How can we prep for the possibility of radioactive fallout from a nuclear power plant disaster, dirty bomb, or, worst of all, a nuclear explosion?
First, you need a way to detect the radiation level. Active radiation detectors, such as the traditional Geiger Counter, have electronics which detect and measure radiation. See my past review of the Gamma Scout radiation detector. I have the Alert model of the Gamma Scout. It’s an excellent product, but pricey.
Passive radiation detectors
The least expensive radiation detectors are passive. There are no electronics, no LCD readout, no sounds. The device is a card with chemicals imbedded in the surface; these chemical react to radiation and change color. The color change indicates the presence of radiation. Each section of the card detects one particular level of radiation. So for 20 mSv (a slightly elevated radiation level), one block changes color, and the others do not. As the radiation level increases, each successive block changes color.
I purchased both of the most popular type of passive radiation detector, the RAD-Sticker and the RAD-Triage card. The sticker version is the size of a postage stamp. It is too small and difficult to read. It also has fewer levels of radiation in its indicators. Not recommended.
The RADTriage card
The RADTriage card is used by workers in nuclear power plants to monitor radiation exposure. It’s the best of the least expensive passive radiation detectors. And, since my last review of this product, it is now available in a new version, which has greater sensitivity for lower levels of exposure. The old version only detected radiation at a minimum of 50 mSv (RADTriage-50). The new one has a 20 mSv block, which gives you an early warning of rising radiation levels (RADTriage-20).
Amazon.com: RADTriage Personal Radiation Detector for Wallet or Pocket.
Radiation is measured in Sieverts. A mSv is one thousandth part of one Sievert. Typical background levels of radiation, on a yearly accumulated basis, would be well under 15 mSv. Here is a webpage that succinctly explains the effect that each level of radiation exposure has on the human body.
Levels of radiation and their effects
If there is nuclear fallout in your area, when do you bug-out? Radiation exposure is cumulative. Fortunately, the RADTriage card measures cumulative exposure. When cumulative exposure hits 20 mSv, you should worry. That level is probably still safe, but it is also well above the usual yearly exposure. A level of 50 mSv total cumulative exposure is the yearly limit for workers at nuclear facilities. It’s tolerable for healthy adults, but risky for pregnant women, the young, the elderly, and anyone in ill health. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to bug-out before the 50 mSv level.
Any exposure from 50 to 500 mSv represents an increasing risk of harm and an increasing risk of cancer later in life. This level of radiation is particularly harmful to pregnant women, the very young, the very old, and anyone who is ill. But once you reach or exceed 500 mSv, the effects are more immediate and more severe: radiation sickness and a significant increase in risk of cancer. At 500 to 1500 mSv, death is possible, but most affected persons, who are otherwise healthy and receive proper medical care, will survive.
Once you exceed 1500 mSv (=1.5 Sv), death becomes increasingly likely. About half the population will die from an exposure level somewhere between 2000 to 5000 mSv (=2.0 to 5.0 mSv). Anything over 5000 mSv (=5.0 Sv) is almost always fatal. The RADTriage-20 Card has a block for 4,000 mSv (4.0 Sv), which is a level that is fatal for most persons; reading that block is like reading a death sentence. Then there is a block indicating 10,000 mSv (10.0 Sv), which will read by whomever finds your dead body. It’s twice the exposure level that is always fatal.
Escaping radiation exposure
The problem with bugging-out is that, while you are traveling, you are more exposed to fallout than in your home. Which room is safest in any building? Almost always it is the basement. But a car or other vehicle is less safe than even the basement of a one or two story house. And if everyone evacuates an area at the same time, the roads will be a parking lot. You don’t want to be trapped in a car for many hours, while fallout increases your radiation exposure.
So the best timing is probably early: get out before most other persons decide to leave. For the quickest get-away, you need a well-prepped bug-out bag, and maybe some supplies pre-stocked in your vehicle. It would be ideal, of course, to have a bug-out location already stocked with supplies. But most persons are not able to be so well-prepared. In any case, have a destination in mind before you hit the road, and consider possible alternate routes.
If you can’t leave, because the roads are already crowded, you might be better off waiting. Prep for a bug-out, and then wait until the roads are clear. Stay indoors and in the basement as much as possible. Gather information about which destinations are free from radiation, and which roads are relatively free from congestion. Then make a smart get-away, so that you spend as little time as possible exposed in your vehicle.
A radiation detector is essential for knowing when to evacuate in cases of radioactive fallout.