Health

Radiation Survival: How to Prepare and Survive Radiation Exposure

Possible terrorist events could involve introducing radioactive material into the food or water supply, using explosives (like dynamite) to scatter radioactive materials (called a “dirty bomb”), bombing or destroying a nuclear facility, or exploding a small nuclear device.

Although introducing radioactive material into the food or water supply most likely would cause great concern or fear, it probably would not cause much contamination or increase the danger of adverse health effects.

Although a dirty bomb could cause serious injuries from the explosion, it most likely would not have enough radioactive material in a form that would cause serious radiation sickness among large numbers of people. However, people who were exposed to radiation scattered by the bomb could have a greater risk of developing cancer later in life, depending on their dose.

A meltdown or explosion at a nuclear facility could cause a large amount of radioactive material to be released. People at the facility would probably be contaminated with radioactive material and possibly be injured if there was an explosion. Those people who received a large dose might develop acute radiation syndrome. People in the surrounding area could be exposed or contaminated.

Clearly, an exploded nuclear device could result in a lot of property damage.
People would be killed or injured from the blast and might be contaminated by radioactive material. Many people could have symptoms of acute radiation syndrome. After a nuclear explosion, radioactive fallout would extend over a large region far from the point of impact, potentially increasing people’s risk of developing cancer over time.

How Can I Protect Myself During a Radiation Emergency?

After a release of radioactive materials, local authorities will monitor the levels of radiation and determine what protective actions to take.  The most appropriate action will depend on the situation. Tune to the local emergency response network or news station for information and instructions during any emergency.

If a radiation emergency involves the release of large amounts of radioactive materials, you may be advised to “shelter in place,” which means to stay in your home or office; or you may be advised to move to another location.

If you are advised to shelter in place, you should do the following:

Close and lock all doors and windows.

Turn off fans, air conditioners, and forced-air heating units that bring in fresh air from the outside. Only use units to recirculate air that is already in the building.

Close fireplace dampers.

If possible, bring pets inside.

Move to a sealed room or basement.

Keep your radio tuned to the emergency response network or local news to find out what else you need to do.

If you are advised to evacuate, follow the directions that your local officials provide. Leave the area as quickly and orderly as possible. In addition–

Take your Go Pack.

Take pets only if you are using your own vehicle and going to a place you know will accept animals. Emergency vehicles and shelters usually will not accept animals. If you are unable to take your pets you have three  choices: either let your pets loose, leave them to their own trapped in the house or put them out of their misery. Most will likely release their  pets to the open to fend for themselves, giving them at least a fighting  chance. One thing to consider though is that it may be a good idea to  release cats into the wild but to either kill the family dog or leave it locked  up inside the house as they will become aggressive threats to any human survivors as pack predators and potential carriers of rabies.

What is Radiation?

Radiation is a form of energy that is present all around us.

Different types of radiation exist, some of which have more energy than others.

Amounts of radiation released into the environment are measured in units called curies. However, the dose of radiation that a person receives is measured in units called rem.

How Can Exposure Occur?

People are exposed to small amounts of radiation every day, both from naturally occurring sources (such as elements in the soil or cosmic rays from the sun), and man-made sources. Man-made sources include some electronic equipment (such as microwave ovens and television sets), medical sources (such as x-rays, certain diagnostic tests, and treatments), and from nuclear weapons testing.

The amount of radiation from natural or man-made sources to which people are exposed is usually small; a radiation emergency (such as a nuclear power plant accident or a terrorist event) could expose people to small or large doses of radiation, depending on the situation.

Scientists estimate that the average person in the United States receives a dose of about one-third of a rem per year. About 80% of human exposure comes from natural sources and the remaining 20% comes from man-made radiation sources – mainly medical x-rays.

Internal exposure refers to radioactive material that is taken into the body through breathing, eating, or drinking.

External exposure refers to an exposure to a radioactive source outside of our bodies.

Contamination refers to particles of radioactive material that are deposited anywhere that they are not supposed to be, such as on an object or on a person’s skin.

Health

Effects of Radiation Exposure

Radiation affects the body in different ways, but the adverse health consequences of exposure may not be seen for many years.

Adverse health effects range from mild effects, such as skin reddening, to serious effect such as cancer and death. These adverse health effects are determined by the amount of radiation absorbed by the body (the dose), the type of radiation,  the route of exposure, and the length of time a person is exposed.

Acute radiation syndrome (ARS), or radiation sickness, is usually caused when a person receives a high dose of radiation, to much for the body to handle in a matter of minutes. Survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs and firefighters responding to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant event in 1986 experienced ARS. The immediate symptoms of ARS are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; later, bone marrow depletion may lead to weight loss, loss of appetite, feeling like you have the flu, infection, and bleeding. The survival rate depends on the radiation dose. For those who do survive, full recovery takes from a few weeks to 2 years.

Children exposed to radiation may be more at risk than adults. Radiation exposure to the unborn child is of special concern because the human embryo or fetus is extremely sensitive to radiation.

Radiation exposure, like exposure to the sun, is cumulative.

Protecting Against Radiation Exposure

The three basic ways to reduce radiation exposure are through—

TIME

Decrease the amount of time you spend near the source of radiation.

DISTANCE

Increase your distance from a radiation source.

SHIELDING

Increase the shielding between you and the radiation source. Shielding is anything that creates a barrier between people and the radiation source. Depending on the type of radiation, the shielding can range from something as thin as a plate of window glass or as thick as several feet of concrete. Being inside a building or a vehicle can provide shielding from some kinds of radiation while a dust mask or clothing will shield you from others.

RADIOACTIVE FALLOUT

Fallout arriving within a few hours after a nuclear explosion is highly radioactive. If it collects on the skin in large enough quantities it can cause beta burns. People who are caught outside in fallout should brush fallout particles off themselves and shake out their outer garments as soon as they get inside. Some people may be carrying umbrellas and wearing raincoats to keep the fallout particles off their skin and hair. Most fallout particles will be like grains of fine, dark sand and can be easily brushed off from dry surfaces. Fallout particles may stick to moist or oily surfaces, including sweaty or oily skin or hair. These surfaces should be carefully wiped or washed off. If contaminated hair cannot be washed, it should be thoroughly brushed or combed, with frequent shaking and wiping of the hair and also of the brush or comb. It is not necessary to get the last speck of fallout out of the clothing or hair or off the skin. A few grains of fallout carried by each person into the safest parts of the home or shelter will produce no noticeable increase in the radiation hazard and will not be detectable by the radiological instruments. Daily sweeping of the area for hygienic reasons will eliminate most fallout particles that may be carried into the area even after decontamination procedures. After they have shaken out their clothing and wiped off their exposed skin, they should dust off their shoes with a brush or broom before moving further into the shelter and sweep the area. If the shoes are caked with mud or dust, they should be left in the quarantine area or outside. Because the fallout particles will fall down to the floor, decontamination of a person should begin with the head and end with the feet. Brushing off or removing the shoes will be the last step of decontamination before a person enters the safer parts of your home or shelter.

TAKING POTASSIUM IODIDE (KI)

Potassium iodide, also called KI, only protects a person’s thyroid gland from exposure to radioactive iodine. KI will not protect a person from other radioactive materials or protect other parts of the body from exposure to radiation. It must be taken prior to exposure (for example, if people hear that a radioactive cloud is coming their way) or immediately after exposure to be effective. Taking KI is not recommended unless there is a risk of exposure to radioactive iodine which is a major uranium fission product and of fissionable materials used in nuclear power plants. Taking (KI) is most advisable in the event of a radioactive dirty bomb detonation or meltdown of a nuclear power plant. KI (potassium salts) saturate the thyroid preventing it from absorbing radioactive iodine. The most likely scenario is radioactive fallout from a nuclear power plant meltdown, even possibly fallout originating from far overseas, but would at the most only require 10-14 days protection from radioiodine by taking Potassium Iodide (KI) tablets and having pre-stocked safe food and water in case people panic and stampede food stores.

USING IODINE TO SHIELD AGAINST RADIATION

In an emergency, if you are unable to acquire KI tablets, you can topically (on the skin) apply an iodine solution, like tincture of iodine or Betadine, for a similar protective effect. (WARNING: Iodine is NEVER to be ingested or swallowed, it is poison to drink.) For adults, paint, 8 ml of a 2 percent tincture of Iodine on the abdomen or forearm each day, ideally at least 2 hours prior to initial exposure for absorption. For children 3 to 18, but under 150 pounds, only half that amount painted on daily, or 4 ml. For children under 3 but older than a month, half again, or 2 ml. For newborns to 1 month old, half it again, or just 1 ml. (One measuring teaspoon is about 5 ml, if you don’t have a medicine dropper graduated in ml.) If your iodine solution is stronger than 2%, reduce the dosage accordingly. Absorption through the skin is not as reliable a dosing method as using the tablets, but tests show that it will still be very effective for most. Use half these doses when using 10% providone iodine solution.

DRINKING RED WINE TO SHIELD AGAINST RADIATION

One of the isotopes likely to be released in a fissionable reactor is strontium 90, which is absorbed in the bones as beta radiation because it´s chemically similar to calcium. So you end up with nuked bones cooking you up from the inside out, same as beta radiation from radioactive ash fallout following a nuclear detonation. Wine, and apparently red in particular, contains strontium 85 which is non radioactive, so if you load up on red wine following a nuclear detonation or reactor meltdown, you saturate the amount of strontium your body can absorb with the non-radioactive strontium 85 and thus the bad isotope strontium 90 just passes through in your urine unable to attach to the bones.

DRINKING LIQUOR TO FLUSH RADIATION

Drinking liquor helps flush radioactive alpha particles that have been ingested through your system by acting as a diuretic forcing your body to dump excess water. This of course can probably be achieved by drinking copious amounts of water but would not be anywhere near as much fun. Plus, the effects of alcohol may help alleviate the stress of the situation in which you are currently in. Some argue that another reason to use liquor instead of water is that alcohol makes the blood viscous preventing particles that lodge in the bones from being able to get to the bones and are flushed out in the urine, either way you had me sold at liquor. Apparently this is what the general Russian public was taught during the cold war in order for them to protect themselves following a nuclear war from radiation. They were told to drink vodka as it was their responsibility to the state to remain alive and fit to help rebuild the country in order to ensure they were able to strike back at their enemies, you’ve gotta love their survivalist mindset.