Nuclear 201: Fallout

There is fallout, and then there is FALLOUT. Thing is, you can have fallout without nukes going off. You not only have dirty bombs, but you can have incidents at places with nuclear materials — including nuclear power plants.

In light of Vladimir’s speech last night/this morning, and a very clear threat to ALL nuclear reactors in the Ukraine, it is time to talk of cabbages who want to be kings, and fallout and other things. Make no mistake, while Vladimir was careful to discuss it as if the Ukrainians or others shelled the reactor/reactors and to say it was a threat against Russia, it was a threat to the Ukraine and the West. If Vladimir can’t have what he wants, no one will have it. Message received loud and clear Vladimir.

So, be it a bomb, a dirty bomb, an accident at a facility with nuclear materials, or an “accident” at a facility with nuclear materials, fallout can be a nasty thing. Honestly, in some respects, you are better off with a nuclear bomb exploding. Yes, it can and will produce fallout; however, a fair bit of that fallout is going to be short-lived. When you have a dirty bomb, it depends on what material the terrorists (and if they are using a dirty bomb, they are, IMO a terrorist even if in uniform or service to a government) can get their hands on but odds are it’s going to be around a while.

Then you have nuclear power reactors, most of which are first generation tech at heart (really may need to do a post on nuclear power reactors and what can be done with second- and third-generation tech and the much improved safety they offer). To be honest, to have an accident even with first-gen tech takes some effort. If you look at Chernobyl and other incidents, most of them took some effort. In fact, people had to fuck up not only by the numbers, but work hard at it. Fukushima took an earthquake, tsunami, and some bad decisions/actions along the way, and even then wasn’t all that bad. Could have been a LOT worse if not for things done right from the start. If you can find it, Subsunk and I did a series of posts on Fukushima at Blackfive that I sadly can’t find a link to right now. Short version: nuclear power is one of the safest and most efficient options out there, and it’s greener than green. Suck it up, deal with it, and let’s get new advanced design plants built.

Deliberately targeting a nuclear power plant with artillery, bombs, etc. counts in my book as working at it. While I’m sure a direct hit on a reactor that spreads stuff around would be touted as a victory, the odds are that what they would like to do is take out the cooling system so that you have a meltdown situation, which would send lots of interesting stuff into the air and be hard to moderate and/or contain.

And, therein, lies the fun joys of fallout. If it all stayed in place, you could contain and deal with it. Yes, there are ways to deal with it including chemical reactions that can take at least some nasty elements and greatly reduce the half life (see Prussian Blue and caesium-137). But, by terrorism or other, the problem with fallout is that it becomes airborne. Depending on circumstances, it can rise high into the atmosphere and literally travel around the world and over time it falls out, down, and mostly adds a miniscule amount to the local background count.

We’ve already talked a bit about dealing with fallout from a nuclear blast, but some of it needs to be repeated.

The best way to deal with fallout is to avoid it. If you can, leave and make sure you are headed away from the prevailing winds. Part of your basic preparedness should include a knowledge of both the prevailing local winds year round (comes in handy for tree management as well as people doing stupid things) and potential sources of fallout, chemicals, smoke, etc. As you are leaving, even if things seem clear, cover, cover, cover. Wear a mask, wear layers, and make the outer waterproof if possible as it makes decon easier.

Departure not an option for whatever reason? Be prepared. If you have a fireplace and chimney, you need to be prepared to drop something over the top of the chimney that will come down a bit so as to prevent fallout (or chemicals, smoke, etc.) from coming inside. Need to be prepared to do that with any open vents or other delights. Heard tell of a person who had some very large tarps, lots of tape, and a plan to cover his house with the tarps like a huge tent to help send any fallout away from the house and foundations. If you have enough time, it’s an idea.

Rolls of plastic come in handy at a time like this, as you can cover the ceiling, walls, or even floor to help prevent anything that does get in from getting to you. Pick an interior room or rooms, cover, tape, leave a means of getting filtered air in so you don’t suffocate, and you are good. If you hang sheets on top of the plastic, it adds a filter layer that may help. Also, remember the discussion about books and bookcases, other uses for pallets, and everything you can to isolate.

The trick is, you want to do all you can to keep fallout (or other) not only away from you, but out of you. While certain forms will go in and pass through the body, other’s wont. Particles can get into your lungs and stay. Some can chemically bind with you. In which case, you have ionizing radiation from which you can’t get away. It’s why potassium iodide pills are not a bad thing to keep around (sadly, I’m allergic to iodine) as it can prevent radioactive iodine from building up in the body. While there are treatments for many of the things that can get into your body, the most effective treatment is to avoid needing treatment to start with.

This is one of the few times I would recommend having a good gas mask. If you don’t have one, get a respirator at the hardware store. Can’t go that route? A standard N-95 mask will work, but you are going to be better off going for an R-95 (or 99) mask and/or a -95/99 mask with activated carbon in it. In an emergency, two layers of good t-shirt is better than nothing. Throw in a broad floppy hat (with clear plastic hanging down all around past your chin), rain gear with a hood under the hat and over layers of clothing, and you are set to do the bugout boogie. The key is to keep particles from getting into your nose, eyes, or mouth.

Then, stay high if at all possible. Fallout falls, and once it hits the ground it is likely to flow with any water and make it’s way into low-lying areas. This is where geiger counters and dosimeters come in handy. Again, I don’t recommend a lot of specialty equipment be bought as a part of preparedness, but I do recommend a gas mask or industrial respirator, R/N-95/99 masks, and a geiger counter — especially with the world situation as it is today. Stuff happens, and most of this gear can do for a variety of situations besides nuclear.

If you live in the Ukraine and/or are near or downwind of a Ukrainian nuclear plant, my advice is to be prepared to cover up and do the bugout boogie. Have your essential documents, cash, etc. ready to go. Forget things, most of them can be replaced.

If you are not immediately downwind, shelter and filter. Keep an eye on the local levels and hope you have honest types in emergency management who will give you good info and do right by you. Be prepared to boogie if the situation changes.

If you are in central or northern Europe and/or Scandinavia, shelter and filter as needed. With luck, the impact could be low outside of the immediate area(s). Outside of dealing with airborne particles, real key is going to be any tendency for fallout to collect and create a hotspot or two. Yes, it is going to get into the environment and to some extent into the food chain (see Chernobyl, and also keep in mind the worst predictions about all the fallout from that did not come true).

Outside those areas, yes the radiation is going to be detectable but it is not likely to present any real hazard. If Vladimir carries through on his threat — and make no mistake that is exactly what it was — may the worst of it blow into the Rodina and be the gift that keeps on giving to those who created the situation.



Nuclear 201 Posts In Order

Nuclear 201: Some History

Nuclear 201: Will You Be My PAL?

Nuclear 201: A Bit More C&C

Nuclear 201: Additional Thoughts On Coms

Nuclear 201: Targeting, Take 2

Nuclear 201: Scenarios

Nuclear 201: Policy, SIOP, and Escalation

Nuclear 201: Effects

Nuclear 201: Radiation

Nuclear 201: Preparedness

Nuclear 101 Posts In Order:

Nuclear What?

Nuclear 101: Weapons

Nuclear 101: Delivery

Nuclear 101: Now What?

Nuclear 101: Targeting

Nuclear 101: Scenarios

Nuclear 101: Survival

Some Quick Thoughts


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One thought on “Nuclear 201: Fallout”

  1. I think I mentioned it before, but is a good resource for checking the winds at different altitudes. An incident at a plant (meltdown, sabotage, whatever) would tend to follow the lower-level winds in the troposphere, whereas a groundburst (the only type of detonation that causes meaningful fallout) would put fallout well into the stratosphere. Note that the winds at those different altitudes rarely coincide, which is why a map like this that shows both is so useful.

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