How might we prepare for radiation emergencies? This prepping and survival blog post suggests assembling a set of supplies in a compact kit to deal with possible radioactive fallout from a nuclear power plant disaster, dirty bomb, or even a nuclear explosion. But since radiation detection devices (commonly called “Geiger counters”) can be expensive, I’ll describe two different versions of the kit, with and without a Geiger counter type device.
Books with relevant information on this topic are not so easy to find. There are some old outdated books online or still in print. There are also books and booklets of dubious authorship and equally dubious advice. The best book that I’ve found on this topic is Medical Implications of Nuclear War, co-written by various scientists under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences. I have the print version, which is hard to find. But you can download the PDF version for free here.
Another excellent resource is FEMA’s online course: IS-3 Radiological Emergency Management. This is an interactive web-based course covering topics such as: Fundamental principles of radiation, Nuclear threat and protective measures, Nuclear power plants, Radiological transportation accidents, and Other radiological hazards. The course material is available as a downloadable PDF.
I suggest printing out material from the above sources, and from any relevant web sites (including this one). Keep those print outs as part of your kit.
Radiation detectors range in price from $5.00 (yes, five measly dollars — price as of this writing, subject to change) to $500.00 and up.
On the low end, is the RADSticker, a peel-and-stick postage-stamp-sized passive detector of radiation. The sticker is printed with a chemical that changes color when exposed to radiation. “Color development is permanent and cumulative. The longer the exposure the darker the color.” So it only gives you the total radiation dosage, not the minute by minute count. See the manufacturer’s website here.
The center rectangle is the part that changes color. You compare the color of the center to the colored squares around it to determine the dosage of radiation by color change. See the PDF manual for more details.
Now certainly this “device” is very limited in its detection of radiation. But it only costs $5.00. And if there is a radiation emergency, such as another Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, availability will plummet and costs may rise. The RADSticker is a “no-brainer” for adding to your radiation emergencies kit.
If you don’t mind spending a little more money, you can get the RADTriage device, which is essentially a larger RADSticker. The RADTriage is the size of a credit card. But whereas the RADSticker has a low dosage indicator at 250 mSv, the RADTriage is more sensitive, indicating doses as low as 50 mSv. Current pricing is around $30.00. See the PDF manual for more details.
I have both: several RADStickers and a RADTriage. It is well worth the investment. These are the least expensive types of radiation detection, but they offer only passive detection.
For active detection, the best low end device is perhaps the NukAlert device. Current prices are between $150 and $200. The device has no LCD display. Instead, it indicates the level of radiation by a series of chirps. The larger the number of chirps, the greater the exposure. This type of detection has an advantage over cumulative dosage passive devices. The RadAlert tells you the current exposure level, so that you can bug-out before your exposure is too great. The device is small enough to fit on a keychain or carry in a pocket.
On the high end of active detection is the Gamma Scout Alert Model, which is a feature-rich well-designed Geiger counter, made in Germany. The device offers professional level radiation detection, which an LCD readout and numerous settings. It can detect alpha, beta, and gamma radiation, and can tell you the current exposure as well as the cumulative dosage. Pricing is currently just under $500. (As always, all prices mentioned in posts are as of this writing and not guaranteed.)
In case of possible exposure to radioactive iodine (I-131), potassium iodide (KI) tablets can be used to reduce your risk of thyroid cancer. KI tablets block the uptake of radioactive iodine by competitive inhibition. It is particularly effective in children. The FDA has approved of KI tablets as safe and effective:
FDA: “The effectiveness of KI as a specific blocker of thyroid radioiodine uptake is well established. When administered in the recommended dose, KI is effective in reducing the risk of thyroid cancer in individuals or populations at risk for inhalation or ingestion of radioiodines. KI floods the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine and prevents the uptake of the radioactive molecules, which are subsequently excreted in the urine.” (U.S. FDA, Emergency Preparedness)
KI tablets are relatively inexpensive, and will likely become difficult to obtain if a radiation emergency affects a large region. The most expensive KI tablets are those designed specifically for radiation emergencies. These usually come in a foil-pack, with relatively few tablets per box. I’ve chosen to stock up on the 32.5 mg sized tablets that come in a plastic jar. These are less expensive than the foil-packed tablets.
Another radioactive element released in different types of radiation emergencies is strontium-90. If this radioisotope is ingested or inhaled, it can be mistaken by the body for calcium and become deposited in the bones. Not good at all. What can you do about this possibility? Flooding your body with non-radioactive iodine reduces uptake of radioactive iodine, and ingesting sufficient amounts of calcium reduces your body’s uptake of radioactive strontium. Calcium supplements are cheap and are good for your health in moderation, so you are better off with, than without. I would stock up on calcium supplements (e.g. Tums), and consult government or medical authorities if a nuclear emergency occurs.
See this HHS page with National Council on Radiation Protection suggestions for OTC and prescription medications that treat internal radioactive contamination. And take a look at my post on the subject of Antacids as a Treatment for Exposure to Nuclear Fallout
So what does your Radiation Emergency Kit contain? Only a few items are necessary:
1. Print out some of the more relevant information on radiation emergencies from the previously-mentioned sources (“Knowledge” above).
2.a. Buy some passive radiation detectors, at least a few RADStickers, and perhaps a RADTriage or two.
2.b. If you have the money and feel that it is worth it, buy a NukAlert or Gamma Scout device for active radiation detection.
3. Potassium Iodide tablets and maybe some Calcium Carbonate tablets
A Primer on Radioactive Fallout
What Level of Radiation Exposure is Safe?
Inexpensive passive radiation detectors: RADSticker vs. RADTriage
Radiation Detectors: Gamma Scout Review
Prepping for a Radiation Disaster: KI tablets