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Jesse Handel
Jesse Handel, Scientist
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If or when a nuclear bomb is exploded with-in 100 miles of

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If or when a nuclear bomb is exploded with-in 100 miles of my home what in my environment is safe to salvage for survival.

Hello and thank you for coming to our website. We appreciate the opportunity to help you with your questions.

Your biggest worry will be the safety of your food and water supply. At 100 miles, you will be safe from the effects of the explosion and the gamma radiation produced by the nuclear bomb itself. Unless you are directly downwind of the explosion and there is a very strong wind blowing, you should be safe from airborne fallout. (It’s is an interesting fact that gamma radiation strong enough to kill you will activate the rods and cones in your eyes. It’s a joke in the nuclear industry that, if you see a blue flash, lie down because you’re already dead.)

If there is a strong wind blowing from the area of the explosion, then you would want to seal your home as much as possible for at least overnight. The morning dew will bring many of the airborne particles to the ground before they cover 100 miles to get to you.

You will want to avoid any food and water that could come from the affected area. If your water supply is downstream from ground zero, you need to find a separate water supply or invest in a really good water filter.

The long-term danger of a nuclear explosion (as long as you’re outside the area of immediate effects) is contaminated particles. The two types of contaminated particles are beta-radiation emitting and alpha-radiation emitting. Beta radiation emitting particles can cause radiation exposure through the skin and must be kept off of the skin or washed off as soon as possible. Alpha emitting particles can only cause damage if ingested or inhaled. However, if either beta or alpha particles are ingested, they will radiate your body until they work their way through the digestive tract and if they are inhaled, they may stay in your lungs forever, continuing to radiate your lung tissue.

There is a radioactive isotope of iodine that is formed in nuclear explosions. Your body actively takes up iodine and stores it in your thyroid. One of the preventative treatments for radioactive contamination is to take iodine supplements. By flooding your body with clean iodine, your body is less like to store any contaminated iodine that you may get from your food. You will probably want to buy iodine pills to have on hand. Also, for the same reason, if you hunt for food, don’t eat the thyroid of any animals that might have been in a contaminated area.

If you hunt for food, you would be safest to hunt local animals and avoid animals that migrate or may have traveled through a contaminated zone.

If you think there will be nuclear attack, then you would be wise to invest in radiation detectors. There are two types of radiation detectors you will need. One type detects alpha radiation, but it has to be really close to the source of the radiation because alpha radiation is really weak and won’t go through much more than a sheet of paper. The other type detects beta/gamma radiation and can work through a couple of inches of air for beta radiation. If there are any gamma-emitting particles around, you will be able to detect it at a distance and all you can do is get out of the area.

If you go into cities to scavenge, you will definitely need radiation detectors and you will want to wear overalls, boots, and gloves sealed together with tape, at least a surgical face mask, and a hat or hood. Dispose of the clothes as soon as you reach an uncontaminated area and wash thoroughly. Make sure you don’t get your hands anywhere near your mouth or nose until you have thoroughly washed. You can't really manage a clean air supply since air tanks aren't really useful, but there are masks sold with filters to remove particulates.

This should answer most of your questions. Let me know if you would like more information. I can also recommend a couple of books, both fiction and nonfiction about disaster scenarios. I’ll be happy to provide more information if you would like.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

book recommendations welcome.

Fictional books that do a really good job of making a person think about what the world is going to be like after a major disaster by describing one person's (the author's) imagined view of a post-apocalyptic world are:
  • "Dies the Fire", S.M. Stirling
  • "Wolf & Iron", Gordon R. Dickson
  • "The Stand", ***** *****

S.M. Stirling, in particular, provides a good idea of what is going to happen when the people in cities start to starve and flood out into the surrounding areas in search of food.

There are tons of nonfiction books about emergency preparedness and disaster survival. These three are examples and include nuclear catastrophes among other disasters. I have an entire bookshelf of books on Emergency Preparedness, Disaster Survival, and Survivalism in general. These three books are in no particular order (such as best to worst):

  • "Crisis Preparedness Handbook", Jack Spigarelli
  • "The Survival Guide", Angelo Acquista
  • "SAS Survival Handbook", John Wiseman (the SAS are the british equivalent to our special forces)

I hope this gets you started. Even if a nuclear weapon is never used again, there are always natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina or Tropical Storm Sandy. Emergency Preparedness can be the difference between life and death in any disaster situation.

Jesse Handel and 41 other General Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

What materials should be avoided. ie metals, stone to be used for shelter or used to build outdoor oven, grill. What materials would be safe or least harmful to boil water or foods? Does wood, china, clay, earthenware, mud absorb radioactive fallout?,

Should I have extra weather stripping, plastic sheeting, duct tape on hand?

I have read The Stand and hope that and Alas Babylon are not entirely accurate.

I am a good source for "making do" having watched Mom and grandparents.

Thank you. I will get the non-fiction books on loan from library.

If a nuclear weapon is exploded, then low levels of radioactive particles will become airborne and carried all over the world until washed out of the air by rain. When Chernobyl melted down, trace amounts of radioactivity were detected in Idaho. In most areas away from the actual bomb site, the amount of radioactive materials won't be high enough to be harmful. The distance that radioactive particles will travel depends on the winds and the size of the bomb. During the government atomic weapons tests in the 1950s, the military marched soldiers through exposed areas within hours of nuclear tests. Some exposure to radioactivity and radioactive particles will be unavoidable, but outside of the blast radius, most levels of exposure will result only in an increased risk of cancer. Radioactive particles can be washed off of surfaces just like dirt. In fact, if you think of radioactive particles like tiny grains of sand, that will give you a good idea of how the radioactive particles will behave. Metals will be fine if cleaned. Stone would be a good building material because it can be washed off. Mud may accumulate radioactive particles washed out of the air or carried by water and should be avoided. Clay would be a good material for use as long as the surface layer is discarded. Living wood, such as trees, or plants will absorb radioactive materials from the soil and water along with the water and nutrients the plants need to live. Dead wood may hold radioactive particles depending on the roughness of the surface. Any sealed surfaces, like the materials of most dishes, can be washed with clean water and soap. Contaminated surfaces can be made safe by sealing the contamination onto the surface with paint or varnish. In fact, in the nuclear industry, many contaminated surfaces were made safe by washing them clean or by covering the contamination with a sealant such as paint or wax.

Despite the media sneers when Vice-President Cheney discussed sealing a home in case of disaster with plastic sheeting and duct tape, he was correct. You will want to have those types of materials on hand for short-term sealing of your shelter if needed. You can't make a shelter airtight for any length of time without suffocating, but if you seal most of your shelter and then use filters to cover your air intakes and put a vacuum or a fan behind your filter to suck air into your shelter, you can keep airborne contaminants out of your shelter. HEPA filters can be used for removing radioactive particles from incoming air. You can buy HEPA furnace filters and that will remove a lot of contamination. (As used in the nuclear world, "contamination" is just radioactive materials where you don't want them. Since gamma rays don't travel many miles from ground zero of a nuclear explosion and are pretty much instantly damaging or fatal, most of the radioactive materials you can effectively deal with and need to worry about will be in the form of radioactive particles.) Wetting a filter can improve its efficiency at removing particulates, but may produce other problems such as mold and degradation of the filter. You might wet a filter if you expect a short-term spike in contamination, but you won't want to use wet filters for long periods. Water filters can be purchased that will remove bacteria and other particulates (such as radioactive particles) from your drinking water. Pay attention to what is upstream of your drinking water. If you get your water from a well, then your drinking water should be relatively safe. Soil acts as a filter to trap most contamination before it gets into deep groundwater. Over time, there may be some contamination of your groundwater, but it should be low enough to not be dangerous.

If there is a possibility of airborne contamination around your shelter, you want to keep it out of your shelter by setting up an area to clean yourself and your clothing off before you enter your shelter. Good housekeeping will keep contamination out of the area where you live and that will reduce your radioactive exposure. You want to reduce the chance of inhaling or ingesting contaminated materials as much as you can, since the radioactive materials will be mostly alpha- and beta-emitting particles that won't do much damage on your skin, but will be dangerous if inhaled or ingested.

I have put a lot of thought and research into the subject of surviving disasters and I could go on for a long time. You might look into the production of biodiesel for fueling vehicles and generators if you can't get gasoline. "Alas, Babylon" made me think about trade goods for a disaster and in a situation of that magnitude, where society has broken down, there are many common items that will be needed such as salt and alcohol (which has medical uses as a pain killer and disinfectant). An excellent and easy way to prepare food storage for a short-term or long-term disaster is to buy MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) from army surplus stores. They are sealed, inexpensive and easy to store.

I hope this answers your question and gives you some ideas. Let me know if I can help you further.

Jesse Handel and 41 other General Specialists are ready to help you