Post-apocalypse bread plan reveals ignorance of nuclear bomb impact

Planners for the aftermath of a nuclear strike in Belfast during the Cold War had a disturbingly naive attitude to its apocalyptic impact, records have revealed.

Emergency bread centres were envisaged and an “inner zone” of six miles from the site of a notional blast at a now-demolished railway station close to the city’s docks was to be established, according to a 1953 file released by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).

By 1953 the UK had become the world’s third nuclear power and a new Russian leader had emerged but the Cold War had more than three decades still to run.

Maggie Smith, director of PRONI, said: “In 1953 people were planning for survival in the event of an atomic attack.

“The Northern Ireland Emergency Bread Exercise demonstrates forward planning and creativity and is one of many unusual documents held in PRONI.”

The file Emergency Bread Exercise dating from 1953/54, was found within the records of the United Co-operative Baking Society, Belfast.

The report, originally marked confidential, made detailed predictions of the effects and scale of destruction following an atomic strike on Belfast and focused on the city’s capability to sustain bread production post-apocalypse.

PRONI’s repository team picked the document.

Team leader Alan Robertson said: “This early fifties emergency planning exercise provides an insight into the expected aftermath of a notional atomic attack, with ground zero at the now demolished Midland Railway Station, York Street.”

Under the scenario an inner area of six miles from the train station would be affected.

Mr Robertson added: “It illustrates the disturbingly naive attitude to the impact of such a devastating attack, and the optimism prevalent at this early stage of the Cold War.”

The inner area included the whole of Belfast and neighbouring parts of counties Antrim and Down.

“The day time population of the inner zone, including workers and shoppers, was estimated to be about 360,000, after evacuation of priority classes,” it said.

Priority classes were not defined.

“This inner zone is not to be confused with the usual circles of damage applied to the fall of an atomic bomb,” the paper added.

The exercise highlighted well-known flour mills and bakeries in Belfast, predicting four flour mills in the city would be destroyed, and gave unique insight into the extent of the bakery industry during the post-WWII period, including the importance of house to house deliveries, the records office said.

Emergency bread centres would be established with a mobile bakery unit situated in Castlewellan, Co Down, and exports prohibited.

The Cold War was still gathering pace in the 1950s.

Early in 1954 the US launched the world’s first nuclear submarine, later to become a lynchpin of the nuclear deterrent.

Nikita Khruschev had become leader of the Soviet Communist Party and the French were about to suffer defeat in Vietnam which was to usher in an era of new global uncertainty and lead to American involvement in South East Asia.

The emergency planning document is open to the public and available to view at PRONI.

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