Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Fallout Shelter

Best American Radiation Fallout ShelterThis is a follow up to the post Protecting Yourself from Radiation. Here I will discuss the materials used to build a Fallout Shelter. I will also discuss the typical shelter.

As you may all know, anything that is purposely built excels in that domain. The same is true for Fallout Shelters, seriously, a basement will only provide merger protection from radiation. The Fallout Shelter will protect you from radiation so well that if it was well built, it is as simple as walking in it with your family and closing the door.

During the cold war, civilian built radiation shelters were common. The majority of them were built in basements, where additional concrete was added. How much material has to be added to provide enough protection will be discussed later in the post.

What is the Best Fallout Shelter Build out of?
Well, there is no magic formula, as the more mass you put between you and the source of radiation the better it is. It is important to note that air has a mass and therefore the father you are from the radiation source, the better. This doesn't mean that we all have to go about building a Fallout Shelter underneath a mountain, a reasonable approach is considerable. The commonly accepted Fallout Shelter reduced Gamma Rays by a factor of 1000. This means that you are only subject to 0.1% of the radiation than you would be if you were standing outside. Below is a list of how much of what materials reduces gamma rays by half. Thus, you need ten times this amount of shielding to reach the 0.1% goal. Note that a Fallout Shelter typically uses more than one type of barrier. Example, a concrete structure buried in packed dirt.

Materials and their Shielding Properties:
  • Lead, 1 cm (0.4 inch) for 50%.
  • Concrete, 6 cm (2.4 inches) for 50%.
  • Packet Dirt, 9 cm (3.6 inches) for 50%.
  • Air, 150 m (500 feet) for 50%.
The fear of nuclear weapons or nuclear meltdowns was prominent in the Cold War era. We are seeing a return of these fears with the development of nuclear weapons by Korea and Iran. Moreover, much of the weapons stockpile of the USSR has been sold off on the black market or is still stashed somewhere. A terrorist group could possibly have a nuclear warhead right now, and be planning on exploding it. We also have seen the arrival of Dirty Bombs, which I will discuss in a future post. The base principle of a Dirty Bomb is to add waste radiation materials (such as nuclear plant waste) to a traditional bomb. The result is not a nuclear explosion, but the nuclear waste is thrown in all directions and a localized fallout occurs.

The Typical Fallout Shelter:
Basement American Radiation Fallout ShelterThe typical fallout shelter consists of a reinforced section of a residential basement with accommodations and supplies to last a month. The photo (to the left) illustrates the concept. Since the shelter is in the basement, the bottom and sides are already shielded to 0.1%. You simply have to add 2 feet of concrete to the top and to the side which is not lined with earth. If the concrete is reinforced with metal bars, the shelter can also withstand major earthquakes, fires, bombing. In the design of the shelter it is important to make sure that there is enough material (0.1%) at all angles. Note that the cement construction that comes with the house normally doesn't cover the full height of the basement.

Preventing Carbon-dioxide Poisoning (or death):
The problem with sealing yourself in a concrete structure can be compared with putting a goldfish in a water-filled plastic bag, eventually you'll run out of air. Make sure that your shelter has an adequate air exchange system that doesn't let in fallout particle or makes a direct path for Gamma Rays to enter the shelter. A simple filtration system is enough to stop the fallout. If you take some Potassium Iodine, as outlined in the post Is There Such a Thing as a Radiation Pill?, then you should be just fine.

Food and Other Necessities:
As you will probably be staying in the shelter continually for a maximum duration of one month, you should make sure you won't have to expose yourself to deadly amounts of radiation to go get supplies. That is if, there are still some after the thermal blast that a nuclear warhead generates. Note that food isn't the most important thing you'll need, a human can last a month without it. Water is at the top of the list, a human can't survive without it for 3 days. Also, a method or container to dispose of the waste that a toilet would normally deal with. There is such a thing as methane poisoning for waste products, and its not the most honorable thing to die from. If you have kids you should provide them with some ways of diverting themselves or they'll be a real pain. Last but not least, a means to get information about radiation levels should be essential to determine when it is safe to get out, see my post on Measuring Radiation Levels for useful information. And, my personal favorite, add a video game console or computer with the game Fallout 1, 2, 3, and 4, which deals exactly with the scenario of a nuclear war, laughs guaranteed.

Keep reading for future updates!

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