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Why We Should All Have a Geiger Counter

Ahh, memories…

I remember back in the day at school we used to have emergency disaster drills. We were all marched out into the hallway and lined up against the wall. We were then instructed to sit down facing the wall, put our heads between our knees and our hands over our heads.

I guess this was so our mouths would be closer to our butts so we could kiss them goodbye when the nukes hit. That’s what the drills were for, during the cold war era when I was in school we used to practice disaster drills for nuclear war. I’m not quite sure what good lining up in the hall would do us, other than keeping us all calm before we became ash.

Here is a civil defense video from the 1950’s, a couple decades before my grade school memories of the hallway, but the same ideology. Duck, and cover, useless really in the event of an actual atomic bomb explosion, but this is really what they told us to do.

Later, when I was a teenager, the Mad Max movies with Mel Gibson came out. I remember the third installment, “Beyond Thunderdome”, Max (Mel) came to a dirty “city” called “Bartertown” and a grungy looking guy offered him some water. Max whipped out the ol’ Geiger counter and it clicked wildly, alerting Max to its radioactivity.

The importance of clean drinking water

In times of distress water is always a valuable commodity. Being able to provide water for yourself and your loved ones will be a vital part of your survival. One way to provide safe drinking water will be by knowing that it isn’t radioactive. You can’t see radiation, you can’t taste it, and you can’t feel it. You won’t know it was in the water until you start having symptoms of radiation poisoning.

worm farming

Symptoms of radiation poisoning

  • Mouth ulcers
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Spontaneous bleeding
  • The sloughing of your skin (it falls off)
  • Severe fatigue
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness and disorientation

The onset and severity of symptoms depend on the type and level of exposure. Treatment is possible for many types of exposure to radiation, but the availability of medications in SHTF/TEOTWAWKI situations will be unlikely. You can stockpile these along with your other medications and medical supplies as well.

However, having them, and knowing how to use them are two entirely different things. As with any other subject, becoming aware of it is the first step. That’s what this article is for, to make you aware. The next step is to study and research, educate yourself as you would with any other subject.

Medications for treating radiation poisoning

  • Potassium Iodide (Thyroshield Iosat): prevents further buildup of radiation in the thyroid.
  • Prussian blue (Radiogardase): a dye that radioactive particles attach to and can then is excreted in feces.
  • Diethylenetriamine pentaacetic acid (DTPA): binds to metals which can then be passed in urine.

Changing times

Since the late 1980’s ideology such as this faded away along with the Berlin wall and the former Soviet Union. The 1990’s and the early 2000’s saw a lack of concern for any event like this occurring. Unfortunately, this type of thing has become even more of a possibility today due to rampant worldwide terrorism, lost Soviet era nukes, and a crazy, pudgy little dictator in North Korea.

As preppers, we all try to be prepared for just about anything that might cause our society to change and leave us to our own means. However, with concerns such as these, what are we to do? One thing I always wanted, but never got, is a Geiger counter.

As recently as a mere decade ago a military surplus Geiger counter could cost as much as 400-500 dollars. The price of such devices has dropped considerably since then due to advancements in smart phone technology. This drop in price for the device, along with modern technologies, have made Geiger counters more accessible today than ever before.

geiger counter

Get a Geiger counter

You can still buy a surplus Geiger counter, pretty cheap these days too actually. You can also buy a pocket Geiger counter from good ol’ Waldo’s world of Chinese imports for about $175. Of course Amazon has them too for the same price or less. You can also buy a small device about the size of your pinky that plugs into your smart phone for about $40, and with the use of an APP you have a Geiger counter. Although, I am not sure if that method will still work if the phones are all dead due to the satellites and/or towers all being down.

I assumed that you all know what a Geiger counter is, but I shouldn’t assume, you know the old saying about when you assume. Well, at least I assume that you know it. A Geiger counter is a small, handheld device that measures ionizing radiation like gamma rays, alpha particles, and beta particles.

I’m not going to try to give a physics lesson about what those are; the fact is I don’t really know myself. I just know that it is radiation, and radiation is bad. I also know that a Geiger counter measures levels of radiation, and that we may need to be able to do that for ourselves in one of the TEOTWAWKI/SHTF scenarios.

Fallout from attack or disaster is still fallout

It doesn’t matter where the radiation comes from, whether North Korea succeeds in nuking America like it wants to, or another nuclear disaster like Fukushima happens. It could be from a terror cell that manages to get their hands on some radioactive material, and then build a dirty bomb to set off in some unfortunate city somewhere in the world.

Here is a video from the 1950’s about surviving fallout. Back then they recommended everyone have a fallout shelter in their backyard. That ideology lasted through the 1960’s but faded in the 1970’s. I imagine they realized the futility of it with a world war where 1000’s of nukes went off compared to the earlier days when there were only a few.

Beyond mushroom clouds

The fact remains that there are scenarios that could cause our food and water supplies (or even the air), to become contaminated with radiation. In case this was to happen, what would you do? Getting a Geiger counter to put up with your other supplies is a start, but what then?

Just having a Geiger counter telling you something is “hot” (radioactive) isn’t enough. We also need methods of cleaning the radiation from the water to make it potable again. Unfortunately if the food becomes radioactive there isn’t really any way to get rid of it. That’s why it is so important to have your stockpile of food stuffs as well as a means of creating your own food.

Having chickens, goats, cows, pigs, etc. is one thing, but if they are outside and become exposed, then what do you do?  To be honest, this scenario sounds pretty hopeless to me. Like if the planet took a large dose of radiation poisoning from multiple nuke strikes or multiple Fukushima-esque events, we would all be pretty much boned.

It already happened

There were events at Chernobyl and Fukushima that left large cities emptied because the radiation levels were too high for human habitation.

If that’s the case then there can be no doubt that the wildlife in those areas are also practically glowing. This is where your Geiger counter comes into play. Just say you are hunting and you take some game. A quick scan with your Geiger counter can tell you whether or not the animal is still fit to eat.

Here is a video where they are discussing the presence of radioactive animals around Fukushima. There are many more videos there discussing that subject, as well as radioactive wildlife near the Chernobyl plant:

Here is a video showing them testing abandoned equipment at Chernobyl with a Geiger counter. If you look at this video there will be many others to look at also, taken all around the Chernobyl plant.

Contaminated air

Masks

Many preppers already have a gas mask. But is it an NBC gas mask? Nuclear, Biological, and/or Chemical contaminations can all be covered with an NBC gas mask. If you don’t already have one, get one. Keep in mind that they don’t fit kids and they don’t work with beards etc.

If you live in a large city you really need one because the large cities will be hit first. If you live in the country you will still benefit from owning such an item.

Bunkers

For your bunker you will want to have an NBC filter on the air system. You can buy a small unit for around $500. Larger bunkers require larger or multiple filters, but if you have the money for such things I suggest investing.

What about the water

The same goes for the water supplies. You can’t just drink the water through a filter straw if it is radioactive. You have to have a way to first test the water to see whether or not it is radioactive. Then, if you discover that it is, you need to have a way to make it safe to drink.

This makes me think about our current water supplies condition. As an outdoorsman, I like to fish. I practice catch and release, I don’t like to eat fish. I know, it’s weird, but I just don’t like the taste. Well, here in America, where it’s supposed to be so clean, the reality is that there are guidelines for how much of what types of fish from what waterways is a safe amount to eat because of the chemical contamination in our waterways.

You can read more about what and how much fish you can eat here on the EPA Fish and Shellfish advisory guidelines.

If the water is polluted, the fish that swim in it are likewise tainted. The same will go for radiation. If a lake or river is radioactive, ALL of the wildlife that swim in it or drink from it will also be contaminated. Radiation is just some nasty stuff. I wish mankind had never opened that Pandora’s Box. Once it is here, it is here forever.

The possibility of radiation contaminated fish caused by the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown can be read about here (among other places) at the Mirror.

But once I know, what can I do?

Like the saying goes, knowing is half the battle. Once that you know there is radiation contamination in the food, water, or air, what can you do about it? Well, if you have immediate need for drinking water and it is contaminated it will take about 50-55 hours before you will be able to drink it.

But, believe it or not, water itself cannot be radioactive. It is actually the particulates IN the water that becomes radioactive, and you can filter the radioactive contaminants from the water using charcoal and clay. A quick overview of how to do this is:

geiger muller counter for civil defense

Small scale

STEP 1: Fill a gallon container with the water

STEP 2: Put a couple of cups of charcoal powder in it

STEP 3: Shake or stir it for a bit then let it sit for two to three hours

STEP 4: Strain through a cloth to remove the charcoal

STEP 5: Repeat the process, but let it sit for 24 hours

STEP 6: Strain it again

STEP 7: Now pour a couple of cups of powdered clay into the container of water

STEP 8: You need a three or four foot length of cord for this part, spin the container over your head (like a centrifuge) several rotations to force the clay to the bottom of the container

STEP 9: Let sit for 24 hours

STEP 10: Strain it again

STEP 11: Finally, boil the water to kill any microbes or bacteria

STEP 12: Let cool

STEP 13: TEST AGAIN

STEP 14: Drink if it checks out

Warning! We do NOT recommend you drink radiated water, ever. This article is for information purposes only.

Large scale

If you need to clean a larger body of water, like a cistern or even a pond, there are a few plants that will absorb the contamination into their root systems.

Water Hyacinth: a fast growing water plant with great absorption capabilities.

Sunflowers: a superior plant for absorbing radioactive material. These were used at Chernobyl. The roots absorbed about 8,000 times their volume of radioactive particles in about 24 hours.

Marijuana: also an excellent plant for cleaning water and soil of contaminants.

Last blast

Hopefully, none of us will ever need to try this. But if you ever need to, these methods supposedly proved effective in Chernobyl. Having a Geiger counter can tell you if you need to bother with this at all. If you don’t have a Geiger counter and there is a possibility that the water could be contaminated then it might be a good idea to filter it as described.

You won’t die having to wait two days plus to be able to drink the water, as long as you haven’t been without for awhile prior to finding it. That would be a terrible thought, dying of thirst only to find contaminated water then succumbing to the thirst before the water was fit to drink. Sounds about right.

Disclaimer

The information in this article is provided “as is” and should not be mistaken for or be a substitute for medical advice. Always consult your physician before trying any of the advice presented on this page. Always seek the help of a professional before employing any of the advice give here. We do not recommend you drink radiated water under any circumstances, this content is for information purposes only. Neither the author nor www.SurvivalSullivan.com or the company behind the website shall be held liable for any negative effects of you putting into practice the information in this article.

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About Eric W. Eichenberger

Eric W. Eichenberger
Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms. A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method. The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.

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