The Truth About Fallout


Fallout is a scary word with scary implications, but the more you know about nuclear fallout, how likely it is to reach you should a nuclear explosion occur, and what its effects are on the body, the more prepared you will be to protect yourself and your family. The truth is that, in the event of a nuclear attack, the great majority of victims will be those who succumb to radiation sickness from the fallout, which can travel far and fast depending on the weather. This is why it is so important to ensure that your underground shelter is equipped to protect you from these seemingly-innocuous dust particles.

But what in the world is fallout?

The tremendous heat produced from a nuclear blast causes an up-draft of air, which forms the familiar mushroom cloud that comes to mind when one thinks “atomic bomb”. When a blast occurs near the earth’s surface, millions of vaporized dirt particles are drawn into the cloud. As the heat diminishes, radioactive materials that have vaporized condense on the dirt particles and fall back to Earth. This phenomenon is called radioactive fallout. This fallout material decays over a long period of time, and is the main source of residual nuclear radiation. What makes fallout such a threat is that it may be carried by wind currents for hundreds of miles if the right conditions exist. Effects from even a small portable device exploded at ground level can be potentially deadly for many more individuals than would have been affected by the blast itself.

Nuclear radiation cannot be seen, smelled, or otherwise detected by normal senses; it can only be detected by radiation monitoring devices. This makes radiological emergencies different from other types of emergencies, such as floods or hurricanes. Monitoring can project the fallout arrival times, which would be announced through official warning channels. However, any increase in surface build-up of gritty dust and dirt should be a warning to take protective measures.

Effects on the Body

The greater the dose of radiation received, the more quickly and severely symptoms will begin to appear; this is a relatively accurate screening tool for determining the size of the dose absorbed. The first signs of Acute Radiation Syndrome are usually nausea and vomiting, followed by a possible lapse in symptoms (depending on the severity of the dose) and then the arrival of new symptoms. These new symptoms will typically appear within 1-4 weeks unless the dose was incredibly severe, and include dizziness, weakness, hair loss, bloody vomit and stools, and low blood pressure. Exposure to enough radiation to cause sickness greatly increases an individual’s chances of developing cancer later in life.

Protecting Yourself: Distance, Time, and Shielding

Increasing your distance from the radiation source will naturally reduce your likelihood of receiving a large dosage. The longer you are exposed to radiation, the larger your dose will be. Shielding is where the underground shelter comes into play: any matter placed between your body and the radioactive particles (dirt, lead, sand bags, etc.) will reduce the amount of radiation that actually reaches you. This is why heading into a fallout shelter is the best course of action following a nuclear attack, regardless of your distance from the blast. Those near the blast who have already received a dose of radiation should still retreat to a shielded location to prevent further prolonged contamination.

The track that fallout follows is one relative to the jet stream (a prevailing pattern of winds and weather coming from the west or northwest), just as in a volcano eruption. In other words, the fallout will most likely travel from west to east. Fallout will begin appearing 5 minutes or less after the initial blast. Depending on the size of the bomb, type of detonation (underground, ground level, or air burst) and height of the mushroom cloud which, as mentioned earlier, is filled with radioactive debris pulled up with it from the earth, gamma-charged dust particles can travel across several states before falling to the ground. As time goes by, the radioactive energy literally burns itself out as the powdery surface left will return to near normal levels. This can take as long as several weeks, but typically should not last more than 4 or 5 days. A lot of factors play into determining the level of radiation at different intervals of time and distance from the blast. Included are weather, temperature, wind speed, and size of the weapon. So what is your best defense against fallout? A carefully planned, well-constructed, and fully stocked underground bomb shelter.