How to protect yourself from nuclear fallout (tips about radiation, building an expedient shelter, etc)

nuclear bombNo one wants to think about a nuclear crisis – and hopefully it will never happen – but we all must accept the fact nuclear tensions are rising globally with North Korea (plus Iran, Al-Qaeda and others are seeking nukes) so we should prepare ourselves and our loved ones in the event the unthinkable strikes our soil.

For decades, movies and some in the media have portrayed a nuclear attack as a “doomsday” event implying most people would be killed on impact … and survivors would want to die once they come out of their shelters.

In reality, unless you are actually at ground zero or within a several mile radius of the blast zone (depending on the size of the nuke, of course), there is a very high probability you’ll survive as long as you…

  • limit your exposure to radiation,
  • take shelter with proper shielding, and
  • wait for the most dangerous radioactive materials to decay.

In other words, you CAN survive a nuke attack … but you MUST make an effort to learn what to do! By learning about potential threats, we are all better prepared to know how to react if something happens.

Please realize this is being written with small nuke devices in mind (like a 1-kiloton to 1-megaton device). A larger device or a nuclear war would cause more wide-spread damage but some of this data could still be helpful. These are some very basic tips on sheltering for any type of nuclear (or radiological) incident.

(Note: This topic is covered more in-depth in our IT’S A DISASTER! book, but these are some important steps that can help you and your loved ones survive a nuclear or radiological incident.)

What happens when a nuke explodes?

A nuclear blast produces a blinding light, intense heat (called thermal radiation), initial nuclear radiation, 2 explosive shock waves (blasts), mass fires, and radioactive fallout (residual nuclear radiation).

The below graphic shows the destruction of a test home by an atomic blast on March 17, 1953 at the Nevada Proving Ground. The structure was located 3,500 feet from ground zero, and the time from the first to last picture was 2.3 seconds.  It shows the force of the blast wave then the radiating energy set it on fire. (U.S. Department of Defense photo via NV DEP) See more nuke test photos in our Fire in the Sky post.

nuclear blast test destroys home at Nevada Proving Ground

Also, if a nuke is launched over our continent and explodes miles above the earth, it could create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). An EMP is a split-second silent energy burst (like a stroke of lightning) that can fry electronics connected to wires or antennas like cell phones, cars, computers, TVs, etc. Unless electronics are grounded or hardened, an area or nation could experience anything from minor interference to crippled power, transportation, banking and communications systems.

An EMP from a high-altitude nuke (where a nation or group succeeds in detonating a nuclear device carried miles into the atmosphere) could affect electronics within 1,000 miles or more as shown below. (Evidence suggests some countries and groups are working on enhanced and non-nuclear EMP weapons or e-bombs.)

high altitude emp or electromagnetic pulse threat

What is the most dangerous part of a nuclear attack?

Both the initial nuclear radiation and residual nuclear radiation (also called radioactive fallout) are extremely dangerous.

Initial nuclear radiation is penetrating invisible rays that can be lethal in high levels.

Radioactive fallout (residual nuclear radiation) is created when the fireball vaporizes everything inside it (including dirt and water). Vaporized materials mix with radioactive materials in the updraft of air forming a mushroom cloud.

Fallout can be carried by winds for hundreds of miles and begin falling to the ground within minutes of the blast or take hours, days, weeks or even months to fall. The heaviest fallout would hit ground zero and areas downwind of that, and 80% of fallout would occur within 24 hours. Most fallout looks like grey sand or gritty ash and the radiation given off cannot be seen, smelled, tasted or felt which is why it is so dangerous. But as the materials decay or spread out radiation levels will drop.

More about radiation

Types of radiation - Nuclear radiation has 3 main types of radiation…

  • alpha – can be shielded by a sheet of paper or by human skin. If alpha particles are inhaled, ingested, or enter body through a cut, they can cause damage to tissues and cells.
  • beta – can be stopped by skin or a thicker shield (like wood). Beta particles can cause serious damage to internal organs if ingested or inhaled, and could cause eye damage or possible skin burns.
  • gamma – most dangerous since gamma rays can penetrate the entire body and cause cell damage throughout your organs, blood and bones. Since radiation does not stimulate nerve cells you may not feel anything while your body absorbs it. Exposure to high levels of gamma rays can lead to radiation sickness or death, which is why it is critical to seek shelter from fallout in a facility with thick shielding!

Radiation detection devices – You cannot see, smell, taste or feel radiation, but special instruments can detect even the smallest levels of radiation. Since it may take days or weeks before First Responders could get to you, consider having these devices handy during a crisis or attack since they could save your life.

survey meter radiation detection device

 

   survey meter – measures rate of exposure or intensity of radiation at that specific location if you stayed there for an hour … like a speedometer in a car (cost: $300-$1,000+)

dosimeter radiation detection devicedosimeter - a pen-like device you can wear that measures total dose or accumulated exposure to radiation as you move around (needs a charger too). Dosimeters cost about $45-$65+ each and some dealers offer 3 dosimeters + a charger for about $240 or so.

Kearny Fallout Meter or KFM kit

 

  KFM kit – (Kearny Fallout Meter) measures radiation more accurately than most instruments since it’s charged electrostatically. Find plans online or available as a low-cost kit ($40-$75). And it’s a great science project for kids.

NukAlert radiation detection device

NukAlert - a patented personal radiation meter, monitor and alarm small enough to fit on a key chain. The unit warns you with chirping sounds if it detects radiation. (cost: $145 – $160)

RADsticker measures radiation levels

 

    RADsticker - postage stamp sized card (cost: $2-$5 ea)

Measuring radiation – Radiation was measured in units called roentgens (pronounced “rent-gens” and abbreviated as “R”) … or “rads” or “rem”. An EPA document called “Planning Guidance for Response to A Nuclear Detonation 2nd Edition June 2010” explains … 1 R (exposure in air) ≅ 1 rad (absorbed dose) ≅ 1 rem (whole-body dose). Although many measuring devices and older documentation use R and rem, officials and the media now use sievert (Sv) which is the System International or SI unit of measurement of radiation. The formula to convert sieverts to rems is quite simple … 1 Sv = 100 R (rem).

How many rads are bad? - High doses of radiation in a short span of time can cause radiation sickness or even death, but if that high dose is spread out over a long period of time, it’s not as bad.

According to FEMA, an adult could tolerate and recover from an exposure to 150R (1.5 Sv) over a week or 300R (3 Sv) over a 4-month period. But 300R (3 Sv) over a week could cause sickness or possibly death. Exposure to 30R (0.3 Sv) to 70R (0.7 Sv) over a week may cause minor sickness, but a full recovery would be expected. But radioactive fallout decays rapidly so staying in a shelter with proper shielding is critical!

The “seven-ten” rule – For every sevenfold increase in time after the initial blast, there is a tenfold decrease in the radiation rate. For example, a 500 rad level can drop to 50R in just 7 hours and down to 5R after 2 days (49 hours). In other words, if you have shelter with good shielding and stay put for even just 7 hours … you’ve really increased your chances of survival. Your detection devices, emergency radio or cell phone [if the last 2 are working, that is] can assist you in knowing when it’s safe to come out.

So how do I protect myself and my family?

Basic shelter requirements – Whether you build a shelter in advance or throw together an expedient last-minute shelter during a crisis, the area should protect you from radiation and support you for at least 2 weeks. Some basic requirements for a fallout shelter include …

  • shielding
  • ventilation
  • water and food
  • sanitation and first aid products
  • radiation monitoring devices, KI (potassium iodide), radio, weapons, tools, etc

Reduce exposure – Protect yourself from radioactive fallout with …

  • distance – the more distance between you and fallout particles, the better
  • shielding – heavy, dense materials (like thick walls, earth, concrete, bricks, water and books) between you and fallout is best. Stay indoors or below ground. (Taking shelter in a basement or a facility below ground reduces exposure by 90%. Less than 4 inches of soil or earth can reduce the penetration of dangerous gamma rays by half.)
  • time – most fallout loses its strength quickly. The more time that passes after the attack, the lower the danger.

Indoor shelter locations – If you don’t have a fallout shelter, these options could provide protection from dangerous radiation by using proper shielding materials.

  • basement – find the corner that is most below ground level (the further underground the better)
  • 1-story home / condo / apartment – if no underground facility, find a spot in center of home away from windows
  • trailer home – find sturdier shelter if possible (like a basement or brick or concrete building)
  • multi-story building or high-rise – go to center of the middle section of building (above 9th floor if possible). Note: if rooftop of a building next to you is on that same floor, move one floor up or down since radioactive fallout would accumulate on rooftops. Avoid first floor (if possible) since fallout will pile up on ground outside.

Make an expedient shelter – Some very basic ways to build an expedient last-minute shelter in your home, apartment or workplace to help protect you from dangerous radiation include…

  • Set up a large, sturdy workbench or table in location you’ve chosen. If no table, make one by putting doors on top of boxes, appliances or furniture.
  • Put as much shielding (e.g. furniture, file cabinets, appliances, boxes or pillowcases filled with dirt or sand, boxes of food, water or books, concrete blocks, bricks, etc.) all around sides and on top of table, but don’t put too much weight on tabletop or it could collapse. Add reinforcing supports, if needed.
  • Leave a crawl space so everyone can get inside and block opening with shielding materials.
  • Leave 2 small air spaces for ventilation (about 4-6″ each) – one low at one end and one high at other end. (This allows for better airflow since warm air rises.)
  • Have water, radiation detection devices, KI, battery operated radio, food and sanitation supplies in case you have to shelter in place for days or weeks.

build an expedient shelter for protection from radioactive fallout

In summary, those within the blast zone of Ground Zero (depending on the size of the nuke) won’t make it .. BUT .. if you are a few miles outside the zone your chances of surviving it are high but you MUST have detection devices to monitor levels of radiation and a plan to stay sheltered for at least 48 hours or up to a few weeks. First Responders will have to wait for the deadly fallout to decay before they enter a hot zone so the more you prepare, the better your odds of surviving a terrorist nuke.

As mentioned earlier, our 266-page IT’S A DISASTER! book (or ebook) explains more about nuclear incidents and many other disasters and basic first aid … and we discount our $14.99 book down to $7 US each + s&h (on 5 more more copies). Plus we offer deep discounts to agencies, volunteer groups, nonprofits, businesses and schools … and customize our products for free!

Learn more at www.itsadisaster.net or call FedHealth at 1-888-999-4325 (7a-4p Pacific M–F) for more information. Stay safe, j & B

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11 Responses to How to protect yourself from nuclear fallout (tips about radiation, building an expedient shelter, etc)

  1. brandon says:

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  2. matthew says:

    what if you shield the windows

    • itsadisaster says:

      Doing windows may help a little but realize if there’s nuclear fallout piling up outside, you want to get as much shielding around you as possible to help protect from penetrating gamma rays / radiation. I didn’t include this in original post but for example (from our book)…

      Shielding materials – All fallout shelters must provide good protection from radioactive particles. FEMA suggests having a minimum of several inches of concrete or 1 to 2 feet of earth as shielding around your shelter, and the more the better. Per FEMA, the following shows examples of shielding materials that equal the protection of 4 inches (10 cm) of concrete …
      • 5 – 6 inches (12 – 15 cm) of bricks
      • 6 inches (15 cm) of sand or gravel
      • 7 inches (18 cm) of earth
      • 8 inches (20 cm) of hollow concrete block
      • 10 inches (25 cm) of water
      • 14 inches (35 cm) of books or magazines
      • 18 inches (46 cm) of wood

      As fyi, a free ebook you might want to check out on OISM site is “Nuclear War Survival Skills” by Cresson Kearney at http://www.oism.org/nwss Thanks for stopping by! j

  3. Krystal says:

    Do you think the Fukushima fallout is something to worry about? What is the reality of the situation in your opinion?

      • itsadisaster says:

        Hi Krystal and I’m sorry – I got sidetracked with a project and meant to come back here last night to reply. Our next blog post (what I worked on yesterday and wrapping up today) will address your questions since it discusses some things happening at Fukushima as we speak.

        Is the fallout something to worry about .. if near the emitting source – yes because concentrations are so high – esp the contaminated water spewing from leaky tanks, overflows, etc so Japanese officials / people should continue to monitor things closely.

        But how much of it will impact aquatic life is the big question many official and experts can’t agree on. Would we personally eat seafood or kelp from Japan / Asia at this point .. probably not esp due to Bill’s health issues. And as contaminated water moves / settles across the ocean radioactive particles will dissipate / decay since time & distance help reduce radiation levels … but since there is strontium and cesium involved (which both have much longer half-life = slower to decay) .. there are some concerns up and down the west coast of North America — altho some say it will be so diluted it won’t harm. But we probably won’t know until it starts to arrive. (sigh)

        One thing you might want to consider for your personal kits is including some type(s) of device(s) to monitor air and objects. (See section on radiation detection devices above.)

        I know this reply doesn’t really answer your questions but stay tuned and read our next post since it may help put some things in perspective (and/or curl your hair) .. and thanks for your input and patience. stay safe, j & B

      • itsadisaster says:

        I just realized I didn’t come back over here to post a link to our Jan and Feb enews since we did a few segments on Fukushima and nuclear power plants in general. If interested, click over to http://www.itsadisaster.net/enews201401.html and http://www.itsadisaster.net/enews201402.html to read more. I apologize for not writing back sooner – been buried last several months so kinda light on blog posts. j

  4. Imole Oladotun says:

    Hmm, but i understand that Gamma radiation is everywhere.What can be used to minimize exposures to indoor sources?

    • itsadisaster says:

      As mentioned above, several inches of concrete (and other substances) can protect you from gamma rays during a nuclear disaster, and during such an event (esp with fallout present), people need to decontaminate themselves before entering a shelter if exposed.

      EPA explains most people’s primary source of gamma exposure is naturally occurring radionuclides, particularly potassium-40, which is found in soil and water, as well as meats and high-potassium foods such as bananas. Other sources affect people who live near certain types of mines or regions (esp. uranium) and nuclear medicine (e.g. scans, etc) contributes to the total, so you’re correct .. we’ll never completely eradicate it from our environment since radiation is everywhere.

      Something more likely to be found inside a home is radon so consider getting a radon detector. Learn more at http://www.epa.gov/radon/ or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radon

      And personal dosimeters and/or survey meters could measure and monitor alpha, beta and/or gamma levels if concerned about levels in your environment. But realize many radionuclides can be cleared via the urine or feces so it’s always good to flush and detox internally to keep things moving.

      A few sites that explain gamma are http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma_ray and http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/gamma.html … and check out a radiation calculator at http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/calculate.html and consider reading David Ropeik’s “Fear vs radiation” post at http://the-beacon.info/topics/law-of-armed-conflict/fear-vs-radiation/

      I apologize for the delay in responding and hope this helps some … and thanks for stopping by!

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