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US Nuclear targets and fallout protection
Old 06-27-2013
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Default US Nuclear targets and fallout protection


Q: What areas are likely targets?

A: What constitutes a likely nuclear target here in the U.S.A. varies on what you perceive the probable threats to be in your lifetime. Terrorists eager to cause the greatest mayhem and panic to the greatest number of people? Russia and/or China directly or via surrogates launching a surprise attack on the U.S. mainland? Mid-East, Pakistan, India, Korean hostilities going nuclear with the trans-pacific fallout arriving here a few days later? Or, perhaps, simply concern for future nuclear power plant accidents or other radioactive material mishaps in production, storage or transportation?

With all the nuclear weapons in the world today (both held by governments and government terrorist surrogates) you can check what kind of potential targets are in your particular state above.

Now that you've viewed your state, you can also check the expected blast damage and fallout range from a militarily significant target location near you at Nuclear Blast Mapper. However, the smallest they depict there is from a 1 MT nuclear explosion and most of the typical size weapons in the nuclear arsenals today are smaller than that because of their increased accuracy and being MIRVed. In fact, any Russian attack is expected to be initiated by submarines because they can deliver their missiles to target much quicker than larger ICBM's and those submarines are armed primarily with 200 KT or smaller weapons. Also, understand that when they show areas of 3,000 REM total exposure they are talking about 7 days of accumulated and completely unprotected exposure in those highlighted areas for that full week. (That averages out to a dose of 429 R each day and assumes no protective action, either evacuation or sheltering, was ever taken during that whole week.) Also, when they state that it would take X number of years to return to normal peacetime background levels of radiation, that's true, but that doesn't mean it would be uninhabitable for all those many years. Natural peacetime background levels of radiation are very small, in fact, only about 360mR/year. Few would notice any ill effects from exposure to higher levels, in fact, airline crews receive about three times that amount every year just from natural cosmic radiation due to their high flying occupation. Other than right at ground zero, it would likely be safe enough in most all downwind fallout areas within a couple months and for most no protective sheltering would be needed beyond two weeks.

As with determining the valuation of any real estate there are three factors that are most important in making that determination: location, location, and location. So, too, with determining the risk level of your current residence and thus the level of protection required, its location is of primary concern.

Opinions vary amongst experts on the probabilities of risk for different areas and regions. We are collecting, and will list below soon, some thoughts to keep in mind from a few of them as you gauge the risk inherent at your particular current location:

Dr. Art Robinson, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine: "In case of nuclear war, those places that are downwind of major population centers and major military installations are most at risk from nuclear fallout. The safest areas are on the Pacific Coast and away from population centers because only the Pacific Ocean is upwind. However, a nuclear war might include invasion of the United States. In that case, the Rocky Mountain areas might be safest. Regarding nuclear terrorism, however, the risk is a little different. Coastal cities - especially high-profile ones like New York, Washington, and Los Angeles are most at risk."

Bottom Line: Obviously, the safest places to reside will vary on the nature of the nuclear threats you perceive to have the highest probability of occurring in your lifetime. For a future nuclear attack on mainland U.S.A., then all military targets are top on the list and most large cities would be secondary, with a few exceptions. But, for nuclear terrorist concerns, then the largest population centers would more likely be targets of first choice. In either case, the safest places would be most anywhere but large cities, especially those immediately adjacent to or downwind of military targets. Also, even for the populations of cities that survived an attack, the basic needs of water, food, medical and law & order could make for a miserable and quickly deteriorating nightmare. Obviously, not everyone can move to live & work in a rural location, but most people won't be reading this and fewer still will heed it. But, for many still, simply living 20 miles away from target locations will be all the difference in the world when combined with some of the simple preparations from the knowledge presented here. And, with some serious shelter preparations, living and surviving even much closer to potential future ground zeros is possible, too.

Q: What's Required for Nuclear Sheltering?

A: For locations in or close to probable targets, then protection from blast, fire and fallout would be required. For all other areas, more than 95% of the country, then only fallout need be of concern. Blast and fire protection require hardened, usually below ground structures, but even simple expedient backyard earthen shelters providing 15 psi integrity are survivable as close as 2 miles from a 1 MT surface blast. These home built and also prefab ready-to-bury blast shelters, that would survive the blast even closer to ground zero, are detailed later below.

For fallout protection, which will concern the greatest number of people, both those surviving within the blast zone and the much larger numbers downwind, there is some good news amongst all this. Radioactive fallout is dangerous because it is giving off so much energy, but that also means it's quickly becoming less dangerous over time as it exhausts itself. In a very high fallout area close to ground zero, an hour after the explosion, that freshly arrived fallout could be as high as 1000 R/hr and lethal to be exposed to it for as little as 30 minutes. But, in as few as 7 hours later it would only be 100 R/hr and in another 7 hours only 43 R/hr. From the Nuclear War Survival Skills book:

This degrading effect above, and also illustrated below, is called the "Seven-Ten Rule". For every seven times older the fallout becomes, it has also decayed to 1/10th of its strength. So, 90% of the gamma radiation is gone after the first 7 hours. Then, 90% of that remaining 10 percent is largely gone after two days. The 7-10 Rule illustration below is from the FEMA handbook Radiation Safety In Shelters:

Even starting with a high, close to ground zero, fallout exposure rate of 1000 R/hr, well within two weeks after an attack the occupants of most shelters there could be spending some time outside performing essential chores or attempting to acquire additional supplies, etc. After two weeks, most will be able to stop using the shelter altogether. For the majority of people even further downwind of ground zero the fallout has had even more time to decay before reaching those areas and also would be much more dispersed and thus the time required to be sheltered would be greatly reduced, too. (Exceptions, though, would be where rain showers had created 'hotspots' downwind or where multiple weapons had been used on important military targets.)

The example above of the close to ground zero 1000 R/hr fallout requiring as much as two weeks protective sheltering will not apply to much of the landmass here in the U.S. that will see less intense radioactive fallout. The following two charts from the 1986 FEMA publication "Radiological Instruments: An Essential Resource for National Preparedness" brings together both the distribution and decay rates of fallout over the total land mass here in the U.S. likely to be affected. They are assuming here a worst case and very large nuclear attack upon the U.S.

Protection from external radiation, primarily gamma radiation in fallout, is provided by three factors:

Time: Effectively minimizing your exposure time and also 'waiting out' the natural decay of the fallout in a safe shelter.

Distance: Effectively maximizing your distance from the fallout, as the inverse square law applies here to distance. (When you double the distance between you and the fallout, you have decreased its intensity by a factor of four.)

Shielding: Effectively maximizing the amount of radiation absorbing material between you and the radiation source.

As an example of the above, everyone is familiar with a hot stove and getting burnt by it when careless. Too close to the flame, for too long a time, without a protective glove and you get burned. Same basic principle applies with radiation sources; too close for too long without protective shielding and you will be acquiring a higher total dose than you would have otherwise. But, promptly getting your family into a prepared shelter as well removed from where the fallout is being deposited as possible and designed with good barrier qualities that permits you all to wait out the natural decay of the fallout can be the difference between life & death.

Regardless of how intense the radioactive fallout is in your specific area, the protective effectiveness of your shelter will be largely based upon its shielding from gamma radiation, the most penetrating and destructive radiation you'll have to contend with. (And, to a lessor degree on any distance you can put between the fallout deposition and yourself.) Just as body armor protects a person from bullets, so too does mass between you and the fallout protect you from its gamma radiation. The more mass the better, whether it is lead, earth, concrete, water, etc. The amount of mass that'll absorb 1/2 of the gamma rays penetrating it is considered to have a Protective Factor (PF) of 2 as compared to an unprotected person in the open at the same location. If the mass is sufficient to stop 99% of the gamma radiation it would have a PF of 100 and if it stopped 99.9% it would be considered a PF of 1000 as it reduced the incoming radiation to only 1/1000th. The illustration below is from the FEMA handbook Radiation Safety In Shelters:

The bare minimum FEMA recommended PF to strive for is a PF40, which means that the mass was sufficient to reduce the incoming radiation to 1/40th of the dose you'd receive outside if unprotected. This would be barely sufficient protection in most all fallout areas requiring sheltering, and especially deficient for the heavier fallout nearer ground zero or in a rainout created hot spot downwind. It is considered woefully less than what's required by many experts. However, as you'll see below, it's too easy not to achieve PF's of 200, 300, or 400 or more and it would be prudent to do so. (Just 3.6 inches of packed earth reduces the gamma radiation penetration by half which means you have a PF of 2. With 18 inches you have a PF 32 and with 30 inches it's over PF 300 and with 3 feet of earth you are at about 1000 PF.)

The higher PF's are worth striving for because, for example, in a high-risk fallout area that had a two week total dose of around 10,000 R, you would need at least a PF100 shelter just to stay near a 100 R dose being received by each of the occupants over the two weeks. Adding just another 3.6" of earth covering and thus doubling that PF to 200 would cut that total dose received by your family to only 50 R each. Clearly, with the unknowns of exact targeting, number of weapons committed to each, variable winds, rainout hotspots and perhaps even missiles off target, if you are going to build a fallout shelter at all, it needs to be with as high a practical PF as achievable. Here is a comparison of different thicknesses of earth and the protection factors afforded from the Nuclear War Survival Skills book:

The denser and thicker the barrier substance, the better its shielding properties. Where every 3.6" of earth cuts the incoming gamma radiation in half, thus doubling the PF, it would only take 2.4" of concrete because it is even denser. Of course, earth is cheaper, but where concrete had been used in the construction of a shelter it'll be providing even additional barrier protection. Also, the tenth-value thickness, in inches, for steel is 3.3; for concrete, 11; for earth, 16; for water, 24; for wood, 38. That means that where you have those thicknesses you'll have only 1/10th as much gamma radiation pass through with that barrier material.

Here, too, opinions vary amongst experts on what minimum levels of blast and fallout protection should be attained. Soon we'll have listed below here some thoughts to keep in mind from a few of them as you determine your minimum blast and fallout protection levels to strive for:

Dr. Art Robinson, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine: "Each American family should have as much emergency protection as its motivation and resources permit. A national shelter system with full chemical, biological, and nuclear protection - of 200 psi (permiting survival of ground-burst nuclear weapons within a mile) - could be built during a national program for about $500 per person. Instead, our government will doubtless just continue to raise the level of risk by spending this money instead on foreign adventures. Some families have provided this level of protection for themselves. The cost, on a one family basis is much higher. Since few families do this, I advocate the minishelter idea (the shelters you now offer). It gives good nuclear protection at a price and inconvenience many more families will pay. It does not provide chemical (not much of a risk) and biological (a high terrorist risk) protection. Families that do not install shelters should, at the very least, educate themselves about expedient measures by reading Nuclear War Survival Skills and obtaining a good radiation meter."

Bottom Line: As mentioned above, with all the unknowns and variables involved with pre-determining the possible fallout your family will need to be protected from, it is prudent to not just pray and hope for the best, but to have also prepared for the worst. Earth is a cheap, plentiful and effective fallout barrier material that can be utilized with numerous different shelter designs, as seen below. You'll need to decide which best fits into your family level of concern, your current housing situation and location and available budget. Below, most all American families will find something that'll easily improve their odds of surviving 100 fold or more.

Q: What Plans or Ready-Made Shelters are Available?

A: There are expedient (last minute) shelter plans, home built buried shelter plans and FEMA shelter plans, both for remote retreats, backyards or basements. There are also both cheap and expensive ready-to-bury completed shelters and even large survival underground shelters.

Review them all, learn from them all, and then choose which option would best fit your own family needs and resources.

Expedient Sheltering: Here are included all those last-minute sheltering options, both if events have overtaken you to where you are only now feeling the need for acquiring it quickly and/or if your restricted funds require exploring the low-cost sheltering options. The best resource for inexpensive last-minute fallout sheltering plans are to be found in the 280 page book Nuclear War Survival Skills. Read or print it out free on-line at that link and/or a hard copy can be purchased here.


Two expedient sheltering options you could do very quickly...
Amongst expedient last-minute sheltering options at home, even just simply pushing a heavy table or pool table (one you can get under) into the corner of a below ground basement, ideally the corner with the grade (earth) highest up the wall on the other side of it, can be surprisingly effective.
You would then pile atop it and all around it (on the two exposed sides), any additional available mass (such as books, wood, cordwood, bricks, sandbags, heavy furniture, full file cabinets, or boxes full of anything heavy, like earth) before then crawling in under it. Have a small entrance and more mass that can be easily pulled in after you to seal it up. Leave two little 4" air spaces, one high at one end and one low at the other, and with a small piece of cardboard you can help fan fresh air in if the natural rising warmer air convection needs an assist bringing in more fresh air. Also, cover up any basement windows or other openings anywhere in the basement where you can see light shining through with sandbags or solid masonry blocks or cordwood, etc.

A basement already provides a 10 to 50 PF (Protection Factor) and then hunkering down under a sturdy table packed and surrounded by extra mass can add another 2-4 PF which would give you a total of 20 to 200 PF.

That means that if there was an initial 1,000 R/hr radiation intensity outside you would have under that table only 5 50 R/hr. And, remember, with every passing hour that fallout would be decaying and quickly losing its energy to where 7 hours later, it would only be 1/10th of that strength. Adding more mass on the floor above and outside against those walls opposite your shelter inside, can add even more sheilding protection.

As cramped as that might be, you would have achieved a Protection Factor (PF), in less than half an hour of moving some mass into place, that could clearly be the difference between exposure to a lethal dose of radioactive fallout outside or survival for your family.

Think what you could accomplish if you started now, well before any nuclear emergency, to explore your available options and built (or at least acquired and pre-positioned the materials for) a mass encased small fallout shelter there in your own basement. Clearly, this is too cheap and easy not to have fully explored it.

Or, you could do a combination tornado/fallout shelter in the backyard, if the ground isn't now frozen where you are. With 30" of earth covering alone you would achieve a PF of 300 and occupants would receive less than 1/300th of the gamma-ray dose of fallout radiation that they would otherwise have received out in the open.

A fairly expedient (pretty cheap/fast) option for outside shelter building, especially for all those without basements, is to acquire a section of, under the road rated, corrugated culvert pipe of at least 4' diameter. It's very common, cheap, and you might even find some for next to nothing at your local metal junk yard that you could take home in the back of a long-bed pick-up (if 12' long or less) or on a boat trailer.

Have a hole dug at least as deep as half the diameter of the pipe in an area without a high water table that has good drainage. Roll it in and wall up the ends with cemented block, railroad ties, or even a couple sheets of reinforced plywood a little longer than the diameter, but leaving you an entrance/exit and air shaft at both ends at the top half that's still above ground. (If you've got the expertise/welder or money, and time, you could go ahead and have 10 gauge steel bulkheads welded on each end instead.) Whatever you use, have these end walls extend up past and above the culvert for 2' - 3' for holding back the dirt at the ends you'll later put atop the shelter.

You won't have enough excavation dirt (from the hole you created) to cover the shelter back over to a 2-3' level and still assure the grade atop is gradual enough to thwart future erosion, so you'll need to get some more from elsewhere in your yard or bring in some with pick-up truck loads, etc.

You'll also need sandbags full or solid masonry blocks to pre-position them at one end to pull/lift/push into place when you all get inside. Have one end already stacked solid with them, except for a small air gap at top and have the other end sealed up, too, except for enough room to wiggle in for the largest member of your family. The reason we have created two potential entrances, with removable blocks or bags, is so we also have two potential exits, if part of your house or a tree later fell on one end.

There's a lot of refinements that can make this more permanent, and better assure water doesn't get into the shelter before you do, etc. But, the point is, you can get creative with encasing mass all around your family for little time/money/effort.
Cramped and miserable for a couple days, yes, assuredly, but it'll be a story of survival your family will be around for to recount for years ahead together, especially when compared to the alternative fate of being above ground and exposed to the full intensity of radioactive fallout in those most dangerous first couple days.

FEMA Shelter Plans: For over 40 years the U.S. Federal Government has produced volumes of information and plans on fallout shelters and related topics. Some of the best material dates back to the sixties days of Duck & Cover drills. The single best collection anywhere of these documents and plans, and much more, can be found at Civil Defense Now!. Here are just a few of the many files you'll find there:

Underground Shelter (646k pdf file)
Aboveground Shelter (819k pdf file)
Modified Ceiling Shelter (537k pdf file)
Basement Block Shelter (226k pdf file)
Basement Tilt-Up Shelter (326k pdf file)
Lean-to Shelter (288k pdf file)

Homebuilt Buried Tank Shelters:

Two proven designs from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine that built five full-scale civil defense shelter displays for FEMA and for the states of Pennsylvania, Utah, Arizona, and Idaho and also carried out other educational activities in cooperation with FEMA. Their plans have been utilized by many and OISM has been in the forefront of Civil Defense research and education since the mid-eighties.

The large tanks (8' X 28') are designed for a maximum of 30 occupants to provide blast protection up to 200 psi and buried 8' deep will ensure a Protection Factor (PF) well in excess of 10,000. Many have been constructed out of cleaned out old fuel tanks. A larger 10,000 gallon tank, for instance, could sleep 40 people at one time. Cost today with simply handing the plans to a local fabricator would run around $8,000.00, double that with the top of the line chem/bio/nuke ventilation, lighting and other support systems to fully outfit it for long term use.

Engineering blueprint plans (6 drawings 24" X 36" with specifications for a variety of sizes and types) and a video are available for $55.00 here.

Another popular design by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine is their proven Mini-Blast Shelter. This design fills the void for a smaller and cheaper family blast and fallout protection shelter. It is rated at 50 psi and provides well in excess of 1000 PF when buried with three feet of earth cover. This shelter offers its occupants a good chance of survival of air burst explosions of most currently deployed nuclear weapons from a horizontal distance of one to two miles, and excellent fallout protection.

It's small and cramped with only a 4' diameter by 12' long, but for many locations it'll be endurable enough for those most dangerous high levels of fallout radiation in the first 24 hours. Built by a local fabricator you could have it made for under $1,500 and well less than half that if you could do the welding and fabrication work yourself. Free construction instructions and a further description of this shelter can be seen here.

Nuclear Survival Community Group Shelter: The best known, largest and most comprehensive group fallout shelter is the ARK II founded by Bruce Beach 90 miles NW of Toronto, Canada. Here 500 people from all over North America will make there way to this 42 buried bus self-sufficient community prepared to sustain their members for up to six months directly and support rebuilding beyond that.

See the layout drawing of the Ark II community shelter here

Ready-To-Bury Blast & Fallout Shelters - Premier: The premier fallout shelter manufacturer in the U.S. today is Utah Shelter Systems. They are steel culvert construction, 8-10' foot diameter and 30-50' long, costing from $25,000 - $30,000 with approximately a six-month waiting period. Options include state-of-the-art chem/bio/nuke filter ventilation, water, sanitation, lighting and other support systems to fully outfit it for long term use.

Ready-To-Bury Blast & Fallout Shelters - Premier, Expensive: High quality state-of-the-art, but very expensive, shelters are available from Radius Engineering. They are paraboloid shelters constructed of structural fiber­glass manufactured to underground storage tank standards. Numerous different models available and the nuclear blast/fallout capable units start at $35,000 before accessories. Options include state-of-the-art chem/bio/nuke filter ventilation, water, sanitation, lighting and other support systems to fully outfit it for long term use.

Ready-To-Bury Blast & Fallout Shelters - Inexpensive: This is the pre-built ready-to-bury completed Mini Blast & Fallout Shelter designed by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine listed above with the link to the free instructions for doing it yourself. Fabricated here at KI4U, Inc., utilizing galvanized corrugated steel (14 gauge rated for under road use type) of 4' diameter and 12' long with 3' high double entry/exit risers with double welded (inside & outside) 10 gauge steel plate bulkheads and 1/4" steel blast doors. With this pre-built, pickup truck delivered, shelter and less than two hours of backhoe work later it's in-place in (beneath) your backyard. $3,200.00 FOB Central Texas, call (830) 672-8734 for more information and availability. We try to keep a dozen in inventory. TARGET="_blank">here.

In Summary: Your first indication of an initial nuclear detonation may be with their characteristic blinding bright flash. The first effects you may have to deal with before radiation, depending on your proximity to it, are blast and thermal energy. Promptly employing the old "Duck & Cover" strategy will save many from avoidable flying debris injuries and also minimize thermal burns. Think tornado strength wind destruction descending upon you as you quickly dive behind any solid object or into any available depression. A 500 KT blast, 2.2 miles away, will be arriving about 8 seconds after the detonation flash with about a 295 mph wind blast that'll last about three seconds. An even larger 1 MT blast, but 5 miles away, would arrive in about 20 seconds.

If you had pre-planned to shelter, instead of evacuating, you would have had several options. First, you may explore if any buildings in your community have been identified as Civil Defense Shelters. Less emphasis has been placed on these in the past few years. However, if you look around and contact government agencies, before an emergency develops, you may find buildings marked with the signs identifying these shelters.

Additionally, you should become aware of other potential sheltering options in your area and along regularly traveled routes. Tunnels, subways, caves, culverts, overpasses, ditches, ravines and heavily constructed buildings. In the case of existing buildings, below ground basements give the best protection. With minimum effort, windows and overhead floor can be sandbagged or covered with dirt to provide additional protection.

The important thing to remember is to put as much mass and distance between you and the source of the radiation and then allow sufficient time to pass for the radiation to die down to a tolerable level.

Your other choice is to provide your own shelter. Kearny's book, "Nuclear War Survival Skills," again available free on-line here, provides plans and instructions on how to do this at home or at a remote location, even if caught out on the road.

Amongst expedient last-minute sheltering options at home you need to know how even simply pushing a heavy table or pool table into the corner of a below ground basement and piling atop and around it any available mass (such as books, wood, bricks, sandbags or boxes of anything heavy) is extremely effective when then crawling in under it. A basement already provides a 10 to 50 PF (Protection Factor) and hunkering down under that table of extra mass can add another 2-4 PF which would give you a total of 20 to 200 PF. That means that if there was an initial 1,000 R/hr radiation intensity outside you would have under that table only 5 50 R/hr. And, with every passing hour that fallout would be decaying and quickly losing its energy to where 7 hours later, it would only be 1/10th of that strength. As cramped as that might be you would have achieved a Protection Factor, in less than half an hour of moving some mass into place, that could clearly be the difference between survival for your family or exposure to a lethal dose of radiation.

Think what you might could accomplish, if you started now well before any nuclear emergency, to explore your available options and built (or at least acquired the materials for) a mass encased small fallout shelter in your own basement. Or, a combination tornado/fallout shelter in the backyard. With 30" of earth covering alone you would achieve a PF of 300 and occupants would be receiving less than 1/300th of the gamma-ray dose of fallout radiation that they would otherwise have received out in the open.

Bottom Line: Buy a shelter, build a shelter, join/support a community shelter and/or move to a remote area unlikely to be on any countries or terrorists target map (or downwind of one), it doesn't matter, just do it - NOW! It's family insurance, just like medical or life insurance, you get it even though you hope/pray never to have to use it. You know yourself, you know your propensity to procrastinate, or not, so, if needed, rationalize an excuse to do it now, not to put it off. Call it a tornado or hurricane shelter, safe room, root cellar, storage locker, whatever, but know when the "We interrupt this program for a Special Bulletin..." comes across the TV or radio and your family looks to you, you will be prepared for the worst and survive it.

"A prudent man foresees the difficulties ahead and prepares for them;
the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences." - Proverbs 22:3
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