Thinking about the Unthinkable – Nuclear Survival
I hated NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) training in the Army. It was like dressing up for really cold weather on a really hot day. Additionally, even with wearing all our gear, you were only protected for a limited amount of time – you needed to get out of the hot zone and then decontaminate. So let’s look at this from the prepper viewpoint – if you are in a hot zone, you need to get out of there or better yet, don’t venture into a hot zone in the first place.
Just to start things off let’s look at a graphic of a 500 warhead (purple triangle) and a 2000 warhead (black dot) scenario in the United States.
I don’t have access to the person who generated this map or his thought process in selecting the targets but it seems from the discussions on https://www.reddit.com/r/Military/comments/ntr6b/a_nuclear_exchange_with_the_ussr_could_have/ and https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/15uiq6/potential_targets_of_ussr_nuclear_missiles_aimed/
that the 500 warhead scenario is counter-value (retaliatory) while the 2000 warhead scenario is counter-force. Bottom line is a nuclear war would result in a lot of America being exposed to radiation.
There are also about 100 operating nuclear power plants in the US (excluding research reactors) and here is a graphic.
While the nuclear energy industry has been pretty safe, there have been accidents (at Three Mile Island in the US and most notably at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union).
Not to fear monger but the capability to build a nuclear device has been proliferating over the past several years with Pakistan and now Iran joining the club along with North Korea. The possibility of an atmospheric EMP blast being delivered from a marine platform is feasible as is the possibility of a terrorist group smuggling even a low-order detonation device into the US, most likely in a large metropolitan area.
So if you live near a strategic target, a nuclear power plant, or even just in a major city, there is a possibility that you could see a radiological event. So how do you best prepare to survive a nuclear event? Cresson Kearny of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory wrote a book Nuclear War Survival Skills in 1986 that is available on line for free at http://www.oism.org/nwss/s73p912.htm
Blast: There are four effects - fireball, over-pressure or blast, radiation,and thermal. Air bursts produce less radioactive materials than surface detonations. But the fireball itself is usually the smallest area affected. Inside the fireball, anything combustible is burned, full stop. Next you will have an area of overpressure: over 20 psi would cause concrete and reinforced buildings to collapse, over 5 psi wooden structures would fail. Anyone in this area is likelly to be injured by flying or falling materials. You also have an area where the dose of radiation is lethal, anyone in this area would most likely fall ill and die of radiation poisoning after several days or weeks. Finally you have the thermal effect where exposure will result in burns on the skin (3rd degree) requiring medical treatment and resulting in significant scarring. So what do you do if you are in these areas? Immediately hit the deck or move behind cover. Once the blast waves pass you by, assuming you are still alive and uninjured, start moving away from the explosion. Distance will equal more safety.
The good news is that if you survived the blast, most of the fallout is on the ground after 24 hours (assuming clear conditions). For an airburst, there will be less radioactive material. But your chances of having radioactive material land on you or breath in radioactive material after 24 hours is minimal. Most of the material will be blown by the wind so if you are downwind from a nuclear explosion, it is probably a good idea to relocate. Because the bad news is all that radioactive material ends up on the ground.
Radiation comes in three forms: alpha, beta and gamma. Alpha and Beta radiation are low energy and will not penetrate even clothing, so just covering up will significantly reduce if not eliminate exposure to these forms of radiation. Not so with Gamma radiation which is high energy and high penetration. For protection from Gamma radiation, you will need a fallout shelter. Good news is that 90cm of packed dirt will reduce exposure by 1024 times (9 cm halves exposure, 18 cm quarters exposure, and so on). 6 cm of concrete does the same as 9 cm of packed earth so there is not much benefit in building a concrete shelter and you can quickly build an expedient one when needed. The Civil Defense offers reference materials; one of which is called “Fighting Chance: Ten Feet to Survival” which covers building fallout shelters.
The other good news is that radiation decays exponentially over time using the Seven Ten rule: after seven hours, the amount of radiation has decreased ten times, after 49 hours it would be reduced by a factor of 100. Most areas would be habitable after two weeks (radiation is reduced by a factor of 1000) and radiation should be negligible after 14 weeks (reduced by a factor of 10,000).
Medical treatment of radiation exposure: There are several medical treatments for radiation exposure but only one is available without a prescription or a doctor’s supervision: Potassium Iodide (chemical symbol KI). 165 mg taken once a day, it fills up the thyroid with stable Iodine so it will not absorb any radioactive forms. These radioactive forms are then excreted via normal body functions (urination, etc). The other treatments listed by the CDC (Prussian Blue, DTPA, and Neupogen) require a doctor for administration. https://emergency.cdc.gov/radiation/countermeasures.asp
The best countermeasure would be to avoid contaminated areas (or not even live near a nuclear target). If you cannot do that, then move out of a contaminated area as quickly as possible. I recently read a short book on my Kindle Unlimited subscription entitled ”Bug Out Bag: The Journey To The Safe Zone” and pulled a couple of lessons away. In his rehearsed Bug Out, the family used some sheets to cover themselves as they moved from the inside of their home to their car, they then discarded the sheets as they entered their vehicle. Any fallout material would have deposited on the sheets and then been left behind when they discarded the sheets – good plan! If you think you have had radioactive material land on you - discard your clothes and take a shower with soap.
But they also encountered several problems in their fictionalized bug out (precipitated by an accident at a nearby nuclear power plant) which were included for dramatic effect and as teaching points. But these would have been avoided if they had built a fallout shelter in or near their home. If you have a basement or root cellar, you may already have an existing fallout shelter. It would just need to be provisioned for a two-week occupation (food, water, etc). If you have to make an excursion out of the shelter (for example to dump waste), you just need to do it quickly to minimize radiation exposure. And if you feel you had any dust land on you, discard your clothes and take a shower before re-entering your shelter.
In a future article, we will go over building several fallout shelters which can also be useful as a cache or hide site. But I will mention here that Kearny’s book Nuclear War Survival Skills emphasized the need for physical shelter from large radioactive particles which will fall to the ground, but stated the risk of inhalation of small radioactive particles was minimal and did not recommend filtering ventilation systems for the fallout shelter from radiation exposure by airborne particles. I think this is solid advice as long as conditions are not windy and dusty outside.
So in summary using our four phase planning
► Include Potassium Iodide in your Bug Out Kit.
► Build a fall-out shelter or upgrade your root cellar or basement as required.
► Stock your fallout shelter for a two-week stay (minimum).
► Make the decision to Bug In or Bug Out.
► Bug In – move to your fall-out shelter.
► Bug Out – move out of the affected area.
► Start taking your Potassium Iodide.
► Move any equipment you intend to use later under cover (a shed, a garage, etc.).
► Monitor radiation exposure
♦ First 24 hours, radioactive particles may still be airborne.
♦ After 49 hours, radiation levels should be reduced by factor of 100.
♦ After 2 weeks, radiation levels should be reduced by factor of 1000.
♦ After 14 weeks, radiation levels should be reduced by factor of 10,000.
♦ Minimize excursions outside or in the radiated area.
♦ Decontaminate as needed.
► Replenish supplies.
► Re-occupy your primary residence.
► Decontaminate the area.
De Oppresso Liber