Thinking About the Unthinkable, Again – Part 3, by 3AD Scout

(Continued from Part 2. This concludes the article.)

Why do you need a survey meter and dosimeters?

A survey meter like the CDV 700 and CDV 715 will tell you what the current rate you are receiving is while the dosimeter will provide you with a total amount your body has absorbed. One of the other useful things you should print off and have handy is a dosimeter log for each person so you can keep track of exactly how much total radiation each person has received and the period of time they received the dose. This will be important to help decide what people to assign must do tasks when radiation levels are high but not dangerous for short periods of time such as taking garbage out of the shelter area or responding outside to a security threat.

I’m contaminated, now what?

So, you leave your shelter to respond to a security threat and you come back and one of your group members goes over you with a CDV-700 meter and finds you have contamination on your footwear and on your back. At this point let’s back up and look at PPE and procedures. If you or members of your family/group need to leave the shelter to go outside they should have PPE on. This will make things much easier when they come back and try to get back inside.

A Tyvek suit, boot covers, a respirator with hood, and gloves should standard when leaving the shelter area. Procedures should include a local where the returning person can be surveyed to see if they are contaminated, a place to decontaminate and a place to take off the PPE. Keep in mind you want your decontamination area to be away from your shelter area. An N95 mask can suffice but a good military or civilian full-face respirator (gas mask) with a hood will help keep fallout from getting into your hair will it will be more difficult to decontaminate. This is also another good reason to keep your hair cut short. Don’t have a Tyvek suit, use a raincoat with integrated hood. Add rolls of double-sided tape that can be used to make improvised “Sticky Mats” by placing strips of the double sided tape onto 2’x2’ pieces of cardboard. As people come back into get survey they step onto these sticky mats and any radiological material on the bottom of their footwear should be removed and stuck onto these mats.

How to perform radiological decontamination

Sorry to be the bearer of reality but the likelihood that you have running water immediately after a nuclear exchange is below fifty percent. First thing to do is to take a background radiation reading in the area where you will be doing the surveying and decontaminating with your CDV 715 meter and write it down. In the old days decontamination (decon) would be performed by using a whisk broom to sweep off the radioactive particles. The problem with this method is that the area where this decon is done, is now contaminated. A blotting method using tape that stuck to itself making a loop with the sticking side out and then used to blot the area is a good alternative to the whisk broom. The advantage is twofold. One it contains the contamination to the tape and two it doesn’t contaminate the area. You can decontaminate yourself by removing the outer layer of your clothing. However, wearing a disposable Tyvek suit with hood makes it much easier and simpler than trying to take off shirts and pants.

Remember that the process of taking your shirt and pants of could make the radioactive fallout airborne again. This is why your mask should always be the last piece of PPE taken off. (Note some people will say gloves my preference is mask). Take the improvised sticky mats and any of the tape used to perform decon and throw it into a garbage bag and throw it outside of the decon area for disposal when radiation levels become safer. Once you believe you have decontaminated the area have the person re-survey you to confirm. If the meter indicates contamination is still present, repeat the process. I have seen protocols where this done up to three times. If after their decon attempt, the person is still “hot” the person is allowed to pass. Consider the amount of radiation received from the remaining contamination compared to what the team carrying out this process is receiving since you are all not in the shelter area when this is being done.


So you got yourself some radiation metering but how much radiation can you receive. The US Government states that absorbed radiation should be “as low as reasonably achievable” or ALARA. The average natural dose in the US for a year is 300 millirems. The federal government’s occupational limits for those who work around radiation is 5,300 millirems. These are far away from the doses the body can withstand. For example, 5 to 20 Rems will only have risk late in life such as possible chromosomal damage. A dose of 20 to 100 Rems may reduce the person’s white blood count temporarily.

A 100 to 200 REM dose will produce mild radiation sickness within a few hours which could include vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and reduced resistance to infections.

Doses of 200 to 300 Rems will cause serious radiation sickness with the same effects as the 100 to 200 Rem dose plus the possibility of hemorrhaging especially in softer tissues. A 200-300 Rem dose is expected to be lethal in about 10 to 35% of the population after about 30 days. A 300 to 400 Rem dose has the same effects as the lower doses and bone marrow and intestine damage. Bloody stools (tarry) occur. About 50 to 70% of the population will pass away within 30 days.

A dose of 400 to 1000 will include all the symptoms of the lower doses and 60 to 95% of humans with these doses will pass away within 30 days. ]

A dose of 1000 Rem will be fatal to all within ten days. Humans can survive a substantial amount of radiation but any improvised shielding and distance will help to reduce the higher absorbed doses, especially within the first few days of the nuclear warhead going off.

Threats from those not sheltering

Since radiation can not be detected by human senses it is very likely many people will keep moving during periods of high levels of radioactive fallout. Security for the first week after the fallout starts will be challenging. There will be people who will be looking for food, water, medicines/drugs, alcohol and shelter that could raid your outbuildings or even enter the structure you are sheltering in. Surviving the radioactive fallout is just the first challenge, you and your family still must have the resources to survive after the fallout decays. Protecting your resources will require forethought and creativity long before the first warhead is detonated. The first challenge will be detection from your shelter area.

Second will be devising a course of action that will limit your own exposure. Perhaps being able to cover window and doors with bars long before the event will slow any marauders and cause them to make a lot of noise to get inside. Depending upon your field of view you may not have to going outside to take care of the issue thus limiting your exposure.

Meals on Hooves

Many animals are able to absorb more radiation than humans. Fifty percent of cattle who receive a dose of 500 Rems will survive, for sheep it is 400 Rems, swine 660 Rems, horses and mules is 700 Rems and for poultry it is a whopping 850 Rem. Keeping your livestock inside a barn would greatly improve their odds especially if it was a bank barn with bales of hay on the floor above. With livestock the ability to stop them getting internal contamination is paramount. Not grazing the animals on fields until radiation levels are decayed to the point where a month or year will not mean any more meaningful decay is probably that point when grazing can begin again. There will still be issues with some radioactive isotopes like strontium 90 which takes a few decades to decay and will ride the jet stream and fall over time and then enter the food chain as animals eat the grass that it has fallen on. So make sure your hay and grain are covered to prevent contamination by fallout.

Ensuring that the animals have enough food and water while you and your family are sheltering will be a major challenge. My assumption is that my electric will be out so I will have to make sure my generator is handy to run the well pump if it survives the EMP. If it doesn’t I will have to water off of my rain catchment systems. Speaking of rain catchment systems you will also need to detach the pipes that feed into the tanks. The water that was in the tank before the blast will be fine as long as no fallout/water can enter it after the blast. You will need to clean out your gutters before hooking the pipes back up that feed the holding tank(s). A filter system on your rain tanks may help reduce the amount of longer-term radiation you or your animals receive from drinking rainwater in a post-nuclear war environment.

Nuclear war is no different than other wars

Just like other wars fought through history we can assume that many more will die from diseases than from the weapons. Lack of modern sanitation coupled with a few generations that don’t recognize the importance of even washing their hands after using the toilet is a recipe for disaster. Add the lack of modern medical technology like drugs and testing and we have the makings of a period in history that will make the Dark Ages look like a cakewalk. Ensure you have good air exchange in your shelter area. The book “NUCLEAR WAR SURVIVAL SKILLS” has plans for an improvised air exchanger. The more people you have the more important air exchange will be. Make sure that food and human waste are properly contained and areas where cooking and toileting are clean and sanitized. When you emerge be ready to quickly deploy rodent traps/poison, fly and mosquito traps/poison to battle these carriers of disease.

Don’t let the fallout cloud your judgment

Always keep in mind that your immediate safety and survival are the first priority versus protecting yourself from radiation. For example, if a fire starts in your home where you are sheltering and you can not put it out evacuate, since the fire and smoke are immediate threats to your health and safety versus 100 Rems.

Long forgotten Knowledge

The museum Radiation and Radioactivity has tons of older Civil Defense publications including bulletins, student manuals, and reports.

Is there an old doctor in the house?

Modern medicine is great until you take the technology away. Can modern physicians diagnose and treat without today’s technology? I’m sure there are plenty that can, those who did tours in our war zones over the past 20 years or who have provided care in third world countries on Mission Trips will have an advantage over most medical types.

Other disasters

So disasters have a unique propensity to triggger other disasters. So what else will occur on top of nuclear warheads going off? What happens when workers at a chemical plant don’t show up or the electricity goes down in the middle of a process where the chemical reaction can’t be controlled or stopped? What happens when somebody lets out a bunch of disease-infected monkeys from a medical lab so that they don’t “suffer”? What happens when no one is controlling the water levels at the nearby dam?

Positive and Realistic Perspective

Will living through a nuclear war suck? Yes. Will it be an incredibly hard life for us afterward? Yes. Will it be like any of the lives portrayed in any of the post-apocalyptic novels? I suspect that lives will be vastly more difficult than portrayed in any post-nuclear war novel. Will humans work together and start to rebuild society? Yes, history has shown that the vast majority of people will bond together and work towards a common goal (survival). I have no illusions that life will be a “feel good, everything will be great” life. No, I suspect that we are going to realize what blisters are and how valuable those who know anything about agriculture are. Good bye Farcebook. The reality is that people have been surviving adversity for centuries and I think it will soon be our turn to meet the challenge.

Will you be up to the challenge?