13 October 2022
There’s much wailing and gnashing of teeth right now over the increasing possibility of nuclear war. Personally, I don't think the chances are all that great but it certainly does remain a possibility. Without going into the politics or who's to blame for this yet to materialize event, let's discuss it from a preparedness and survivability aspect.
Understand that I am not a specialist or expert in this field but we had frequent training exercises for such an event when I was in the military and one of my dearest friends was a 54E, an NBC NCO, in an elite military unit for a number of years. For you non-military types, that's a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical non-commissioned officer (they don't call them that currently, but that's close enough). HE is an expert. Over the last 20 some-odd years, we have discussed this a number of times and have made some preliminary plans and preparations for our homes and acquired as much related protective equipment as practicable. The following is a culmination of information from some of these discussions as I understand it. I hope that it will help some of you to be better prepared, just in case, and less stressed out about your future!
The common consensus amongst the average folks on the street is if we engage in a nuclear war that all will be lost, the country will be destroyed and pretty much everyone will die. That is simply not so. Nuclear war is quite survivable assuming that you are not at "ground zero" or close to it. Quite obviously, the further you are away from the blast, the higher your chances are of survival. Take Hiroshima, Japan for instance. Did people die as a result of the atomic bombing of the city in August of 1945? Unfortunately, yes, quite a number of them did. By the end of that year, around 140,000 people were dead as a direct result of that single bomb. However, Hiroshima is a bustling city of over 1,000,000 people today. We began safely assisting the Japanese in rebuilding the city less than 2 years after it was totally destroyed. There are still people alive today that were less than 5 miles from the center of the blast when it happened. Yes, there are much more powerful weapons available today but they are, nonetheless, survivable
Of the three NBC threats, nuclear is the easiest to defend against. Nuclear follows very specific rules of physics, where chemical and biological agents are at the whims of nature.
The biggest thing to remember about nuclear is time and distance. The longer you are away, and the further, the better.
Types of Radiation
Alpha – these are fast moving helium atoms. They have high energy, but due to their large mass, they are stopped by just a few inches of air, or a piece of paper. Long-sleeved shirt, pants, gloves, hood and a protective mask will adequately protect you against these particles.
Note: It would behoove all of us to purchase numerous pairs of cheap, disposable coveralls for outside activities, such as decontamination efforts, in the aftermath of the event.
Beta – these are fast moving electrons. Since electrons are a tad lighter than helium atoms, they are able to penetrate further, through several feet of air, or several millimeters of plastic or less of very light metals. Beta requires a little more protection than Alpha. Alpha and Beta are just as dangerous to the body as Gamma but they are easier to shield against. Obviously, the farther away you are and the less time you are exposed, the better off you will be. Alpha and Beta particles are both too small to see with the naked eye but may be carried on larger particles or debris that you can see and they can be carried by the wind. This is called fallout.
Canned food, most food in heavy packaging and water stored in barrels, water cans, etc are in no danger of becoming contaminated by fallout. Simply rinse with water, soapy if possible and use as normal. However, surface water will be contaminated.
Gamma – these are photons, just like light, except of much higher energy. X-Rays and gamma rays are really the same thing, the difference is how they were produced. Depending on their energy, they can be stopped by a thin piece of aluminum foil, or they can penetrate several inches of lead. If the blast is a few hundred miles away, Gamma rays will be of little or no concern.
Nuclear detonation is extremely destructive, but less so than a runaway reactor. To get maximum destruction the device needs to be detonated in the air. Ground bursts do not have the same “power”. Also, air bursts are much cleaner. The 15KT device we used on Hiroshima and the Trinity device detonated in NM were the same. As mentioned above, Hiroshima was being rebuilt just 2 years after device detonation. The Trinity site is still too contaminated to safely spend much time on. Why? The bomb was detonated at 1900 feet. Trinity was detonated at 100 feet. Essentially a ground burst.
Reactors, on the other hand, when they melt down, cause much greater contamination due to the fact they melt and then the steam build-up in the reactor vessel builds to a point that it blows the reactor and scatters much more dirty contaminants.
Another serious hazard is dirty bombs. This is where some group steals nuclear material from hospitals waste areas or hijacks a transport and mixing that material in a regular terrorist device (ANFO for example) and detonating it in a stadium town center etc. No one knows a nuclear device has been used until people get sick from the radiation..
Alpha and Beta decontamination
The way to treat someone that has breathed in or ingested Alpha and Beta particles is to just remove them. In the early days of the nuclear age when workers were contaminated with alpha radiation. Beer. Lots of it and right now. It was first used for all alpha radiation then mainly for Tritium (radioactive Tritium is what makes your night sights glow)
But the idea is what’s called “water turnover”. So, lots of beer means lots of urine. Also by adding in what’s called Prussian Blue, a dye used in the last century, It will bind with Cesium and Thallium in the digestive tract and keep them from being absorbed. A protective mask, commonly and mistakenly called a gas mask, WILL protect you from Alpha exposure. Over the years following the disasters of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima a lot of research was done on how to rid the body of radiation. And yes beer, Prussian blue. There is no real “Anti Radiation Pill” as seen on TV. Potassium iodide (KI) is sold to a lot of preppers but it only works on radioactive iodine. Plus KI only works for 24 hours and excessive use is dangerous. I will have a separate article on KI very soon.
The gamma rays are in and out at nearly the speed of light. They can and do cause damage and there is no true decontamination procedure. The best was found to be Zeolyte. For those unfamiliar with that name, it used to be the active ingredient in the first generation Quikclot. It was also used by spreading on the ground to absorb ground contamination. It works by attacking the heavy metals that are part of radiation absorbing them and then letting the body eliminate them. Mixed in a dilute solution, it binds with the radioactive particles, letting the body eliminate it naturally.
(Proper decon procedures will require a functional, accurate Geiger counter)
Gross Whole-Body Contamination
1. Begin by carefully removing all of the victim's clothing outdoors or have victims undress themselves, working from head to toe. Removal of shoes and clothes can reduce contamination by as much as 90%.
2. Place all property of each victim in a single, airtight container e.g., property bag. Label property bag with victim's name, date and time of collection, location of collection and radiation warning label.
Store property bags in secure outdoor location for appropriate disposal later.
Separate property bags from one another to avoid creating high radiation areas within contamination zone.
3. Perform whole body radiation survey.
Mark on victim's skin, using waterproof felt tip marker, any areas of high level contamination found by radiation survey.
Ensure that meter-to-skin distance is consistent in all surveys to minimize inter-survey errors.
Record initial and all follow-up survey results for an individual victim on a body diagram include name, and time and date of initial and all follow-up radiation surveys.
Update body diagram after each decontamination cycle or use new body diagram for each cycle.
4. Conduct decontamination in the following order:
*Body entrance cavities: nose, mouth, ears urethra vagina rectum
*Localized skin decontamination starting with area of highest contamination noted on radiation body survey.
* Goal of whole body external decontamination is to decrease external contamination to a level of no more than .2 times of the background radiation level.
* Perform two decontamination cycles if feasible, with a whole body radiation survey after each cycle.
* Use tepid decontamination water.
Avoid cold water which tends to close skin pores, trapping radioactive contamination. Cold water may also cause hypothermia.
Avoid hot water which tends to enhance absorption of radioactive material through vasodilation and increased skin blood flow. Hot water may also cause thermal burns.
Add mild soap (neutral pH) to water to emulsify and dissolve contamination.
* Direct contaminated waste water away from patient, rather than over the rest of the body.
* Stop whole body external decontamination efforts after 2 decontamination cycles and handle patient with standard precautions if the second whole body radiation survey shows:
a. External Contamination in excess of 2 times background radiation level.
b. Additional whole body external decontamination efforts do not further reduce contamination levels by more than 10%.
* Consider that attempts to remove all contamination from skin may not be feasible or desirable.
Some radioactivity may be trapped in outermost layer of skin (stratum corneum) and will remain until normal sloughing occurs (12-15 days).
* Attempts at vigorous decontamination may result in loss of normal intact skin barrier and an increased risk of internal contamination.
* Cover areas of residual radiation contamination with waterproof dressings/drapes in order to limit spread of contamination to other body sites, immediate environment, and others.
* Persistently elevated levels of external contamination after adequate decontamination efforts may also be due to internal contamination retained radioactive foreign bodies (shrapnel), contaminated wounds, or contaminated body orifices.
Decontamination of Your Environment
In preparation for a nuclear event, stockpile dish soap or liquid hand soap, extra HEPA furnace filters, a large roll of heavy-duty sheet plastic, several rolls of duct tape and a heavy-duty stapler and extra staples. Also, if you feel that an event is imminent, dig drainage ditches around your house if possible for later decontamination efforts. Help protect your home or business by stapling or taping plastic over all doors, windows, vents, chimneys, etc.
After the initial event, use large amounts of water (if available) and soap to literally rinse your house off. The soap helps keep the particles in suspension. The ditches will help carry the contaminated water away from the house. Take care not to further contaminate areas like fresh water sources, garden areas, your neighbor’s house, etc with your contaminated water.
Garden areas, fields and the soil surrounding your house can be decontaminated by scraping off the top 2 or 3 inches of soil and burying it with earthmoving equipment.
Lastly, pray that we do not have to use these measures!