Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Nuclear warfare is dangerous on so many levels. That makes the Russian stance on the use of tactical nukes something that everyone should be concerned about. The only difference between a tactical nuke and any other nuke is the size.
Tactical nukes, which can have an explosive yield of anything less than 100 kilotons of TNT, are still five times larger than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima to end World War II. While fairly small by today’s standards, that size bomb would likely kill almost everyone within a 1.1 km range and create serious damage over 4 km away.
But the greater number of people who will be affected by any nuclear explosion aren’t likely to be those who receive direct radiation from the bomb exploding or from the blast damage caused by that explosion. Those people are the ones who are likely to die either immediately or within the first 30 days. Then there are the ones who will be affected by fallout.
When a nuclear bomb explodes, the force of the explosion; the blast, causes a wind speed of 294 mph, radiating outwards from the point of the explosion. That wind, more correctly called a blast wave, travels about 12 miles, lowering the atmospheric pressure in the area the wind has just vacated.
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The air then collapses back into this area, just about as fast as it left. This returning wind is what causes the distinctive mushroom cloud associated with a nuclear explosion.
That mushroom cloud is made up of dust; both dust picked up off the ground and the remaining dust from the buildings and other things that were demolished by the explosion. But there’s something else attached to it—nuclear material from the blast.
Surprisingly, not much nuclear material is actually destroyed in a nuclear explosion. However, much like everything around it, the majority of the bomb is pulverized into dust, which then attaches itself to the dust sucked up by the returning bomb blast and goes up in what becomes the mushroom cloud.
All that dust you see in those pictures of mushroom clouds is radioactive.
Nuclear mushroom clouds can reach tens of thousand of feet into the air, reaching up into the upper parts of the troposphere, where the jet streams are. These jet streams can carry that dust for a considerable distance before it falls back to the earth.
What is Fallout?
Fallout is nothing more than radioactive dust falling back to the earth. While most fallout settles to the ground in the first 24 hours, it can take as much as 15 days for all of it to fall.
The reason we are told to stay in a fallout shelter after a nuclear explosion is to keep this radioactive dust from falling on us and infecting us. But what if we can’t get to a fallout shelter quickly enough? What if we are forced to go out for some reason, such as needing water or other critical supplies?
First, we should all have a Geiger counter or at least a radiation dosimeter as part of our survival stockpile.
The Geiger counter is more useful for telling us whether someone has been exposed to radiation, such as having fallout on their clothing. The dosimeter can tell us the overall cumulative exposure to radiation, allowing us to know when someone has been exposed to the danger point. Both are extremely useful in this context.
So, someone in our family makes it to our fallout shelter late or has to go out for some reason. There’s a risk that they are exposed to fallout. What do you do?
If you have a Geiger counter, check them before allowing them to enter the fallout shelter. If they are contaminated, they need to decontaminate before entering the shelter. Otherwise, the radioactive dust on them could fall off, allowing the entire family to be infected by the radiation.
If you don’t have a Geiger counter, then play it safe, making that family member decontaminate before allowing them to enter the home.
How to Decontaminate from Fallout
Step 1: Take off your clothing, assuming that it is contaminated. Bag it in plastic bags so it can be turned over to the authorities for destruction. Don’t try destroying it yourself as that will just perpetuate the problem.
While you might be able to burn the clothes, the radioactive dust won’t be destroyed. Worse, it will have the opportunity to attach itself to ash from the fire and blow around your neighborhood, potentially contaminating someone else.
Step 2: Take a shower, taking time to wash your hair thoroughly. Remember, we’re dealing with dust particles here. The idea is to get all those dust particles out of your hair and off your body.
They are most likely to be caught in your hair; but that’s not the only place where they can light. Allow the water to run a few extra minutes, to ensure that anything is washed down the drain.
Make sure it’s a cold shower, not a hot one. A hot shower will open up your pores and make it possible for radiation to enter the blood stream.
Avoid any sort of hair conditioner when bathing, as hair conditioner can cause dust to stick to your hair. While that dust should be washed down the drain, you can’t be sure there isn’t any more around. Once you’re showered, put on clean clothes.
If you can’t shower, do the best you can to wash yourself off, using moist wipes to wipe your body off, combing out your hair, and cleaning out your nose and ears. Be sure to clean eyelashes and eyelids as well, as both are there to catch dust.
Dust your clothing off, either with a brush or by taking it off and shaking it. Hold your breath or cover your face while shaking it so that you don’t breathe in the dust.
Can the clothing be decontaminated?
It may be necessary for to use the clothing that you had on before. If that’s the case, the clothing should be decontaminated in essentially the same way that you decontaminate yourself, by washing it.
Washing clothing will remove radioactive dust from it, just as it removes any other sort of dust or dirt. If you’re using a machine to wash the clothes, use a long cycle to increase the chances of it removing the dust.
Of course, fallout won’t be a problem if you’re in the blast zone and get incinerated, or if you’re a few miles away and die from severe burns. Do you live near a probably nuclear target? And if so, do you know where the closest bunker is? Learn more in the video below.
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Great article! As a former US Navy NBC/CBR decon team member I would like to add that showers should be cold water. We do not want hot water to open a radiation workers skin pores allowing contaminants to enter the blood stream.
Alan Urban says
Thank you for pointing this out! I’ve updated the article.