But this doesn't mean people can't walk around outside. In fact, food production could resume within a few years, though extreme drought and high UV radiation would reduce yields to levels not seen since the Dark Ages.

Terminator: Salvation is set 22 years after the Judgment Day in that timeline (July 25, 2004), so it's pretty reasonable to expect the small number of people who survived the initial attack and famine to be able to walk around outside without any protective gear or heavy clothing.

In Terminator 2, Judgment Day was August 29, 1997, and the T-800 & T-1000 are from 2029, a full 32 years after the nuclear strike. So, the environmental effects of the strike would be even less significant at that point.

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    @tcrosley: Possibly because nuclear bombs produce higher concentrations of short-lived isotypes, the fallout they produce drops off much more sharply than nuclear disasters like Chernobyl. But to put things into perspective, 1% of the original radioactivity within the actual bomb crater is still 87 million times higher than normal. So close to the bomb site the radiation level will still be extremely high. – Lèse majesté Nov 13 '13 at 23:44
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    @Lesemajeste Thanks for the clarification about the what 1% still represents. It's just amazing that there were over 200.000 survivors of the Hiroshima blast that were within a few kilometers of ground zero (of course the bomb was detonated 2000' in the air, so this is somewhat of a misnomer). Obviously the yield was many orders of magnitude smaller than today's H-bombs. – tcrosley Nov 14 '13 at 16:52
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    @tcrosley Actually, Ground zero isn't a misnomer - it's the point on the ground underneath an explosion in the air. "For convenience, the term 'ground zero' will be used to designate the point on the ground directly beneath the point of detonation, or 'air zero.'" – Andrew Grimm Sep 26 '14 at 12:29
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    If it followed Cold War plans, a first strike with the American nuclear arsenal would have been designed to degrade Russia's ability to retaliate. So, many Russian nuclear weapons would be destroyed before they could launch; the response, while still devastating, would be much less severe than the effects of a first strike. Of course, Skynet might have realised this, and just attacked Russian cities while sparing their nuclear bases; this would ensure the greatest possible counterstrike against its enemies in the USA. – Royal Canadian Bandit Sep 26 '14 at 13:51
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    A small quibble but there isn't that much difference between launching the US/Russian nukes and the world's supply. Most estimates show that only 1/16th of nuclear weapons are held by other nations. – Sean Condon Sep 27 '14 at 12:29
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The total nuclear weapons testing yield, as of 1996, was 510 megatons. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapon_yield

By contrast, the Toba volcano of 75,000 years ago was 800 megatons. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richter_magnitude_scale

Toba was huge, and almost caused a total extinction of humanity, but it didn't. It's guessed that it resulted in a worldwide volcanic winter lasting 6 to 10 years (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_catastrophe_theory), so primitive humanity was clearly capable of surviving this scale of disaster, and it must be assumed that modern humanity is even more capable of doing so.

The asteroid/comet that killed the dinosaurs is estimated at 100 teratons, and mammals and other species survived.

You also shouldn't assume that all humans live in cities; plenty don't.

  • "primitive humanity was clearly capable of surviving this scale of disaster, and it must be assumed that modern humanity is even more capable of doing so." - Modern humanity might be more capable of surviving a similar volcanic eruption in some ways, but they also had more skills for living off the land with no help from modern technology. More to the point, 800 megatons of volcano in one place is quite different (and much less radioactive) from 510 megatons of nuclear weapons used in different places. – Dronz Sep 26 '14 at 18:09
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    Moreover, the 510 megaton figure is about weapons actually used in tests. Not the potential of arsenals that have not been used. Here nrdc.org/nuclear/nudb/datab14.asp is a table showing 2002 Russian nuclear arsenal at 2,135 megatons in over 5000 warheads. – Dronz Sep 26 '14 at 18:14
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Well, actually, if we are talking about the army, during the Cold War neither the Pentagon, nor the Soviet Command had plans of total 100% destruction of people on the "other side". The nuclear attack planned by both sides had just to cover the important military bases and industrial centers, that's all. Thas's a relatively small area of any country.

According to T-2 Judgement day, Skynet made a launch on Russia, according to these plans. After that the Russians made a strike back, but also without attepmpting to cover the entire American territory by nuclear blasts.

According to the memoires of several American generals, the Pentagon made a list of 74 major Soviet cities that had to be destroyed by a sudden nuclear attack in case of war. 74 cities means that most of the Soviet territory would not be covered by radiation or whatsoever.

Therefore, after the Skynet launched the missiles, most of the USA territory would still be useful for surviving. That's why Skynet actually needed infantry units to eradicate the remains of mankind.

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Don't they get cancer? What can they eat?

As far as I'm aware, cancer would not be a major cause of death.

The Wikipedia article on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki says

Around 1,900 cancer deaths can be attributed to the after-effects of the bombs. An epidemiology study by the RERF states that from 1950 to 2000, 46% of leukemia deaths and 11% of solid cancer deaths among the bomb survivors were due to radiation from the bombs, the statistical excess being estimated at 200 leukemia and 1700 solid cancers.

The estimate of 1,900 cancer deaths is out of a death toll in the hundreds of thousands. Japan suffered from terrible poverty in the aftermath of WWII, so I don't think they avoided radiation-affected food.

However, acute radiation sickness and related things could cause deaths in the short term:

Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness.

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