How to Prepare for and Survive a Nuclear Fallout

A nuclear blast is any massive explosion from a nuclear device or weapon that results in intense heat and blinding light, followed by prevalent radioactivity across the ground, water, and air for miles.

Such a blast will destroy anything and everything within its vicinity. Radiation will leave the surrounding areas uninhabitable for years to come.

Since the Cold War ended, fears of a nuclear war ever happening in the United States have diminished. Instead, threats such as an EMP attack or an economic collapse seem to be higher concerns among preppers in general.

But while we may want to believe that the threat of a nuclear attack happening is over, the reality is we can never be too certain, especially with countries such as Iran and North Korea and their constant threats.

In fact, it’s possible that the threat of a nuclear attack is greater than we think.

Besides, a nuclear attack is not the only way a blast could occur. A majority of states (32 to be exact), have a nuclear power plant in them, and the remaining 18 states are just across the border.

Examples of cities that are in the proximity of nuclear power plants include San Onofre in California, Columbia in Washington, Miami in Florida, Chicago in Illinois, and Boston in Massachusetts.

Considering that a nuclear attack is possible in every corner of the United States, this means that the entire country is vulnerable to a nuclear fallout.

In this article, we will go over the steps you need to take to survive a nuclear blast, and then talk about how you can prepare for the resulting fallout that will arguably be even more devastating than the blast itself.

Sources of Nuclear Fallout

As a general rule, unless you work in an industry that prepares and manufacturers nuclear fuel, you will only be exposed to nuclear fallout in one of three situations: detonation of a nuclear warhead, detonation of a “dirty” bomb or during a nuclear power plant accident.

We will assess and discuss preparing for all of these events in the course of this article as each presents unique hazards and procedures. But when it comes to dealing with them we will be focusing our attention on dealing with fallout, a universal threat posed by each.

Nuclear Warhead

The detonation of a nuclear warhead is the stereotypical generator of nuclear fallout, also known as “black soot”.

Any nuclear device from the smallest tactical weapon to the most monstrous strategic hydrogen bomb is unbelievably powerful, with yield measured in kilotons or megatons, each standing for an equivalent amount of TNT detonated in the thousands or millions of tons.

Nuclear warheads cause damage and death through their blast, flash, ionizing radiation and lastly their fallout.

It is the awe-inspiring and cataclysmic blast of a nuclear weapon that has so captured the popular imagination and filled it with dread, but it is the nuclear fallout that is likely to get you in the end. Fallout is any material matter that has been turned radioactive due to a nuclear warhead’s emissive properties.

Comprised of dirt, building materials and all other matter that has been turned into fine dust particles and ash, it is lifted high into the atmosphere by the explosion and can be carried for dozens, hundreds or even thousands of miles by winds and high altitude are current.

Nuclear fallout is a serious hazard once it settles back to Earth, poisoning land and sea alike, and exposing everything it settles on or is absorbed into to deadly amounts of radiation.

Perhaps most insidiously, the fine matter that is nuclear fallout is easily tracked everywhere in the form of dust or mud, exposing previously clean and safe areas to the silent killer that is radiation.

“Dirty” Bombs

Dirty bombs are not a true nuclear weapon, but are instead conventional explosives designed to scatter and sow a large amount of dangerously radioactive material across a wide area.

They have long been thought to be one of the most prevalent radioactive threats accessible to terrorists, since all that is needed is a quantity of highly radioactive material and a powerful but bog-common conventional explosive to spread it.

A dirty bomb detonated in the middle of an urban area or even an agricultural center could wound dozens or hundreds, and expose thousands more to radiation, especially first-responders. It could also affect with plants and animals with dangerous amount of radioactivity.

In essence, they are a device that is a combination of traditional physical and fallout-specific threat , though they have a comparatively puny blast radius compared to a genuine nuclear warhead.

While a dirty bomb might not seem as apocalyptic as a true nuclear warhead they nonetheless present on insidious threat with regards to fallout, being capable of spreading a large quantity of high-intensity “hot” fissile material far and wide to cause more casualties in the ensuing aftermath.

Nuclear Power Plant Accidents

Nuclear power plant accidents are another common source of fallout, with the fuel used to power these incredible installations being dangerously radioactive in both its enriched and spent forms.

Various accidents can result in uncontrolled releases of these materials into the outside world or even up into the atmosphere where it can drift dangerously akin to any other form of fallout on this list.

There are over 100 operational nuclear power plants in the United States alone, and about 3 million people live within 10 miles of an operational plant, with many tens of millions more potentially being in the area of influence in case of a catastrophic accident.

Nuclear power plant accidents are certainly not as flashy, thankfully, as a nuclear warhead, but the consequences can be severe enough.

In the past several decades alone there have been more than enough accidents in these facilities across the globe to demonstrate just how bad they can be. We will look at a few of the most well known just below.

Nuclear Power Plants and Risk of Fallout

While the attitude about nuclear power is not quite as optimistic as it was in the 1960’s, it is still a prevalent and popular option for meeting the electricity requirements of a power-hungry populace.

With over 100 operational nuclear power plants online in the U.S. at press time, and more being designed and constructed, a significant fraction of the population depends upon nuclear power plants to power their homes and businesses.

Perhaps more germane to this article, an equally significant fraction of the population is potentially within the sphere of influence of a nuclear power plant accident.

The majority of the nuclear power plants in the U.S. are located east of the Mississippi River with only a handful to the west of it and all of them are in the continental United States, none being in Alaska or Hawaii.

It is in your best interest to review the United States nuclear power map and get familiar with where these nuclear power plants are and how close you come to them both for work and play.

This is a thinking man’s game: while you might live well away from a nuclear power plant, you should seek to understand the typical air currents and jet stream in your region to determine if you might be affected by fallout in case of an accident at any plants in your region.

A nuclear power plant accident is statistically the most likely source of exposure to radioactive fallout today.

Nuclear Accidents in History

The popular image of a nuclear power plant accident is that of the mushroom cloud that is endemic to the detonation of a nuclear warhead rising over the site where the plant once stood, accompanied by an eerie green glow, and complete with a mammoth crater.

While this makes for interesting fiction or a funny if grim punchline to an environmental responsibility joke, this is not what happens in a nuclear power plant accident.

What happens instead is that through mechanical failure, human error or a combination of both a set of dangerous circumstances arise which results in the accidental release of radioactive material into the environment outside the plant.

How much, how bad and how far it goes is dependent upon the type of accident. This could take the form of radioactive material being released in contaminated water before being absorbed into other sources, radioactive vapor being released as exhaust or steam, or even the scattering the actual physical material itself and the unlikely but still possible event of a steam explosion.

Chernobyl ferris wheel
Chernobyl’s famous abandoned Ferris wheel

Nuclear Accidents in History

Fortunately, we can learn from past such events despite how bad they are. Probably the worst nuclear disaster is the one that happened at Chernobyl in 1986. After the initial explosion, the reactors released immense amounts of radiation into the surrounding region and much of Europe for nine days straight.

Responders were finally able to stop it, But at great cost; although only firefighters and plant workers died during the initial blast and immediately in the aftermath, the number of people who got sick is much larger and a huge swath of countryside remains closed as an exclusion zone.

There isn’t a consensus regarding this, but everyone pretty much agrees that the initial meltdown killed around 30 people.

Back in the US, the most infamous and well-known nuclear power accident to call our own was the 1979 meltdown that occurred at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant in Pennsylvania. A meltdown, again contrary to the popular image of a nuclear warhead detonation, implies only that a nuclear fuel source itself literally melts from a loss of essential cooling during operation. I say simply, but the consequences are disastrous as this typically results in a chain reaction that allows nuclear material to make its way into the outside world.

Anyway, regarding the Three Mile Island incident itself this was the typical result of a series of mechanical failures, incorrect deductions and plain old-fashioned human error that led to cooling loss of the primary fuel and a small meltdown.

In the end, what radioactive material that did escape into the outside air affected some 2 million people and though the issue remains as contentious today as it certainly was back then.

It was ultimately determined officially that the impact on the surrounding region and the citizens living there was minimal, with most having been only exposed to as much radiation as one would get in a typical hospital level X ray.

Another major nuclear disaster was the one that happened at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan in 2011.

The thing that sets this one apart from Chernobyl is that large amounts of contaminated water were released into the ocean, affecting marine wildlife.

The Health Effects of Nuclear Radiation

Nuclear detonations and other sources of radiation including dirty bombs and nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants radioactive hazards in various forms.

Regarding a nuclear detonation and subsequent fallout, we are dealing with primarily alpha particles, beta particles, gamma ray radiation and neutrons. Each of these can harm or kill you in a different way.

Alpha particles are harmful if they enter your body somehow, typically through inhalation or ingestion; think from the consumption of contaminated food or water, or breathing in affected dust.

Beta particles are capable of penetrating living tissue on their own, causing direct damage to your molecules that make up your body, including your DNA. If that happens, reproductive problems and cancer are likely.

Gamma rays are not just the stuff of comic books and sci-fi B-movie reels as these are long range, high-energy and nearly instant forms of radiation that penetrate very deeply and cause further cellular damage.

But the type of radiation we are most concerned about with nuclear fallout is neutron radiation, which is capable of rendering any matter that it interacts with also radioactive, and specifically the dust, ash and other detritus that slowly falls back to Earth in the aftermath of a nuclear blast or nuclear accident. 

Low doses of any form of ionizing radiation, including the kind you receive from nuclear fallout, will make you sick or create insidious and hard to detect long-term impacts on your health and wellness.

Genetic damage and reproductive difficulties are most commonly associated low but significant doses of ionizing radiation. High doses will cause acute, horrific and debilitating sicknesses, organ tissue damage, loss of senses and death in a matter of weeks, days or hours.

Some of the calling cards of radiation sickness and acute radiation poisoning are nausea, vomiting, cancers of all kinds, thyroid issues and organ failure.

Dealing with Nuclear Fallout

Getting ready to deal with a nuclear fallout situation is accomplished in three phases, being the Advance Work phase, the Shelter Installation phase and the Survival Kit Preparation phase.

All of these are equally important and you must take care of each of them if you want you and your family to stand the best chance possible of surviving the ominous and deadly black soot of a nuclear incident.

The Advance Work phase consists of searching out and identifying any suitable shelters or cover locations in and around your home, your town and your place of work. The ideal shelter location from fallout is a place that is easily sealed and is very thick and dense.

The golden rule of surviving radiation is that mass serves to counter harmful radioactive rays. The denser the construction material and the thicker it is the better!

You literally want to put as much material between you and the radioactive threat as possible. Generally speaking almost anywhere you can locate a suitable shelter if you keep your eyes open.

In the Shelter Installation phase we will actually set to work improving our own home to help defend us against the threat of nuclear fallout or installing a purpose made fallout shelter if the location or type of home we have is not adequate to the task.

We will dig into the specifics of shelter Improvement and construction after this section.

Lastly, in the Survival Kit Preparation phase we will put together dedicated survival kits that will help us shelter-in-place and survive wherever we happen to be.

We will then situate these kits at home, in our vehicles, and potentially even at our workplaces so that no matter when a fallout event occurs, we will be ready to meet it head-on with all the tools and supplies we need.

Much of this kit is actually comprised of typical emergency preparedness items that you likely already have if you have been prepping for any other kind of disaster, and you might need to add only a few specific items to make your kit fallout ready!

Fallout Response Procedures

Radioactive fallout does not persist forever, and loses potency rapidly in the days and weeks following its arrival in the aftermath of a nuclear event, but it is at its most dangerous right after the event that spawned it occurs.

You must be prepared to remain inside and safe at your chosen shelter location when the event occurs for absolutely no less than 24 hours and preferably at least 72 hours, with longer being better.

Pre-Event

You will start off by reacting to a nuclear fallout event in one of two ways depending upon how you get notified of the event.

If you are given an immediate emergency notice of an accident, a nuclear attack or some other event that has resulted in fallout conditions, you should seek shelter immediately according to what we laid out in this guide because you generally have only 10 to 30 minutes before the fallout arrives at your location.

The other way you will be notified is after the event has taken place, and potentially spread fallout or radioactive material far and wide. This means you were caught outside as the fallout arrives or potentially will need to move through a fallout affected area and the dangerous radiation it emits.

If that happens, all of your clothing, your hair and the rest of your body will be contaminated with fallout and soaking up radiation.

Once you arrive at your shelter you should strip and get clear of all of your clothing before moving inside so you track the minimum amount of radiation with you.

If you have to move through an area that you know or suspect is affected with fallout, try to do so as rapidly as possible as every moment you’re exposed the ionizing radiation will have consequences. In case you are moving through a very hot area, even brief exposure can have lethal results.

During Event

Once you have made it safely to your shelter, you will need to act fast. If you have been exposed to fallout, you need to shower or wash down as quickly as possible using shampoo or soap to decontaminate your body.

If you lack shampoo or soap and an ample source of water, use wet wipes or just a wet washcloth to clean your hair and all exposed skin. Do not try to salvage any clothing that was exposed.

Note that you should never use hair conditioner for any reason, as it is more likely to bind radioactive dust to your skin and hair.

Once this is done or you have reached your shelter location without moving through a radioactive area, you must move quickly to seal your shelter against the intrusion of dust and airborne particles.

Remember, nearly invisible dust could in fact be dangerously radioactive fallout. Turn off all air conditioning, furnaces and any other air handling systems. Close off chimney dampers, and tape up cracks and crevices around doors and windows.

There is no precaution too small to ensure that fallout does not make its way into your shelter!

Post-Event

Now that you have arrived safely at your shelter and sealed it to prevent the intrusion of fallout, you should make every attempt to get more information about the situation.

If cell phones are still operational, or you have access to a television and still have power, tune in to federal and regional disaster notification services.

Lacking either of these tools, you can make use of an emergency radio to get updates on pre-selected frequencies for the purpose.

Crank powered radios are ideal for this purpose as I do not require batteries and can remain idle for years and be ready to go so long as you can supply a little muscle.

Be sure to learn as much as you can about the incident, your area and surrounding areas and follow the instructions of government authorities to the letter.

Once you are past the 10 to 30 minute window in the aftermath of the event you should assume that anything that is outside your shelter has been contaminated by fallout, including all sources of food and water.

You must remember that even though a package is sealed against germs this will do nothing to stop radiation which will penetrate the thin packaging and contaminate your food!

It is essential that you ration your known good food and water in order to ensure you can shelter in place for as long as you must.

In the aftermath of the event, there is probably a good chance that you will encounter other people who are desperately seeking shelter.

Before you choose to help them, understand that the chances are good they have been contaminated by fallout, perhaps dangerously so, and letting them in could spell certain death for you and the people in the shelter with you.

Be sure to assess the status and appearance of anyone who is trying to gain admittance; any signs of radiation poisoning like obvious burns to their skin, seizures, confusion, sleepiness or vomiting likely means they have received a large dose of radiation in a short period of time.

If you decide to take a chance and help them make sure you follow the decontamination procedures above including having them strip and discard all clothing and equipment that they brought with them.

No matter what you do, there will be a degree of uncertainty and continual risk as they might themselves be a source of radiation.

Building a Fallout Shelter

Invest your time and money into building a nuclear blast/fallout shelter that serves two purposes: resisting the initial blast pressure and heat, and then protection from the contamination and radiation that results from the fallout.

While it’s possible to build a blast and a fallout shelter separately, as they serve two different purposes, it’s better in most circumstances for convenience as well as to save time and money to combine the two into one.

Your shelter needs to be able to withstand both the blast and the radiation.

Since not even the strongest shelter will be able to protect you from a nuclear blast in its immediate vicinity, you need to keep a safe distance from any major city or a nuclear power plant if at all possible.

Your two main material options for building your shelter are concrete or steel. If you choose concrete, you should have at least two and a half feet of it on all sides, or at least one foot if you opt to use steel.

Anything less and your shelter may not be able to defend your family properly against the blast and the radiation.

Radiation from the fallout will be the most dangerous for weeks following the blast, but this will decrease as time passes by, giving you the opportunity to escape/bug out at some point.

It also becomes less powerful the more layers it passes through. For this reason, having a thick fallout shelter can help to protect you from the radiation. The thicker the walls the better.

There are several things that you will want to make sure your nuclear shelter has, including:

  • It should be located near or at your home, so you can get to it quickly.
  • It’s best not to have any windows in the shelter, as radiation can easily seep through glass. Furthermore, the intense heat emitted from the blast could melt through the windows as well.
  • In addition to the steel or concrete for the outside walls, you’ll also want to insulate it for extra protection from the radiation. Sand or dirt will be your two best options for proper insulation.
  • Reinforce the door as much as possible so it can withstand heat and radiation. Use extra insulation such as sandbags or dirt is highly recommend.
  • Set up a bathroom complete with a toilet (even if it’s just a bucket if your budget is small) in a separate room within the shelter.
  • Plan on spending a minimum of two weeks inside your fallout shelter following the blast, so stockpile accordingly. Who knows, you might even be stuck there for months on end, depending on how things unfold.

Stockpiling

Building your fallout shelter is only the first part. The second part is stockpiling so you can live inside for weeks or even months. A good rule of thumb is to stockpile a minimum of two weeks of  food and water.

Here are some tips to follow…

Stockpile a minimum of one gallon of water per person per day, preferably more (a half gallon for drinking and a half gallon for cleaning and personal hygiene). Store all water in airtight and clean water drums or containers.

Stockpile enough food to last your family for fourteen days. If you have any perishable or frozen foods, eat them first before they thaw or go bad.

The vast majority of your survival food should be food with a long shelf-life, such as white rice, beans, salt, sugar, honey, or Ramen noodles (with water).

In addition to the food itself, you’ll also need kitchen equipment such as plates, bowls, silverware, can openers, and napkins,.

Have communication equipment as well. Staying informed or learning about the whereabouts of those you know will be critical to you.

Invest in a NOAA weather radio, which will alert you to emergency information from the authorities all day. Have plenty of spare batteries on hand.

Other communication devices to have on hand would be a CB radio, walkie-talkies, a whistle, and your cell phone (while it’s likely there won’t be cell service, have one on hand anyway).

Have extra thick clothes for everyone to fully protect your body from the radiation. This includes coats and jackets, hats, goggles, gloves, warm pants, socks, and boots.

Investing in gas masks and hazmat suits for all family members is a wise move. If you venture outside or if you decide it’s more or less safe to evacuate, all parts of your skin must be completely covered.

Should any of your skin become exposed to radiation, wash it with clean water, and cover it up immediately.

Keep some potassium iodide as well. Potassium iodide can block any radioactive iodine from being absorbed by your skin.

Have plenty of personal hygiene and cleaning products on hand. Know where you will dispose of waste and have disinfectants and cleaning agents. To save space and resources, consider merging your food waste and human waste in the same room/garbage.

Make sure everybody has a place to lay their head on. A folding cot with a sleeping bag and pillow won’t take up much space and is easy to set up.

Have firearms, ammunition, and other weapons to defend yourself from others if need be. Be trained in the use of each of them and have your sidearm holstered on you at all times.

Have a bug out vehicle on standby so you can evacuate if you feel it’s the wiser option. You may even be able to evacuate before the nuclear blast hits if you are updated on what’s happening.

Your bug out vehicle should have all-wheel drive, it shoul be reliable, and have enough space to carry each member of your family and your supplies.

Surviving a Nuclear Blast

Obviously, if the blast goes off directly over you or in your general vicinity, your chances of survival are literally zero.

The heat from the blast will be capable of burning the skin from your flesh at a distance of 20 miles or more. For this reason, you need to put as much distance between yourself and the blast as possible.

A nuclear blast will likely come out of nowhere. Keep yourself up to date on world events (such as poor political relations with other nations or all out war), in addition to regularly tuning into emergency alerts from the authorities.

What does The Government Say We Should Do?

The advice is pretty basic, yet all so important.

  1. The first things you should do is get inside to put as many barriers between you and the blast as possible.
  2. The second thing is to remove all your clothes.
  3. And the third thing is to run to your fallout shelter.

Even some time after the blast, radiation will still be at dangerous levels, so stay tuned to find out the latest developments, and know if and when it is time to evacuate.

Should You Evacuate?

Yes, even if you’ve bugged into your shelter, in the long run, a permanent evacuation is the only option. You’ll want to find a new place to live, and you’ll want to get to it as soon as possible.

However, picking the exact time to leave your home is going to be critical to whether or not you will survive, or increase the odds of getting some nasty disease.

As you evacuate, use all the clothing and blankets you have to keep your skin fully covered from the radiation. If you have glasses or goggles, wear them to protect your eyes.

This will help you at least suspect if there is a chance a nuclear blast could occur.

Obviously, large cities will be the major targets of a nuclear attack, so in the event of deteriorating relations with other countries or all out war, it may be wise to keep yourself and your family away from them.

The same goes for nuclear power plants since you can never be too sure that an accident won’t happen.

Even if you have put plenty of distance between yourself and the blast, you still need to seek shelter as quickly as possible. As mentioned earlier, the heat can burn your skin up to twenty miles away.

Also, high wind speeds (over six hundred miles per hour) can easily carry you off your feet or cause flying debris to smash into you.

The best shelter to find in this scenario will be anywhere indoors. While it’s still possible for you to suffer burns, the building will still offer more protection than being outside.

Look for a ditch or bridge as a hiding place if you are unable to get indoors for any reason. If no bridge or ditch is near, dig into the ground as quickly as you can and cover yourself up with the dirt.

Hopefully, you’ll be near your blast/fallout shelter when the blast goes off, and your chances of survival will be greater. Should you be away from that shelter, however, the above tips could save your life.

Conclusion

Surviving a nuclear blast and fallout will be difficult but not impossible. As long as you put enough distance between you and the blast and seek shelter, your chances of survival increase dramatically.

Even when fears of a nuclear attack have waned, you can never be too careful. It’s not crazy to invest in building an appropriate shelter if a nuclear fallout is what keeps you up at night, because that shelter may act as a safe room protect you from other disasters and emergencies including:

  • tornadoes
  • burglars
  • personal assaults
  • …and more

Even if something else happens, such as a terrorist attack or social unrest and rioting, the shelter and preps will still come in handy.

As a final word of advice, if a nuclear blast ever happens, you must always be prepared for the possibility of more occurring. Good luck because you’ll need it…

surviving nuclear attack Pinterest image

updated 08/17/2020

1 thought on “How to Prepare for and Survive a Nuclear Fallout”

  1. Ever heard of an American band, called THE GRATEFUL DEAD? Then you know where this comes from!
    It will not be a nuclear attack on the United States- it will be a reprisal for first use. (This program- this strategy, is called MAD it stands for Mutually Assured Destruction, ) And anybody who thinks they will survive that- has rocks in their head! (The half- life of Plutonium 239 is 24,500 YEARS!) And anybody who is prepared to take that chance- is PSYCHOPATHIC. So I am not going to appeal to your conscience, because you have none!
    Death does not matter to a psychopath does not matter, but spending the rest of your life in a cage at the zoo, might? You get a roof to keep the rain and snow off- but no walls. You get one bucket for slops for food- another to crap in. And if you misbehave, you get one bucket for both. We will keep you alive- but no concern abouth your health.
    Is that what you want?
    Am so sick of listening to shit for brains!

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