Facts About Nuclear Fallout

In the event of nuclear fallout, here are some facts you may find useful.

Fallout Shelter Sign

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In the event of nuclear fallout, here are some facts you may find useful.

Nuclear Fallout:

  • In the event of a substantial nuclear winter (1), widespread nuclear fallout, pollution, severe drop in temperatures resulting in a winter-like state, ozone depletion, and severe overcast will likely occur.
  • Twilight at noon is an event that occurs because smoke caused by burning cities, as well as forests and industrial sites, gathers in the stratosphere, which in turn causes the sunlight to diminish (2), resulting in darker daylight hours. With the sun blocked by smoke, this could result in a food shortage due to loss of crops and animals around the world could potentially go extinct.
  • Some scientists speculate on how long it would take for the smoke clouds in the atmosphere to diminish, BUT according to a study done in 2007 by Brian Toon and Alan Robock, the detonation of fifty nuclear missiles could launch the entire world into ten years of smoke cover and a three-year temperature drop of about 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature should return to normal after twenty-five years.
  • In the event of nuclear detonation, the most immediate fatalities will be because of the detonation itself or the heat caused by the explosion.
  • One megaton hydrogen bomb will have a blast radius of between two and five miles (3).
  • A crater is formed when a nuclear bomb hits the ground, causing particles from the surface area that was struck to become irradiated from the explosion, which is then carried into the sky, resulting in the “mushroom cloud.” This nuclear material that is left over gets pushed around just like a “normal” cloud does and can be visible and appear to be a sand-like or flaky substance. Coming into large quantities of this substance can be life threatening.
  • Nuclear radiation would affect anyone outside of the immediate blast zone. Radiation sickness can kill as many, if not more, people than the blast would, but the affects would happen over time, opposed to the immediate destruction of a nuclear bomb.
  • Moments after an atomic bomb hits, a hard, black rain consisting of thick black globs textured similarly to oil will fall from the sky. In Hiroshima (7), this event occurred 20 minutes after the bomb detonated and the rain covered about twelve miles around where the event of ground zero took place. This substance is approximately one hundred times more irradiated than it would have been if you were to have stepped into the center of the blast zone.
  • In the event of a nuclear detonation, an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) (8) could quite possibly shut down an entire electrical system. If the EMP is powerful enough, it could wipe out an entire country's electrical grid. Lights could go out, refrigerators would stop functioning, resulting in food loss, street lamps would stop working; telephones, televisions, and stop-light signals alike would all cease to operate.
  • Nuclear radiation produces a chemical known as strontium-90, which is capable of tricking your body into thinking that the chemical is calcium when inhaled or ingested. Afterwards, your body will distribute it into your bones and teeth. Bone cancer is what follows.

Surviving the First 24 Hours:

  • In the event of nuclear detonation, if you are far enough away from the blast to witness the mushroom cloud but haven’t been affected by it, use “the general rule of thumb.” Hold out your arm, shut one eye, and raise your thumb to compare it to the mushroom cloud. If the cloud is bigger than your thumb then you are within the radiation zone and you should do either one of two things. Evacuate or take shelter. You should have about fifteen minutes to get somewhere safe.
  • The further underground you go, the safer you will be. Do not try to hide in a vehicle as that will not protect you. If you see a cloud of debris (9) moving toward you, evacuate the area, retreat via a perpendicular path of the fallout and find shelter.
  • When you have found a sufficient shelter, shut off any ventilation systems and seal all the doors and windows, if there are any. Then, decontaminate yourself because if you don’t, it could lead to what is known as beta burns (10) or dangerously high exposure to nuclear radiation. Clean off any radioactive material on your body, take your outer layers of clothing, and seal them in a plastic bag; put the bag as far away from you as physically possible without further exposing yourself to fallout. Also, blow your nose as particles of nuclear material could have attached to your mucus.
  • Although food is very important and needed to survive, it is not the biggest concern. One major priority is CLEAN WATER. The human body can survive for two weeks without food, but the average human can only survive up to three days without water. A minimum of three and a half gallons of drinking water per person to last up to two weeks is suggested by FEMA.
  • Canned or bottled food and water is still safe to eat. I know what you’re thinking and yes, it is just like in the popular game Fallout. Scientists actually ran an experiment which involved putting bottles of beer and soda near a nuclear blast and although the containers had a thick layer of nuclear radiation on the outside, the beverage within was slightly radioactive but still safe enough for consumption. While this theory was not tested on food, it is assumed to be same.

Fallout Shelters (FS):

  • In case of a nuclear attack, people require a refuge safe from nuclear radiation and the resulting nuclear fallout as well as many other obstacles, as seen in the list above. The purpose of a fallout shelter is to protect people from both a nuclear blast and the aftereffects.
  • Structures able to withstand 50 psi (4) would be the only structures that could possibly withstand being within the blast radius of ground zero (5). Such a structure would have to be made of a heavy and dense material, such as lead or concrete.
  • Fallout shelters have numbers that correlate to a Protection Factor or PF, like sunscreen which has SPF (Sunlight Protection Factor). SPF refers to the number of hours you can spend in the sunlight before getting burned, whereas PF refers to the “relationship between the amount of radiation an unprotected person would experience compared to the amount one would receive in a shelter.” Example (6)
  • FEMA describes a fallout shelter as, “Any room, structure, or space designated as such and providing its occupants with at minimum PF of 40 from fallout radiation resulting in nuclear explosion.” People inside this shelter would receive 2.5 percent of the amount of radiation they would receive if they were outside after a nuclear explosion.
  • There are two types of FS, one being a Private Fallout Shelter (PriFS), and the other is a Public Fallout Shelter (PubFS). PriFS’s could be a FS built or bought by an individual, a family, or a grouping of either. PubFS’s are described by FEMA as "any intended for use by or is accessible to the general public. Fallout shelters which are a part of a private residence and are intended for private use are not included."
  • PubFS’s can be any kind of public buildings, including hospitals, police stations, and schools. All PubFS’s are marked with a universal sign (as seen in the image above) designated for FS’s. PubFS’s can usually hold at least 50 people, but they could also be large enough to hold hundreds of people, as long as there are 10' per occupant with a minimum of 6'6" of head room.
  • PriFS's can be “converted basements under a person's house, underground shelters built within a yard, or shelters built away from a person's home.”
  • As recommended by most government manuals, the occupants of a FS should remain inside for about two weeks post-nuclear detonation. The amount of time required for radiation to disappear varies from a few days to a few weeks although, in my opinion, the cautious approach is recommended. Most FS’s are equipped with radiation detection devices as well as battery-powered radios to both stay informed and to keep in contact with any nearby survivors.

Other Notes:

  1. This scenario is following a full-scale nuclear war which has catastrophic consequences. While humanity might survive, the likeliness of civilization (as we know it) might not.
  2. There have been many debates about exactly how much the sun's rays would diminish in the event of nuclear fallout. Variables include: 1. How much material is there to burn following a nuclear exchange and between which countries? 2. Exactly how much smoke would remain in the atmosphere and how much of it would fall back to Earth? 3. How much sunlight would such smoke deflect? 4. During which season would the nuclear exchange occur and could season affect how severe the nuclear winter would be?
  3. Every building within two miles of ground zero will have been destroyed in the blast while everyone within five miles of ground zero will have severe third-degree burns.
  4. Pounds per Square Inch, or Psi
  5. Gound Zero is the exact spot where an event occurred. In this instance, it’s referring to nuclear detonation
  6. PF 5 would expose shelters' occupants to approximately 20 percent of the radiation amount they would have received had they been outside instead.
  7. Nuclear weapons were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and was the final stage of World War II. This event occurred on August 6 and August 9, 1945.
  8. Electromagnetic Pulses, or EMPs for short, are rapid and invisible bursts of electromagnetic energy that occur in nature. Sometimes, these EMPs can disrupt or even destroy electronic equipment.
  9. Fallout can travel both quickly and spread over long distances and can form clouds that can be carried over long distances.
  10. Beta Burns, or radiation burns, are damages caused to biological tissue by exposure to radiation. 

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Olibia Bailey-Odom
Olibia Bailey-Odom

Born in a small town in Northern California, Olibia began writing short stories and poetry at the early age of 6; drawing her inspiration from the world around her. Such as the gentle sounds of the ocean or the great vastness of space above

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Facts About Nuclear Fallout