Radiation Issues In Nuclear Blasts- Part 2, by Dr. Bones of doomandbloom.net

This is the second part of this article on radiation issues in nuclear blasts. We’ve defined radiation and various types of bombs as well as radiation’s effects on living things. Today, we’ll look at what we can do to prepare for radiation exposure, treat its effects, and more.

Radiation Sickness

The medical effects of exposure are collectively known as “radiation sickness” or “Acute Radiation Syndrome”. A certain amount of radiation exposure is tolerable over time, but your goal should be to shelter your group as much as possible.

Terms For Measuring Quantities of Radiation

To accomplish this goal, we should first clarify what the different terms for measuring the quantities of radiation mean. Scientists use terms such as RADS, REMS, SIEVERTS, GRAYS, BECQUERELS, or CURIES to describe radiation amounts. Different terms are used when describing the amount of radiation being given off by a source, the total amount of radiation that is actually absorbed by a human or animal, or the chance that a living thing will suffer health damage from exposure:

  • BECQUERELS/CURIES – these terms describe the amount of radiation that, say, a hunk of uranium gives off into the environment. These measurements are named after scientists who were the first to work with (and die from) radioactivity.
  • RADS – the amount of the radiation in the environment that is actually absorbed by a living thing.
  • REMS/SIEVERTS/GRAYS – the measurement of the risks of health damage from the radiation absorbed.

This is somewhat confusing. So, for our purposes, let’s use RADS. A RAD (Radiation Absorbed Dose) measures the amount of radiation energy transferred to some mass of material, typically humans.

Effects On Humans Of Various Amounts of Absorbed Radiation

An acute radiation dose (one received over a short period of time) is the most likely to cause damage. Below is a list of the effects on humans corresponding to the amount of radiation absorbed. For comparison, assume that you absorb about 0.6 RADs per year from natural or household sources. These are the effects of different degrees of acute radiation exposure on humans:

  • 30-70 RADS: Mild headache or nausea within several hours of exposure. Full recovery is expected.
  • 70-150 RADS: Mild nausea and vomiting in a third of patients. Decreased wound healing and increased susceptibility to infection. Full recovery is expected.
  • 150-300 RADS: Moderate nausea and vomiting in a majority of patients. Fatigue and weakness in half of victims. Infection and/or spontaneous bleeding may occur due to a weakened immune system. Medical care will be required for many, especially those with burns or wounds. Occasional deaths at 300 RADS exposure may occur.
  • 300-500 RADS: Moderate nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and weakness in most patients. Diarrheal stools, dehydration, loss of appetite, skin breakdown, and infection will be common. Hair loss is visible in most over time. At the high end of exposure, expect a 50% death rate.
  • Over 500 RADS: Spontaneous bleeding, fever, stomach and intestinal ulcers, bloody diarrhea, dehydration, low blood pressure, infections, and hair loss is anticipated in almost all patients. Death rates approach 100%. The effects related to exposure may occur over time, even if the dose was received in a very short time. Hair loss, for example, will become apparent at 10-14 days. Deaths may occur weeks after the exposure.

Protection Against Exposure To Radiation

In the early going, your goal is to prevent exposures of over 100 RADS. A radiation dosimeter will be useful to gauge radiation levels and is widely available for purchase. This item will give you an idea of your likelihood of developing radiation sickness.

Ways To Decrease Dose of Radiation

There are three basic ways of decreasing the total dose of radiation:

  1. Limit the time unprotected. Radiation absorbed is dependent on the length of exposure. Leave areas where high levels are detected and you are without adequate shelter. The activity of radioactive particles decreases over time. After eight hours, levels usually drop to 1/10 of their previous value or less. After 48 hours, levels are down to 1% of the previous high.
  2. Increase the distance from the radiation. Radiation disperses over distance, and effects decrease the farther away you are.
  3. Provide a barrier. A shelter will decrease the level of exposure, so it is important to know how to construct one that will serve as a shield between your people and the radiation source. A dense material will give better protection that a light material.

Different Materials As Barriers

The more material that you can use to separate yourself from fallout, the more likely you won’t suffer ill effects. Barrier effectiveness is measured as “halving thickness”. This is the thickness of a particular shield material that will reduce gamma radiation (the most dangerous kind) by one half. When you multiply the halving thickness, you multiply your protection.

For example, the halving thickness of concrete is 2.4 inches or six centimeters. A barrier of 2.4 inches of concrete will drop radiation exposure by one half. Doubling the thickness of the barrier again (4.8 inches of concrete) drops it to one fourth (1/2 x 1/2), and tripling it (7.2 inches) will drop it to one eighth (1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2), et cetera. Ten halving thicknesses (24 inches of concrete) will drop the total radiation exposure to 1/1024th that of being out in the open.

Here are the halving thicknesses of some common materials:

  • Lead: 0.4 inches or 1.02 centimeter
  • Steel: 1 inch or 2.54 centimeters
  • Concrete: 2.4 inches or 6.09 centimeters
  • Soil (packed): 3.6 inches or 9.14 centimeters
  • Water: 7.2 inches or 18.28 centimeters
  • Wood: 11 inches or 27.94 centimeters

By looking at the list above, you can see that the same protection is given with 1/6 the thickness of lead plating as that of concrete.

Treating Radiation Sickness

Eliminating Fallout Dust

Eliminating external contamination with fallout “dust” is important before absorption occurs. You might be surprised to know that this can be accomplished with simple soap and water, preferably before entering the shelter. Scrub exposed skin gently with a clean wet sponge. Safely dispose of the sponge and dry the area thoroughly. Contaminated clothes should be removed outside and bagged in plastic.

Emergency Treatment of Radiation Sickness

If you are called upon to treat victims of radiation sickness, you can do so safely as long as you are in a shelter and not ingesting or inhaling fallout yourself. Emergency treatment involves dealing with the symptoms and complications. Once the diagnosis is made, methods that may help include antibiotics to treat infections, fluids for dehydration, diuretics to flush out contaminants, and drugs to treat nausea, diarrhea, and pain. In severely ill patients, stem cell transplants and multiple transfusions are indicated but will not be options in an austere setting. This hard reality underscores the importance of having an adequate shelter to prevent excessive exposure.

Potassium Iodide Before and After Exposure

Limited protection is available against some of the long-term effects of radiation. Potassium Iodide (known by the chemical symbol KI), taken orally, can prevent radioactive Iodine from damaging the specific organ that it targets, the thyroid gland. The usual adult dose is 130 mg daily for 7-10 days or for as long as exposure is significant. For children, the dosage is 65 mg daily. KI is available in a FDA-approved commercial product called Thyrosafe or Iosat. It’s important to know that KI should only be used for a short period of time (or not at all if you have certain thyroid issues, heart disease, or allergies to iodine).

Taking KI 30 minutes to 24 hours prior to a radiation exposure will prevent the eventual epidemic of thyroid cancer that will result if no treatment is given. Radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster has accounted for more than 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer so far, mostly in children and adolescents. Therefore, if you only have a limited quantity of KI, treat the youngsters first.

Although there is a small amount of KI in ordinary iodized salt, not enough is present to confer any protection by ingesting it. It would take 250 teaspoons of household iodized salt to equal one Potassium Iodide tablet. Pets may also be at risk for long-term effects from radioactive iodine. It is recommended to consider 1/2 tablet daily for large dogs, and 1/4 tablet for small dogs and cats.

Other Prescription Treatment

For the ill effects of other radioactive fallout, like Cesium and Thallium, a prescription product called Prussian Blue is thought to prevent these elements from being absorbed from the intestines into the body. Produced in 500 mg capsules called “Radiogardase”, it is considered safe for us by those over two years old.

Alternative Remedy For Radiation Exposure

Don’t depend on supplies of the drug to be available after a nuclear event. Even the federal government will have little Potassium Iodide in reserve to give to the general population. In recent power plant meltdowns, there was little or no Potassium Iodide to be found anywhere for purchase

If you find yourself without any KI, consider this alternative: Povidone-Iodine solution (brand name ***Betadine***amazon.com/Dynarex-D1415-Povidone-Iodine-Solution/dp/B005R8580M/ref=sr_1_2_). It’s a liquid, so paint 8 ml of Betadine on the abdomen or forearm 2-12 hours prior to exposure and re-apply daily. Enough should be absorbed through the skin to give protection against radioactive Iodine in fallout.

For children three years old or older (but under 150 lbs or 70 kg), apply 4 ml. Use 2 ml for toddlers, and 1 ml for infants. This strategy should also work on animals. If you don’t have a way to measure, remember that a standard teaspoon is about 5 milliliters. Discontinue the daily treatment after 3-7 days or when Radioiodine levels have fallen to safer levels.

Be aware that those who are allergic to seafood will probably be allergic to anything containing iodine. Adverse reactions may also occur if you take medications such as diuretics and Lithium. It is also important to note that you cannot drink tincture of iodine or Betadine; it is poisonous if ingested.

What To Do In A Nuclear Attack

Where To Go When Only A Few Miles From Impact

The Department of Homeland Security in Guam has suggestions for those located just a few miles from the impact. These people have a few seconds to act before the shockwave arrives. Once the flash of the explosion is noticed, turn away (the flash can damage your retinas) and find a solid barrier of concrete to lie behind, face down, while covering exposed skin, mouth, and nose as much as possible. If you can enter a building, do so; you’ll reduce your exposure by 50%, or by 90% if you can reach a level below ground. The deeper you go underground, the safer you are.

When Far Away Or Have Notice

If you’re far enough away or have some notice of an impending attack, you’ll have more time to find a solid building with a basement or, at least, a central room without windows. Multi-story buildings are best. If you have enough warning to get out of Dodge, get some distance between yourself and ground zero. If the explosion has already occurred, take a route perpendicular to the anticipated path of the fallout. It’s possible you’ll be at work or school. Schools and places of employment should have a plan of action in place; if they don’t, encourage them to formulate one.

After Exposure

In the aftermath, it may be clear that you’ve been exposed to fallout. If this is the case, avoid touching outside walls or any objects that may have been exposed before you enter a shelter. Once inside, shut off ventilation systems and seal the doors and windows until fallout is no longer a major issue.

When To Leave Shelter

How long do you have to stay in the shelter to avoid dangerous levels of radiation exposure? Although it’s sometimes difficult to estimate the rate of radioactive decay, the amount of radioactivity will drop soon after the explosion, even in the first hour. Levels drop even more as time goes on, by about 90% eight hours later and by about 99% after two days. If you have a working radio, it’s safest to stay inside and wait until the authorities say it’s okay to go outside.

If you’re not near ground zero, an official of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency says: “We estimate that over 90 percent of the people on Oahu would survive a 15-kiloton weapon detonated in the urban Honolulu area.” Indeed, the severe damage zone would only comprise a half-mile radius from ground zero. Light damage would be seen as little as 1-3 miles away, according the officials at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Of course, casualties would be greater with larger yield weapons or with multiple launches on a single target. In any case, the targets are likely to be large metropolitan areas or military bases, with fallout that matches the prevailing winds.

Don’t you think it might be time to stop worrying about where the nearest Starbuck is and consider that acreage in the country?


  1. Should governments build and stock shelters for their citizens, or is that an individual responsibility? Federal, State, County, or individual?

    Switzerland, Israel, Russia, China, etc, can protect a much larger portion of their populations than the U.S.

    Yet, the U.S. Govt is really good at protecting itself.

    This free book would save a lot of lives, but it is very hard to get folks to read it or talk about it.

    Nuclear War Survival Skills
    Updated and Expanded
    1987 Edition
    Cresson H. Kearny

    It should be required reading for the youth of this country. Especially considering some of the books they have to read now.

    Is there some kind of long running Mass Hysteria relating to Nuclear War Survival?

  2. Excellent article! F.Y.I. potassium iodide is available in crystalline form. Buy u.s.p. (United States pure) grade. Four drops of a supersaturated solution provides an adult with enough K.I. to flood ,the thyroid gland with iodine such that it will not absorb the radioactive form of iodine found in fallout, as I understand it. Beware!! K.I. is said to have a VERY unpleasant metallic taste!! Down the hatch fast!!

    Purchased in a kilogram amount now (2.2 pounds), one can be way ahead of the curve “if ever”…

    My two cents worth…

    Again… “Nuclear War Survival Skills” by Cresson Kearney

  3. Great article. The one erroneous point however is the iodine “allergy”. I practice allergy/immunology. It is impossible to be allergic to iodine; this is a myth. Furthermore, there is no correlation between seafood and iodine. Seafood may contain iodine, but if one has an allergic reaction to seafood, it has nothing to do with iodine, it a seafood allergy.

    1. Re: Seafood allergy:

      Thanks for the insight regarding the difference between an allergy to seafood and a reaction to iodine.

      I have wanted to keep the hemostatic agent chitosan (Celox) in my kits because I have responsibility for an individual on warfarin sodium (Warfarin) – chitosan’s clotting effect is not dependent on the fibrinogen cascade – but resisted because its made from crab and shrimp shells.

      While she has no recorded allergy to seafood, she is not able to give a reliable medical history. I wanted to be cautious.

      What is the response to iodine? Is it similar to an allergic reaction?

      1. Allergic reactions to iodine usually arise from iodine-­based contrast dyes injected for medical imaging studies such as CT scans. Reactions typically are mild and involve nausea, vomiting, itching, flushing and hives. But reactions can be severe causing anaphylaxis. But this is not an allergy to iodine per se -it is from the contrast media. This also has has nothing to do with seafood or shellfish allergy. The only other allergic response from iodine would be topical iodine-containing products such as betadine which could cause a contact dermatitis (allergic skin rash). I hope this helps.

  4. Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency is whistling in the dark. Oahu is a Fortress — HQ of Pacific Command (PACOM). Responsible for waging and winning war across 52% of the Earth’s surface and keeping 3 billion or so unruly Asians under control. With several major military units on the island. Home of the 4th largest collection of US military personnel.
    Edward Snowden worked there.

    Bottom Line: Oahu has a big red bullseye painted on it –if it is ever attacked, it won’t be by a trivial 15 kt nuke.

  5. One comment on the “seal the windows and doors” advice. A fallout shelter full of people needs airflow to replace oxygen and reduce the heat produced by many bodies. If the air handling system (HVAC or field expedient) has HEPA grade filters, it is probably a better idea to keep it running. Obviously outside temperature and humidity will affect the transfer of heat. Mr. Kearney’s manual has instructions for building a field expedient air handling and filter unit.

  6. 1) Re the 100 rad dose target, I believe the US health standard is around 5 rads spread out over the entire year. While you may survive a 100 rad exposure, it will significantly increase your chances of getting cancer in the longer term. Although that might be the least of your worries if you are grilling a rat for dinner.
    2) Nonetheless, old people are likely to die of other causes before the cancer hits whereas young children would die before their time. So I’ve seen shelter instructions that urge placing children in the center of the room and adults closer to the walls so that the adults’ bodies partially shield the children.
    3) Of course, some adults may hog the center as well. You can move that moronic neighbor of yours to the outside and keep him there by encouraging him to express his political views on Trump. Just because he is a fat Democrat doesn’t mean he can’t be useful. Assuming the halving thickness of the human body is 6 inches, then 24 inches of fat cuts the radiation you are receiving by a factor of 16. Instead of 100 rads you only get 6.25.

  7. Good article. I believe that nuclear war is eventually inevitable so be informed.

    In the event of nuclear war the risks are so much greater than described which kind of presented the risks from a single nuke. You may need to stay in a shelter for 7 weeks not 2 days. The radiation and the radioactive material from multiple and large nuclear weapons is significantly different/worse that from a single nuke like at Hiroshima.

    The biggest risk or method of exposure will be by ingesting or inhaling radioactive material. Far more dangerous than simple exposure to radioactivity. Good masks and the ability to wash/shower is very important.

    If there is an attack by a major nuclear power it is expected that the U.S. will be hit by 2000-4000 nukes in a few hours. This is beyond imagination in it’s effects. It is likely that most Americans would die immediately or within two weeks. Simple as that, no worries about taking shelter, your dead or dying. Every major city, major manufacturing center, airport, power plant, military target will get multiple nukes most of them impacting within a half hour of the decision by the foreign power to go to war. That means no notice (for civilians), your first notice will be the bright flash. There will be second and third and more waves of nukes so the risk of both exposure to radioactivity and kinetic energy will be ongoing. Additionally it is likely/probable that nuclear weapons will not all hit their intended targets and may miss by tens or even hundreds of miles mostly due to the multiple effects of nuclear explosions so even being far from a target may not insure any degree of safety.

    Whatever you have on hand in that second the first nuke explodes is what you must survive with and protect yourself with. There will be no time to go to stores or dig holes. If you do not now have the supplies to stay underground or in your basement for 7 weeks it is likely you will not be among those who rebuild the country after the disaster.

    1. 1) Based on the info I have –which admittedly may be incomplete – I would disagree.

      2) Bulletin of Atomic Scientists only lists 2600 strategic warheads for Russia and probably half could not be delivered.

      3) What you describe seems more correct for the 1980s. But Russia’s forces today are only about 17% of what they were in 1988. And even in 1990 the FEMA 1990 Nuclear Attack Planning Base indicated that large sections of the USA would receive less than 3000 rads of radiation (Yellow areas):


      4) Without shelter, 3000 rads are more than enough to kill you. But a basement could give you a protection factor of 40 which would cut the exposure to 75 rads.

      5) Radiation declines rapidly — by a factor of 10 for every 7 fold passage of time — so I don’t understand how staying in shelter for 7 weeks instead of 2 would help you much. You need LOTS of shelter in the first 2 days when the radiation is really intense. A few weeks later you want to sleep inside at night but the radiation level is much lower.

      6) For example, suppose total exposure for two weeks was 3000 rad –corresponding to a radiation rate of 1000 rads/hour at hour 1.

      7) At seven weeks, total exposure would only have increased to about 3400 rads. Staying in 40 pf shelter for seven weeks would limit your dose to 85 rad . Staying in it for 2 weeks would give you a 75rad dose. By that time, radiation rate outside would have dropped to only .85 rad per hour. Staying outside for 5 weeks would increase your dose by 400 rad to a
      total of 475 rads.

      8) Hmmm — I see what you mean. Even though the radiation rate at 2 weeks is low it is steady and can give a significant total dose over 5 weeks time. So although you can go outside some it is still necessary to stay in shelter part of the day.

      9) Plus there is nuclear winter , which Cold War planners were unaware of. No crops for a year, maybe 2. And I don’t see how any livestock or wildlife would have survived. At least, not in any significant amounts.

      10) So , tell me again. What reason did Obama give us for mounting a coup in a bankrupt Ukraine manure hole 4500 miles from the USA and rebooting the Cold War?

      Especially given that our federal debt has increased by $10 Trillion within just 8 years and $6 Trillion of that is owed to foreigners.

      And why is our allegedly Free Press spending 8 months attacking Trump over nothing while evading the above question?

      1. How long to stay in a shelter? Well as I pointed out it depends. If NK bombs Guam I need spend zero time in a shelter. If a Hiroshima size bomb air bursts over a city 30 miles from me 2 days in a shelter is fine. If it’s a ground burst than a longer stay is necessary as well as washing off dust/fallout. But the unprecedented situation of 2000 nuclear weapons with repeated bombing at day or week intervals requires a lot longer. 49 days is the long standing recomendation for exactly the reason you point out (7 fold passage of time).

        How many bombs does Russia have? I don’t know. You don’t know. How many could they prepare for use in a week or a month or 6 months if they decided they must go to war? I don’t know. The experts have said that it would be 2000 to 4000 in a first strike. The ONLY possibility of winning a first strike is total anihilation of the enemies ability to respond so using too few is stupid. So IF they attack I am confident that the numbers will be closer to the assumed 2000-4000 than it will to some arbitrary number.

    1. The Nuclear Regulatory Commision publishes a map of existing reactors:
      Map of Power Reactor Sites

      However, that’s only half of the story. Those are the power reactors. You also have research reactors:
      Map of Research and Test Reactor Sites

      And then there is the myriad of different levels of Nuclear wastes and their storage sites. You can spend some time on the site and they will have most of the information you are looking for. Your tax dollars hard at work.

  8. I have a pertinent question. When one takes distance from fallout into consideration, what is the value of the radiation being twenty feet away. Is it less powerful, and if so by how much. Like if one had a pole barn that had a twenty foot roof, is there more protection than in a pole barn with a ten foot roof. How would a short distance impact things, would it? Is there any value, presumming you were building as best a shield as you could under that roof.

    1. @Mark
      1) I believe radiation intensity follows the same rule as light — intensity is INVERSELY proportional to distance squared. ( 1 / (distance squared)).
      2) If a radiation source is 20 feet away it would be 2 times as distant as if it was 10 feet away. (20/10=2).
      3) Hence, its intensity would be 1/(2×2) or only 1/4 as intense as if it was only 10 feet away.
      4) At 30 feet away (3 times the distance as 10 feet) , it would be 1/ (3×3) = 1/9 as strong as at 10 feet.

      1. PS I forgot to mention –putting the roof 20 feet high rather than 10 feet would only increase protection from fallout deposited on the roof.

        However, most of the radiation would be from fallout deposited on the ground outside.

        Even with sidewall protection, you can still get a strong dose from SKYSHINE — radiation emitted upward from the ground that is reflected back downward by air molecules. A higher roof wouldn’t provide more protection from Skyshine.


  9. Great and timely article . I am so glad Dr. Bones made mention of the kinetic energy in the initial shock wave being a big killer . I live 20 miles from a military base and when the army fire’s off their 5 and 8 inch cannons my whole house shakes.On cloudy days the thick clouds trap the shock wave and compound the problem.
    Stock up on some rolled plastic sheeting . Because after it there will be few doors or windows to be had.

  10. @Mark & Don
    For your roof example, unfortunately, the inverse square law applies to radiation only if it is a point source, i.e., a relatively small spot. If you have a line source, such as a radioactive pipe, radiation intensity decreases linearly with distance (double the distance = half the exposure). A surface that is a plane, such as a roof, would have even less of a decrease with distance -UNLESS the roof is at least 3 times as far away as its longest dimension. At that point it begins to act as a point source and then the inverse square law as Don described begins to apply.

  11. @GD
    1) You are right–I was mistaken. Although the line source and plane source behavior are for infinitely long lines and infinitely broad planar surfaces. Still, a broad roof would not be a point source.
    2) If Mark wants to model radiation from his barn, he might set up something like this with a light meter. Also, compare readings in a corner vs in the center.


    3) I don’t know of any model for skyshine from fallout on the ground outside, however.

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