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Prepare yourself to survive in a nuclear environment. Know how to react to a nuclear hazard.

Effects of Nuclear Weapons

The effects of nuclear weapons are classified as either initial or residual. Initial effects occur in the immediate area of the explosion and are hazardous in the first minute after the explosion. Residual effects can last for days or years and cause death. The principal initial effects are blast and radiation.


Defined as the brief and rapid movement of air away from the explosion's center and the pressure accompanying this movement. Strong winds accompany the blast. Blast hurls debris and personnel, collapses lungs, ruptures eardrums, collapses structures and positions, and causes immediate death or injury with its crushing effect.

Thermal Radiation

The heat and light radiation a nuclear explosion's fireball emits. Light radiation consists of both visible light and ultraviolet and infrared light. Thermal radiation produces extensive fires, skin burns, and flash blindness.

Nuclear Radiation

Nuclear radiation breaks down into two categories-initial radiation and residual radiation.

Initial nuclear radiation consists of intense gamma rays and neutrons produced during the first minute after the explosion. This radiation causes extensive damage to cells throughout the body. Radiation damage may cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even death, depending on the radiation dose received. The major problem in protecting yourself against the initial radiation's effects is that you may have received a lethal or incapacitating dose before taking any protective action. Personnel exposed to lethal amounts of initial radiation may well have been killed or fatally injured by blast or thermal radiation.

Residual radiation consists of all radiation produced after one minute from the explosion. It has more effect on you than initial radiation. A discussion of residual radiation takes place in a subsequent paragraph.

Types of Nuclear Bursts

There are three types of nuclear bursts--airburst, surface burst, and subsurface burst. The type of burst directly affects your chances of survival. A subsurface burst occurs completely underground or underwater. Its effects remain beneath the surface or in the immediate area where the surface collapses into a crater over the burst's location. Subsurface bursts cause you little or no radioactive hazard unless you enter the immediate area of the crater. No further discussion of this type of burst will take place.

An airburst occurs in the air above its intended target. The airburst provides the maximum radiation effect on the target and is, therefore, most dangerous to you in terms of immediate nuclear effects.

A surface burst occurs on the ground or water surface. Large amounts of fallout result, with serious long-term effects for you. This type of burst is your greatest nuclear hazard.

Nuclear Injuries

Most injuries in the nuclear environment result from the initial nuclear effects of the detonation. These injuries are classed as blast, thermal, or radiation injuries. Further radiation injuries may occur if you do not take proper precautions against fallout. Individuals in the area near a nuclear explosion will probably suffer a combination of all three types of injuries.

Blast Injuries

Blast injuries produced by nuclear weapons are similar to those caused by conventional high-explosive weapons. Blast overpressure can produce collapsed lungs and ruptured internal organs. Projectile wounds occur as the explosion's force hurls debris at you. Large pieces of debris striking you will cause fractured limbs or massive internal injuries. Blast over-pressure may throw you long distances, and you will suffer severe injury upon impact with the ground or other objects. Substantial cover and distance from the explosion are the best protection against blast injury. Cover blast injury wounds as soon as possible to prevent the entry of radioactive dust particles.

Thermal Injuries

The heat and light the nuclear fireball emits causes thermal injuries. First-, second-, or third-degree burns may result. Flash blindness also occurs. This blindness may be permanent or temporary depending on the degree of exposure of the eyes. Substantial cover and distance from the explosion can prevent thermal injuries. Clothing will provide significant protection against thermal injuries. Cover as much exposed skin as possible before a nuclear explosion. First aid for thermal injuries is the same as first aid for burns. Cover open burns (second-or third-degree) to prevent the entry of radioactive particles. Wash all burns before covering.

Radiation Injuries

Neutrons, gamma radiation, alpha radiation, and beta radiation cause radiation injuries. Neutrons are high-speed, extremely penetrating particles that actually smash cells within your body. Gamma radiation is similar to X rays and is also a highly penetrating radiation. During the initial fireball stage of a nuclear detonation, initial gamma radiation and neutrons are the most serious threat. Beta and alpha radiation are radioactive particles normally associated with radioactive dust from fallout. They are short-range particles and you can easily protect yourself against them if you take precautions. See Bodily Reactions to Radiation, below, for the symptoms of radiation injuries.

Residual Radiation

Residual radiation is all radiation emitted after 1 minute from the instant of the nuclear explosion. Residual radiation consists of induced radiation and fallout.

Induced Radiation

It describes a relatively small, intensely radioactive area directly underneath the nuclear weapon's fireball. The irradiated earth in this area will remain highly radioactive for an extremely long time. You should not travel into an area of induced radiation.


Fallout consists of radioactive soil and water particles, as well as weapon fragments. During a surface detonation, or if an airburst's nuclear fireball touches the ground, large amounts of soil and water are vaporized along with the bomb's fragments, and forced upward to altitudes of 25,000 meters or more. When these vaporized contents cool, they can form more than 200 different radioactive products. The vaporized bomb contents condense into tiny radioactive particles that the wind carries and they fall back to earth as radioactive dust. Fallout particles emit alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. Alpha and beta radiation are relatively easy to counteract, and residual gamma radiation is much less intense than the gamma radiation emitted during the first minute after the explosion. Fallout is your most significant radiation hazard, provided you have not received a lethal radiation dose from the initial radiation.

Bodily Reactions to Radiation

The effects of radiation on the human body can be broadly classed as either chronic or acute. Chronic effects are those that occur some years after exposure to radiation. Examples are cancer and genetic defects. Chronic effects are of minor concern insofar as they affect your immediate survival in a radioactive environment. On the other hand, acute effects are of primary importance to your survival. Some acute effects occur within hours after exposure to radiation. These effects result from the radiation's direct physical damage to tissue. Radiation sickness and beta burns are examples of acute effects. Radiation sickness symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, and loss of hair. Penetrating beta rays cause radiation burns; the wounds are similar to fire burns.

Recovery Capability

The extent of body damage depends mainly on the part of the body exposed to radiation and how long it was exposed, as well as its ability to recover. The brain and kidneys have little recovery capability. Other parts (skin and bone marrow) have a great ability to recover from damage. Usually, a dose of 600 centigrams (cgys) to the entire body will result in almost certain death. If only your hands received this same dose, your overall health would not suffer much, although your hands would suffer severe damage.

External and Internal Hazards

An external or an internal hazard can cause body damage. Highly penetrating gamma radiation or the less penetrating beta radiation that causes burns can cause external damage. The entry of alpha or beta radiation-emitting particles into the body can cause internal damage. The external hazard produces overall irradiation and beta burns. The internal hazard results in irradiation of critical organs such as the gastrointestinal tract, thyroid gland, and bone. A very small amount of radioactive material can cause extreme damage to these and other internal organs. The internal hazard can enter the body either through consumption of contaminated water or food or by absorption through cuts or abrasions. Material that enters the body through breathing presents only a minor hazard. You can greatly reduce the internal radiation hazard by using good personal hygiene and carefully decontaminating your food and water.


The symptoms of radiation injuries include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. The severity of these symptoms is due to the extreme sensitivity of the gastrointestinal tract to radiation. The severity of the symptoms and the speed of onset after exposure are good indicators of the degree of radiation damage. The gastrointestinal damage can come from either the external or the internal radiation hazard.

Countermeasures Against Penetrating External Radiation

Knowledge of the radiation hazards discussed earlier is extremely important in surviving in a fallout area. It is also critical to know how to protect yourself from the most dangerous form of residual radiation--penetrating external radiation.

The means you can use to protect yourself from penetrating external radiation are time, distance, and shielding. You can reduce the level of radiation and help increase your chance of survival by controlling the duration of exposure. You can also get as far away from the radiation source as possible. Finally you can place some radiation-absorbing or shielding material between you and the radiation.


Time is important to you, as the survivor, in two ways. First, radiation dosages are cumulative. The longer you are exposed to a radioactive source, the greater the dose you will receive. Obviously, spend as little time in a radioactive area as possible. Second, radioactivity decreases or decays over time. This concept is known as radioactive half-life. Thus, a radioactive element decays or loses half of its radioactivity within a certain time. The rule of thumb for radioactivity decay is that it decreases in intensity by a factor of ten for every sevenfold increase in time following the peak radiation level. For example, if a nuclear fallout area had a maximum radiation rate of 200 cgys per hour when fallout is complete, this rate would fall to 20 cgys per hour after 7 hours; it would fall still further to 2 cgys per hour after 49 hours. Even an untrained observer can see that the greatest hazard from fallout occurs immediately after detonation, and that the hazard decreases quickly over a relatively short time. As a survivor, try to avoid fallout areas until the radioactivity decays to safe levels. If you can avoid fallout areas long enough for most of the radioactivity to decay, you enhance your chance of survival.


Distance provides very effective protection against penetrating gamma radiation because radiation intensity decreases by the square of the distance from the source. For example, if exposed to 1,000 cgys of radiation standing 30 centimeters from the source, at 60 centimeters, you would only receive 250 cgys. Thus, when you double the distance, radiation decreases to (0.5)2 or 0.25 the amount. While this formula is valid for concentrated sources of radiation in small areas, it becomes more complicated for large areas of radiation such as fallout areas.


Shielding is the most important method of protection from penetrating radiation. Of the three countermeasures against penetrating radiation, shielding provides the greatest protection and is the easiest to use under survival conditions. Therefore, it is the most desirable method.

If shielding is not possible, use the other two methods to the maximum extent practical.

Shielding actually works by absorbing or weakening the penetrating radiation, thereby reducing the amount of radiation reaching your body. The denser the material, the better the shielding effect. Lead, iron, concrete, and water are good examples of shielding materials.

Special Medical Aspects

The presence of fallout material in your area requires slight changes in first aid procedures. You must cover all wounds to prevent contamination and the entry of radioactive particles. You must first wash burns of beta radiation, then treat them as ordinary burns. Take extra measures to prevent infection. Your body will be extremely sensitive to infections due to changes in your blood chemistry. Pay close attention to the prevention of colds or respiratory infections. Rigorously practice personal hygiene to prevent infections. Cover your eyes with improvised goggles to prevent the entry of particles.


As stated earlier, the shielding material's effectiveness depends on its thickness and density. An ample thickness of shielding material will reduce the level of radiation to negligible amounts.

The primary reason for finding and building a shelter is to get protection against the high-intensity radiation levels of early gamma fallout as fast as possible. Five minutes to locate the shelter is a good guide. Speed in finding shelter is absolutely essential. Without shelter, the dosage received in the first few hours will exceed that received during the rest of a week in a contaminated area. The dosage received in this first week will exceed the dosage accumulated during the rest of a lifetime spent in the same contaminated area.

Shielding Materials

The thickness required to weaken gamma radiation from fallout is far less than that needed to shield against initial gamma radiation. Fallout radiation has less energy than a nuclear detonation's initial radiation. For fallout radiation, a relatively small amount of shielding material can provide adequate protection. Figure 23-1 gives an idea of the thickness of various materials needed to reduce residual gamma radiation transmission by 50 percent.

The principle of half-value layer thickness is useful in understanding the absorption of gamma radiation by various materials. According to this principle, if 5 centimeters of brick reduce the gamma radiation level by one-half, adding another 5 centimeters of brick (another half-value layer) will reduce the intensity by another half, namely, to one-fourth the original amount. Fifteen centimeters will reduce gamma radiation fallout levels to one-eighth its original amount, 20 centimeters to one-sixteenth, and so on. Thus, a shelter protected by 1 meter of dirt would reduce a radiation intensity of 1,000 cgys per hour on the outside to about 0.5 cgy per hour inside the shelter.

Natural Shelters

Terrain that provides natural shielding and easy shelter construction is the ideal location for an emergency shelter. Good examples are ditches, ravines, rocky outcropping, hills, and river banks. In level areas without natural protection, dig a fighting position or slit trench.


When digging a trench, work from inside the trench as soon as it is large enough to cover part of your body thereby not exposing all your body to radiation. In open country, try to dig the trench from a prone position, stacking the dirt carefully and evenly around the trench. On level ground, pile the dirt around your body for additional shielding. Depending upon soil conditions, shelter construction time will vary from a few minutes to a few hours. If you dig as quickly as possible, you will reduce the dosage you receive.

Other Shelters

While an underground shelter covered by 1 meter or more of earth provides the best protection against fallout radiation, the following unoccupied structures (in order listed) offer the next best protection:

  • Caves and tunnels covered by more than 1 meter of earth.
  • Storm or storage cellars.
  • Culverts.
  • Basements or cellars of abandoned buildings.
  • Abandoned buildings made of stone or mud.


It is not mandatory that you build a roof on your shelter. Build one only if the materials are readily available with only a brief exposure to outside contamination. If building a roof would require extended exposure to penetrating radiation, it would be wiser to leave the shelter roofless. A roof's sole function is to reduce radiation from the fallout source to your body. Unless you use a thick roof, a roof provides very little shielding.

You can construct a simple roof from a poncho anchored down with dirt, rocks, or other refuse from your shelter. You can remove large particles of dirt and debris from the top of the poncho by beating it off from the inside at frequent intervals. This cover will not offer shielding from the radioactive particles deposited on the surface, but it will increase the distance from the fallout source and keep the shelter area from further contamination.

Shelter Site Selection and Preparation

To reduce your exposure time and thereby reduce the dosage received, remember the following factors when selecting and setting up a shelter:

  • Where possible, seek a crude, existing shelter that you can improve. If none is available, dig a trench.
  • Dig the shelter deep enough to get good protection, then enlarge it as required for comfort.
  • Cover the top of the fighting position or trench with any readily available material and a thick layer of earth, if you can do so without leaving the shelter. While a roof and camouflage are both desirable, it is probably safer to do without them than to expose yourself to radiation outside your fighting position.
  • While building your shelter, keep all parts of your body covered with clothing to protect it against beta burns.
  • Clean the shelter site of any surface deposit using a branch or other object that you can discard. Do this cleaning to remove contaminated materials from the area you will occupy. The cleaned area should extend at least 1.5 meters beyond your shelter's area.
  • Decontaminate any materials you bring into the shelter. These materials include grass or foliage that you use as insulation or bedding, and your outer clothing (especially footgear). If the weather permits and you have heavily contaminated outer clothing, you may want to remove it and bury it under a foot of earth at the end of your shelter. You may retrieve it later (after the radioactivity decays) when leaving the shelter. If the clothing is dry, you may decontaminate it by beating or shaking it outside the shelter's entrance to remove the radioactive dust. You may use any body of water, even though contaminated, to rid materials of excess fallout particles. Simply dip the material into the water and shake it to get rid of the excess water. Do not wring it out, this action will trap the particles.
  • If at all possible and without leaving the shelter, wash your body thoroughly with soap and water, even if the water on hand may be contaminated. This washing will remove most of the harmful radioactive particles that are likely to cause beta burns or other damage. If water is not available, wipe your face and any other exposed skin surface to remove contaminated dust and dirt. You may wipe your face with a clean piece of cloth or a handful of uncontaminated dirt. You get this uncontaminated dirt by scraping off the top few inches of soil and using the "clean" dirt.
  • Upon completing the shelter, lie down, keep warm, and sleep and rest as much as possible while in the shelter.
  • When not resting, keep busy by planning future actions, studying your maps, or making the shelter more comfortable and effective.
  • Don't panic if you experience nausea and symptoms of radiation sickness. Your main danger from radiation sickness is infection. There is no first aid for this sickness. Resting, drinking fluids, taking any medicine that prevents vomiting, maintaining your food intake, and preventing additional exposure will help avoid infection and aid recovery. Even small doses of radiation can cause these symptoms which may disappear in a short time.

Exposure Timetable

The following timetable provides you with the information needed to avoid receiving serious dosage and still let you cope with survival problems:

  • Complete isolation from 4 to 6 days following delivery of the last weapon.
  • A very brief exposure to procure water on the third day is permissible, but exposure should not exceed 30 minutes.
  • One exposure of not more than 30 minutes on the seventh day.
  • One exposure of not more than 1 hour on the eighth day.
  • Exposure of 2 to 4 hours from the ninth day through the twelfth day.
  • Normal operation, followed by rest in a protected shelter, from the thirteenth day on.
  • In all instances, make your exposures as brief as possible. Consider only mandatory requirements as valid reasons for exposure. Decontaminate at every stop.

The times given above are conservative. If forced to move after the first or second day, you may do so, Make sure that the exposure is no longer than absolutely necessary.

Water Procurement

In a fallout-contaminated area, available water sources may be contaminated. If you wait at least 48 hours before drinking any water to allow for radioactive decay to take place and select the safest possible water source, you will greatly reduce the danger of ingesting harmful amounts of radioactivity.

Although many factors (wind direction, rainfall, sediment) will influence your choice in selecting water sources, consider the following guidelines.

Safest Water Sources

Water from springs, wells, or other underground sources that undergo natural filtration will be your safest source. Any water found in the pipes or containers of abandoned houses or stores will also be free from radioactive particles. This water will be safe to drink, although you will have to take precautions against bacteria in the water.

Snow taken from 15 or more centimeters below the surface during the fallout is also a safe source of water.

Streams and Rivers

Water from streams and rivers will be relatively free from fallout within several days after the last nuclear explosion because of dilution. If at all possible, filter such water before drinking to get rid of radioactive particles. The best filtration method is to dig sediment holes or seepage basins along the side of a water source. The water will seep laterally into the hole through the intervening soil that acts as a filtering agent and removes the contaminated fallout particles that settled on the original body of water. This method can remove up to 99 percent of the radioactivity in water. You must cover the hole in some way in order to prevent further contamination. See Figure 6-9 for an example of a water filter.

Standing Water

Water from lakes, pools, ponds, and other standing sources is likely to be heavily contaminated, though most of the heavier, long-lived radioactive isotopes will settle to the bottom. Use the settling technique to purify this water. First, fill a bucket or other deep container three-fourths full with contaminated water. Then take dirt from a depth of 10 or more centimeters below the ground surface and stir it into the water. Use about 2.5 centimeters of dirt for every 10 centimeters of water. Stir the water until you see most dirt particles suspended in the water. Let the mixture settle for at least 6 hours. The settling dirt particles will carry most of the suspended fallout particles to the bottom and cover them. You can then dip out the clear water. Purify this water using a filtration device.

Additional Precautions

As an additional precaution against disease, treat all water with water purification tablets from your survival kit or boil it.

Food Procurement

Although it is a serious problem to obtain edible food in a radiation-contaminated area, it is not impossible to solve. You need to follow a few special procedures in selecting and preparing rations and local foods for use. Since secure packaging protects your combat rations, they will be perfectly safe for use. Supplement your rations with any food you can find on trips outside your shelter. Most processed foods you may find in abandoned buildings are safe for use after decontaminating them. These include canned and packaged foods after removing the containers or wrappers or washing them free of fallout particles. These processed foods also include food stored in any closed container and food stored in protected areas (such as cellars), if you wash them before eating. Wash all food containers or wrappers before handling them to prevent further contamination.

If little or no processed food is available in your area, you may have to supplement your diet with local food sources. Local food sources are animals and plants.

Animals as a Food Source

Assume that all animals, regardless of their habitat or living conditions, were exposed to radiation. The effects of radiation on animals are similar to those on humans. Thus, most of the wild animals living in a fallout area are likely to become sick or die from radiation during the first month after the nuclear explosion. Even though animals may not be free from harmful radioactive materials, you can and must use them in survival conditions as a food source if other foods are not available. With careful preparation and by following several important principles, animals can be safe food sources.

First, do not eat an animal that appears to be sick. It may have developed a bacterial infection as a result of radiation poisoning. Contaminated meat, even if thoroughly cooked, could cause severe illness or death if eaten.

Carefully skin all animals to prevent any radioactive particles on the skin or fur from entering the body. Do not eat meat close to the bones and joints as an animal's skeleton contains over 90 percent of the radioactivity. The remaining animal muscle tissue, however, will be safe to eat. Before cooking it, cut the meat away from the bone, leaving at least a 3-millimeter thickness of meat on the bone. Discard all internal organs (heart, liver, and kidneys) since they tend to concentrate beta and gamma radioactivity.

Cook all meat until it is very well done. To be sure the meat is well done, cut it into less than 13-millimeter-thick pieces before cooking. Such cuts will also reduce cooking time and save fuel.

The extent of contamination in fish and aquatic animals will be much greater than that of land animals. This is also true for water plants, especially in coastal areas. Use aquatic food sources only in conditions of extreme emergency.

All eggs, even if laid during the period of fallout, will be safe to eat. Completely avoid milk from any animals in a fallout area because animals absorb large amounts of radioactivity from the plants they eat.

Plants as a Food Source

Plant contamination occurs by the accumulation of fallout on their outer surfaces or by absorption of radioactive elements through their roots. Your first choice of plant food should be vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, carrots, and other plants whose edible portion grows underground. These are the safest to eat once you scrub them and remove their skins.

Second in order of preference are those plants with edible parts that you can decontaminate by washing and peeling their outer surfaces. Examples are bananas, apples, tomatoes, prickly pears, and other such fruits and vegetables.

Any smooth-skinned vegetable, fruit, or plant that you cannot easily peel or effectively decontaminate by washing will be your third choice of emergency food.

The effectiveness of decontamination by scrubbing is inversely proportional to the roughness of the fruit's surface. Smooth-surfaced fruits have lost 90 percent of their contamination after washing, while washing rough-surfaced plants removes only about 50 percent of the contamination.

You eat rough-surfaced plants (such as lettuce) only as a last resort because you cannot effectively decontaminate them by peeling or washing. Other difficult foods to decontaminate by washing with water include dried fruits (figs, prunes, peaches, apricots, pears) and soya beans.

In general, you can use any plant food that is ready for harvest if you can effectively decontaminate it. Growing plants, however, can absorb some radioactive materials through their leaves as well as from the soil, especially if rains have occurred during or after the fallout period. Avoid using these plants for food except in an emergency.

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