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Nuclear war? Head for the basement.

Nuclear war? Head for the basement

If nuclear war rained devastation and fallout upon the UnitedStates, how would the surviving population fare? Potentially better than most might have been led to expect, according to a new analysis in the March HEALTH PHYSICS. It found that "except for the heaviest fallout regions, the sheltering provided by an unprepared basement [and an initial, continuous] shelter time of no more than three weeks will suffice' to protect survivors from a lethal dose of radiation. Since about half of all U.S. residences have basements, and since many multi-story apartment and office buildings offer about as much radiological protection as an unprepared basement, most survivors would have access to adequate protection, report physicists Robert Ehrlich of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and James Ring of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

The pair used fallout patterns and calculations computed byothers for an "all-out attack against urban-industrial areas as well as missile silos.' This attack involved 1,444 weapons (6,559 megatons), most detonated at ground level to maximize fallout. Together with what had been published on the protection offered by buildings--including basements--Ehrlich and Ring computed combinations of initial continuous confinement and subsequent periods of daily outdoor excursions necessary to protect sheltered survivors from acute radiation injury.

They note that since outdoor exposures represent thebiggest radiation contribution (and outdoor levels decay with time), the period of continuous shelter before venturing out becomes much more important than how radiologically protective a shelter is. For 75 percent of the United States, 9 days of initial confinement and 85-minute daily excursions thereafter would probably offer about the same, sufficient protection--an 84 percent reduction in dose (in comparison with someone having remained unsheltered all along)--as 21-day confinement and subsequent 7-hour daily trips outside. For most, this reduction would eliminate the need for acute radiation-related medical treatment. Most survivors would still face some long-term increased risk of cancer.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 11, 1987
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