What To Pack In Case of A Nuclear Attack

Fergus Mason
By Fergus Mason June 29, 2017 13:42

What To Pack In Case of A Nuclear Attack

So if there’s a nuclear attack, and you have to leave your home, what are the things you should stop to pack?

You probably have a list of what to take for less dramatic emergencies – in fact you probably have a decent loadout already packed and ready to go – but it’s hard to imagine any situation more urgent and frightening than the threat of a nuclear weapon.

The first question to ask is, should you be leaving at all? Most of the time the answer to that is going to be a definite no. Even if you haven’t prepared your home for the attack, it’s still going to be the safest place to be in most situations. If at all possible you should stay there.

You have shelter, from the elements as well as the radioactive fallout that’s the biggest threat after the immediate destruction of the explosion itself, and access to all your stored supplies – especially water, which is going to be a problem everywhere.

However, sometimes leaving is going to be the only option. If your home has been seriously damaged, for example, or if it’s on fire and you can’t put it out, staying there isn’t a realistic option. If there’s a burning nuclear power station a mile upwind then you’re probably going to want to get out as fast as you can. You might even decide you’re at risk from a follow-up strike. If someone hit the air force base a mile down the road, and all your windows are blown in but the base is still operational, the chances are they’ll hit it again with a bigger weapon. You probably don’t want to be around when that happens, so a quick exit is your best option.

What are the dangers?

After a nuclear strike society is going to collapse fast. The weapons will destroy a lot of infrastructure; EMP will disable much of what’s left. There will be widespread panic, millions of people fleeing the cities and all the other chaos that goes with social disintegration. So you’ll face all the hazards that come with any major breakdown. Of course, you’re probably prepared for that as well as you can be, so although it might be a bit worse than you’d expected it isn’t totally out of the ordinary.

Social collapse is bad enough, but there will be nuclear fallout to deal with on top of it. Highly radioactive fallout will start coming down within minutes of the explosion as heavier particles settle out, and can keep falling for several hours – up to a day from a very large explosion. Then there will be a relatively clear period for several days, before smaller dust and smoke particles that have been blown right up into the stratosphere start to descend. This can keep falling for weeks or months, and will be carried huge distances by high-altitude winds, so even if you were hundreds of miles from the nearest explosion it’s still a hazard.

The radioactivity of fallout decays over time, and two weeks after the attack it will be down to 0.1% of its initial levels, so the key to surviving fallout is to be as sheltered as possible in the 14 after the blast – and the first wave of fallout is the most dangerous of all. To have any chance you need to get upwind of the explosion as quickly as possible, which means a quick departure. Every minute you hang around after the bang you’re increasing the risk when you do leave. What you need to do is hit the right balance between getting out of there and being as safe as possible when you do.

Related: The Best Way to Prepare Your Home for A Nuclear Attack

What to take

Firstly, grab your bugout bag. You’ll need all the stuff in there, so it’s a sensible place to start. Even if you don’t have time to collect anything else, it’s worth having. The chances are it doesn’t contain anything that’s going to protect against fallout, though, so there’s some other gear you should prioritize.

Fallout emits alpha and beta radiation. This isn’t electromagnetic radiation like the gamma and hard X-rays released by the explosion itself; they’re particles. Alpha particles don’t penetrate well; in fact they’re stopped by normal clothing, a sheet of paper or even the layer of dead cells on top of your skin. On the other hand, if they do make it into your body they’re incredibly damaging. If you inhale fallout, or get it in an open would or burn, the alpha radiation can attack your body.

Protective clothing

If you’re moving around once fallout starts coming down, but before its radiation has had time to decay, some kind of mask is absolutely essential. A military grade gas mask is the best; a spray painting mask, or even a simple dust mask, will also keep the fallout from being inhaled. An improvised activated charcoal mask will work very well. Remember that after you’ve been using it the mask – or filter canister, if it uses them – will be radioactive, so as soon as you’re in whatever shelter you end up in get rid of it. Throw it, and its radiation, outside.

If you have goggles, take them with you. Wear them any time you’re exposed to fallout to keep the particles out of your eyes – they can cause a lot of damage there. If they’re ventilated seal the vents with tape.

The other danger from fallout is beta particles. These can penetrate almost an inch of aluminum plate, so your clothes won’t stop them. However, the further away you can keep the fallout from your body the fewer particles will hit you, so you need to keep it off your skin. Wet weather gear is ideal for this. Fine dust, like fallout, that lands on normal clothing can work its way through the weave and end up next to your skin. Waterproof fabric will also keep dust out, so it makes an ideal top layer. Any fallout that does get on it tends to fall off, too, and that helps minimize your radiation exposure. Fallout that stays on your clothing will do more damage, so if you have a waterproof coat and rain pants that’s what you should wear.

A disposable rain poncho or plastic sheet over the top will give even more protection – and it’s worth wearing one even if you don’t have anything else. Pack some in your bugout bag. If you have rain boots wear those, for the same reason. Otherwise consider wrapping your feet in trash bags; again, you can throw these away when you get to shelter. Put gloves on and either put your hood up or wear a hat.

Food and water

Fallout will contaminate water supplies, and boiling is no help at all against radioactivity, so take as much drinkable water with you as you can carry (and if you have a running vehicle, fill it with as many containers as you can; municipal or well water should be safe for at least an hour after the attack).

Boiling won’t remove fallout from water, but filtering will. The water itself won’t become radioactive, so if you can get rid of the dust it will be safe. Pack any water filtration gear you have, so you can make any water you collect safe to drink. If you don’t have anything else several layers of tightly-woven cloth will remove a lot of the fallout, and that’s much better than nothing. You need a water filter to do a proper job, though. Homemade activated charcoal filters are ideal, because they’re cheap and you’re going to have to dispose of filters well before their useful life is up – they’ll become radioactive as soon as you start running fallout-contaminated water through them, and the more you use them the higher the levels will get.

The same goes for food. Sealed cans or packets should be relatively safe, but fresh produce or bread can potentially be contaminated – and eating anything with fallout on it is a very bad idea. In fact any crops that are harvested within a couple of months of the attack are suspect, because they’ll have picked up radioactive chemicals from the soil. Rely on sealed, processed food for as long as possible – and take as much as you can with you when you leave.

If it’s at all possible, stay in your home after a nuclear strike and don’t leave your fallout room for at least two weeks. But, if you do have to move, taking the right gear with you will give you a much better chance of getting through the aftermath.

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Fergus Mason
By Fergus Mason June 29, 2017 13:42
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  1. wilbur June 29, 15:45

    If one survives the attacks I wonder what will be worse, the anarchy of the masses or the slow death from the radiation. I personally prefer the latter. People can be so ugly . check out Black Fridays after Thanksgiving. ww

    Reply to this comment
  2. left coast chuck June 29, 16:05

    In an earlier item posted on this site I posted a link to a power point presentation from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory regarding radiation from a nuclear event. This is an informative, easy to follow presentation. I would highly recommend going back a couple of articles and finding that website reference.

    The above article is somewhat inaccurate in some aspects. For instance it recommends throwing contaminated articles outside your shelter. While that is better than keeping them inside the shelter, contaminated articles should be buried rather than “throwing them outside.” There are other instances where the advice is weak. When it comes to radiation effects, I think it is best to take your advice from folks who have some actual training in radiation protection; people who have an academic background in nuclear physics and radiation protection as opposed to some well-meaning writer who, perhaps, took an NBC course 40 years ago.

    Reply to this comment
    • Gray June 29, 17:23

      Why not post it here or at least tell us for which article to look through the comments?

      Reply to this comment
    • CCTer June 29, 23:36

      Chuck, can you repost the link to the presentation that you mentioned. Thanks

      Reply to this comment
    • Fergus July 5, 04:09

      “contaminated articles should be buried rather than “throwing them outside.””

      Normally I’d agree. However, do you want to spend time outside burying them, and stirring up more fallout in the process? Maybe not.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Savant June 29, 18:39

    With due respect, normal filtration will not make the water safe. One of the most problematic isotopes is radioactive iodine and most compounds of it are water soluble. An RO filter will remove most if not all of it. Distillation will also work. The water should be boiled for a few minutes before distillate is collected. This is because radioactive iodine is volatile and will vaporize from the boiling water. Ionic iodine is not volatile but will be removed from from the water by distillation Done properly, this is the best purification method for this problem. Actually, most well water will be good for some time after a nuclear attack.if there is no rapid leaching of surface water into the well water and if the leaching is very slow, e.g. months, the well water will never be bad.
    The writer has a degree in chemistry with a minor in physics.

    Reply to this comment
  4. left coast chuck June 30, 03:47

    I printed a couple of the pages of the report. This is taken right from page 5:
    “When unstable atoms transform they often eject particles from their nucleus. The most common of these are:
    Alpha radiation – High energy, but short range (travel an inch in air, not an external hazard.
    Beta radiation – Longer range (10 – 20 feet in air) and can be a skin and eye hazard for high activity beta sources.
    Gama Rays (electromagnetic radiation) Often accompany particle radiation. This “penetrating” radiation is an external hazard and can travel 100s of feet in air.”

    I will see if I can find the website. It was a reference from another website. Someone who is really good at searching can help. The document is UCRL-PRES-149818 Understanding Radiation and its Effects. (the text is “it’s Effects) Apparently while they have advanced degrees in nuclear energy, they got a C- in English. The date of the document is 1/16/2003. UCRL is University of California Radiation Laboratory. Ahh that explains it. They went to kallyforniya schools where English is a third or fourth language. As I recall the URL was exceedingly long as it seemed as if this document was buried deep in several others.

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  5. left coast chuck June 30, 03:58

    Come on, folks, you are going to have to get off your butts and do some investigation. It took me about three minutes to find my post under “The Best Way to Prepare Your Home for a Nuclear Attack.” That’s not extended investigation. So for those of you who are sitting around waiting for the bomb to drop, here is the url:


    I generally try to avoid rude comments, but this was so easy to find I wonder about your diligence in really preparing for an end of the world situation. There literally is a ton of information available to anyone who is willing to spend some time looking for it. Of course a lot of it is milquetoast pseudo information such as a couple of recent article on this list. I don’t expect a home run every time Mr. Davis comes up to bat. After all, Babe Ruth struck out more times than he hit a home run. So, we are going to get some weak or misinformation but with a little discerning reading, even picking up one or two suggestions or ideas makes it worth reading. BUT IF YOU WANT TO LEARN, YOU HAVE TO LOOK FOR THE INFORMATION. I would use bold face and not caps but can’t do that with this website. Can’t even do underscore. Anyway, you now have the website. But you have to go there yourselves and read it yourself. I’m not going to read it to you.

    Reply to this comment
    • Kat August 21, 18:15

      On phone, i touched the web address you gave, downloaded it when prompted. And I’m technologically challenged.

      Reply to this comment
  6. Ron June 30, 19:01

    “If someone hit the air force base a mile down the road, and all your windows are blown in”…

    Game Over! You are dead and your house has disappeared.

    Reply to this comment
    • Fergus July 5, 04:11

      Well, maybe. Or maybe not. It depends on the size of the weapon. A surprising amount will be left standing a mile from a typical nuke of about 250kt.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Nikki July 1, 03:46

    Hello I purchased you water fileration dynamo system but I purchased over my phone can I get that download for my ipad

    Reply to this comment
  8. redrue July 8, 07:54

    While I wish to live to a very old age, if such hell breaks I would hope that the good Lord would take my daughter and I together and get us out of here permanently. I do not want to live in a world where everyone is at each other’s throats unwilling to help each other out of mistrust and afraid that what they have managed to save up will get taken etc. The mayhem will be out of any control and people will be too scared to do anything, if they have not already. It is not going to be a very manageable situation and there will be so much suffering and death. The worst horror story, plus ten, that you have ever seen. And how long can what you can carry last…not long and if one can get to a safe place, how can we trust each other enough to manage? Sadly that is true now, much less during the worst time anyone has experienced in
    their lives….I would rather stay home, even though I live about 75-100 miles from one of the large nuke plants in the US. I hear colloidal silver it s a good thing to have near a plant. I read here that iodine was bad with nukes, but I thought that was a protectant for one’s thyroid? Anyone know for sure? How many people are
    really all that savvy or organized to do what is needed?
    It sounds exhausting to me and expensive to get and do all that is necessary, but hey, yes- I want to live if life can be somewhat reasonable. Truthfully though, if we have descended into such a low and ignorant place that such has to happen, then we will have deserved it with our apathy, failure to stand up TOGETHER and fight for our nation, as it was founded to be! So many have turned their backs on faith, our nation, sensible living and any morals- that it appears that if most were incinerated it would be a blessing in fact. America has tried so hard and done so much for others, that we have ignored our own and our country…that is pathetic! Our government is corrupt and would rather be socialist and communist, than free and honorable…more than pathetic! Unless we pull together for the cause of freedom and American ways we are going to lose all of them and become a place NO ONE will want to live–instead of the place everyone wants to come to. It will not be the place it was that made it worth so much! No one is going to stand up for us or with us, so WE have to do what we can do to save this country and freedom…are we willing to stand and fight together?
    I hope so…because then and only then will we be the people God meant us to be and worthy of the nation we have so ignorantly destroyed with the insanity of the lefters, the Dems, and those that hate America but live here and were born here….those I hope the bombs fall on for sure, if they have to come. Such a time will bring us to our knees and that would be a good thing because too many have no idea what it means to honor God, the Lord and to have faith. Yet that is what we were founded on; faith and freedom to be! God Bless this nation with sanity again, please!!

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  9. IvyMike January 7, 02:37

    Hiroshima, book by John Hersey.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Frank February 17, 19:42

    Well, like with everything, sometimes we just have to use our own judgement and the fact is that when it’s actually happening is when you’ll know what to do as any potential problems will be obvious to you.
    I believe that the world will go on, that many will survive and even if it’s just pockets of people, and those who make it will find a lot of resources available. Many are betting that only the rich and privileged will have any chance, but those who expect to be cared for will not have the knowledge, skills or fortitude to carry on. They will ultimately come to rely on some blue collar workers, a middle class family or a country boy and his grandma to save them from post apocalypse starvation and general suffering. It’s a matter of planning to survive the waiting game and avoiding exposure to radiation till things clear up a bit. The hardest part to me is keeping food sources (Ponds, gardens, etc) and livestock safe.

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