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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Nuclear War

During the recent presidential election, there was a great deal of Cold War-era rhetoric, and it un-nerved me a bit.  I wasn't worried about myself - I've had a reasonably long and healthy life.  I was un-nerved for our daughter.

I was hopeful that the belligerent words would calm down, and for the moment, they have.  But I suppose those that set them in motion might do so again.  Even so, there are often world events that are of concern.

Here's the thing:  The nuclear genie is out of the bottle.  I never dreamed a civilian nuclear reactor would melt down after the wake-up call of Three Mile Island.  Nevertheless we've now had Chernobyl and three of the Fukushima reactors contaminate large areas.  In fact, there is ongoing groundwater contamination at the Fukushima nuclear site...  That's plenty of contamination, even without intentionally detonating nuclear weapons.

When the Cold War-style rhetoric recently began flowing from major news media, I got alarmed enough to think someone might be silly enough to launch ICBMs.  How would the average guy know if nuclear-armed countries were about to launch missiles?  If the worst happened, I would certainly be downwind of several likely targets.  My area wouldn't be harmed directly by a blast (who wastes nukes on places where people go camping?), but we would be downwind, and subject to radioactive fallout.

What is fallout?  This is the debris (the crap in the mushroom cloud) generated by a nuclear blast.  When a ground-level nuclear explosion happens, you get millions of degrees of temperature and you get an insane amount of neutrons from the fission process.  The neutrons get captured by whatever atoms are nearby (like the soil, thereby making it radioactive), and the heat generates a fireball that vaporizes the now-radioactive soil.  There are also two radioacive fission products from the weapon itself, which are dangerous from a bio-accumulation standpoint, Cesium 137 and Iodine 131.

As the insanely hot mushroom cloud rises and cools, it lofts these radioactive particles up to cloud levels.  The radioactive particles then can fall out (fallout - get it?) downwind. The particles can settle as dust or combine with moisture and rain out - often hundreds of miles from the detonation.  That's fallout.

Fallout will contaminate crops, making them inedible if the food cannot be cleaned off, or if the crops absorb the radioactive particles into the plant structure. Cattle eating fallout-contaminated grass would have radioactive milk, and their meat can also become too contaminated to eat. Wildlife of course can also be contaminated.  There are reindeer in Lapland that are too contaminated to eat 30+ years after Chernobyl, due to their eating of contaminated forage.

Children are more susceptible to radiation-induced cancers than adults.  Children have rapidly-developing bodies, and their cells are rapidly multiplying as they grow.  It is generally understood that this rapid cell growth leads the immune system to be much less cognizant of abnormally growing cells, such as cancer.  Furthermore, children have a longer lifespan for radiation-damaged cells to become cancerous.  For this reason it is of the utmost importance to minimize radiation exposure of pregnant women and children.  Aged men are best for tasks requiring radiation exposure.

There are some things to understand if you hope to survive a nuclear war or radioactive release - yes it's possible to survive a nuclear attack.  Many people who were not in the blast zones at Hiroshima and Nagasaki survived the radiation and the fallout - and they had no knowledge about the nature of what happened.  If you are prepared, things will be more likely work out in your favor - as with most things in life!

Let's discuss what you need to do to prepare, and why.  Many of these apply to most natural disasters as well, so take a little time to protect your family from those as well.

The first assumption is that you aren't in a blast zone.  If you are in a blast zone, take care of your immediate survival and medical needs first.  There is a high probability that if you are not instantly incinerated, you might be injured/burned or irradiated.  Take care of these acute issues, then see how your other preparations (below) have fared.  You should own at least a first aid kit.  Bigger is better, and buy a lot more bandages than they come with.

Among the most important components of being prepared is to have a sizable supply of safe food and water.  Water of course is the more important, because you won't survive very long at all without it.  Ideally the water would be in an underground cistern with no way for airborne radioactive fallout or fallout-contaminated rainwater to reach it.  Alternatively, rain barrels would work, assuming you could cap them before contaminated rainwater entered them.  Deep well water will be clean for a long time, even after a nuclear event.  Bottling in advance is fine too!

Food can be whatever you like, although long shelf life will be helpful if you are a busy person who doesn't like to rotate your food items.  Just make sure your food is sealed against dust, because fallout is essentially radioactive dust.  Therefore anything that goes into your mouth must be sealed until it is time to eat it, and kept away from dusty surfaces.  The three rules of minimizing radiation exposure are:
  1. Time - minimize the time you are exposed to the radiation
  2. Distance - maximize the distance between yourself and the source of radiation 
  3. Shielding - maximize the shielding between yourself and the source of radiation
If you eat fallout-tainted food, you have reduced "Distance" to zero and eliminated the possibility of shielding yourself from it.  You are now internally contaminated with radioactive crap, and it will harm your stomach and intestines.  If it is bio-available, it might get built into your bones, or taken up by your thyroid.  So keep contamination outside of your body.  Use disposable plates and eating utensils kept in a sealed plastic bag until needed.

Distancing and shielding yourself against radioactive fallout is easy.  Stay indoors.  Seal the windows and doors to prevent exterior dust from getting inside.  Don't run your central heating/cooling system, as that will put parts of your house under negative pressure, pulling in dust.  The walls of your house aren't lead, that is true.  However the roof and walls will keep the contamination outdoors.  If you keep away from exterior walls, you probably won't get any exposure at all, because the distance is greater, and the air in the room and the walls of your house provide a little shielding.  If your house has a basement, go there!  Also, unless you are very close to ground zero, the radiation from the fallout should be very diffused, and not directly dangerous, just an internal contamination hazard.

The likelihood of people in authority providing accurate information on radioactive contamination is pretty much nil.   We have had several serious radiation accidents in modern times, and *every single time* there have been major disconnects between what was really happening, and what the public was told.  We witnessed this disconnect during Chernobyl, the Tokaimura Criticality Accident, the Monju Coolant Leak, and most recently during the Fukushima Daiichi reactor melt-downs.  You can't count on government or the news media to give you the truth.  The government will want to reassure people, and the media will tell you what the government tells them to say.

It's important to have good information instead of reassurance in a nuclear event.  To get honest facts affecting your safety, you need a radiation detector.  With that information you can legitimately assess the hazard for yourself, and take action to preserve the lives of your loved ones, your friends, and your neighbors.

Below, a radiation detector that can read in counts per minute or millirem/hr.  It can log your dose over time, and can also connect to your PC and upload user's live data for display on a map.  Very cool.  Actual radiation data, free of government/media spin, just $99 on Amazon.

We keep enough food on hand to be able to ride out the harshest and most dangerous short-lived radioactivity.   Of greatest concern during the initial couple of weeks is radioactive Iodine.  The human thyroid is constantly absorbing trace amounts of Iodine from our diet.  If radioactive Iodine (which is a by-product of nuclear reactions) is absorbed, the thyroid will concentrate it, and possibly develop cancer.

Just to be thyroid safe, you should also have some Iodine Tablets.  These will saturate your thyroid with non-radioactive iodine and shut down the absorption mechanism for a while.  This ensures that in the event radioactive iodine is ingested, it won't get absorbed by your thyroid.  After a couple of weeks, the radioactive Iodine decays away, and the tablets are no longer necessary.

That's about all I have on this subject, although here is a bit more from the cold war days.  Hopefully we don't return there...  Thanks for your patience!

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