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.
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:
- 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.
- Increase the distance from the radiation. Radiation disperses over distance, and effects decrease the farther away you are.
- 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.
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?