Radiation is an everyday part of life. Whether you’re going in for a chest x-ray at the doctor, taking a flight to another city, or simply absorbing background radiation from natural minerals, the human body can withstand radiation in small amounts.
The problem arises when uncontrolled amounts of radiation are released into the atmosphere. Even if the chances of a nuclear attack are unlikely, being afraid of a nuclear disaster is not an irrational fear.
Nuclear Attacks vs Natural Disasters
Nuclear weapons are only one of the many ways in which nuclear radiation can occur. Nuclear radiation safety hazards can also be brought on by man-made or natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes where nuclear power plants exist.
Despite advanced safety systems, no nuclear power plant is 100% safe from every possible disaster scenario. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, 30 countries around the world have 439 nuclear reactors.
Man-Made Nuclear Disasters
Any of these reactors could experience a melt-down from a natural or man-made disaster like what happened in Fukushima, Japan when a tsunami disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors, causing a nuclear accident in 2011.
That fallout can spread well beyond the original source and it respects no borders. In the United States there are 99 nuclear reactors in 30 states, which is why Americans need to be even more prepared for a nuclear disaster.
Protecting Yourself from Radiation Poisoning
In the event of a nuclear disaster, there is only so much that you can do. By keeping updated and current with the news and advisories, it’s possible to avoid naturally occurring radiation. In the case of a man-made disaster, however, it’s best to remain calm and remember the three important factors in avoiding radiation.
Get as much distance as possible between yourself and the nuclear fallout particles.
The heavier and denser the materials (thick walls, concrete, or bricks) between you and the fallout particles, the better. If possible, go inside a building or go home immediately.
An underground area such as a home or office building basement offers more protection than the first floor of a building. If there is no basement, seek shelter under a roof near interior walls. Flat roofs collect fallout particles, therefore the top floor is not a good choice, nor is a floor adjacent to a neighboring flat roof.
Stay in your protected shelter for at least 12 to 24 hours after a nuclear blast. Fallout radiation loses its intensity fairly rapidly. In time, you will be able to leave the fallout shelter. Radioactive fallout poses the greatest threat to people during the first two weeks. During those weeks it declines to about 1 percent of its initial radiation level.
Clean Yourself and Seal Your Clothing
Until you are able to get to a shower or new clothes, wipe off your clothing every few minutes. Once you have gained access to a shower, take off all of your clothing, including your shoes, and insert them into a sealed bag.
Take a shower with mild water, soap, and shampoo— no conditioner. Hair conditioners can actually seal radioactive particles to your hair.
Preparing in Advance for a Nuclear Disaster
Even if the chances of a nuclear disaster occurring in your area are low, the risk is worth preparing for. On average, you might have under 10 minutes to seek shelter. That is not a lot of time to protect yourself from a nuclear blast and prepare for sheltering in place.
Prepare for a nuclear disaster by making a plan for what to do and stocking up with the necessary emergency supplies. We recommend identifying the best shelter locations in all of the areas that you spend a great amount of time in, such as your home, work, or school. You should also invest in an emergency kit in case you have to shelter in place for 24 hours or longer.