Tag: Geiger counter

Should we prepare for a nuclear emergency?

Image of explosion, a nuclear emergency.

After several years of quiet about accidents or attacks involving nuclear energy, suddenly we find it again in the headlines. In Ukraine, a nuclear emergency was threatened when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was hit by a Russian missile and experienced an explosion and fire. That situation may have been contained, but the danger isn’t over. And as I write this, European countries and allies – including the U.S. – are considering how to respond to Russia’s threat of using nuclear weapons in its bid to take over Ukraine.

At the same time, from the other side of the world, we hear that earlier this week North Korea conducted its largest intercontinental ballistic missile test ever. It looks as though this newest weapon might be able to deliver nuclear warheads anywhere in the United States.

So the headline on this Advisory isn’t meant to be a scare tactic. It IS meant to make sure your general preparedness knowledge includes a better understanding of nuclear emergencies!

Important: know the difference between a nuclear accident and a nuclear attack.

Each of these could be considered a nuclear emergency, but there’s a big difference in how you might have to respond.

  • Accidents to nuclear reactors have been caused by earthquakes, tsunamis and mistakes by people running the plant. When for whatever reason the cooling fails, it follows that equipment overheats, pipes burst and ultimately the reactor “melts down.” Radiation can be released into the air and the “plume” is spread by the winds.
  • A deliberate attack with a nuclear weapon could have a much greater impact. Even a small “tactical” weapon could cause a violent blast and fireball followed by an immediate release of radiation into the air. A full-fledged atomic bomb could repeat what happened in 1945 at Hiroshima. We’ve all seen those mushroom pictures.

Preparing for a nuclear emergency is pretty straightforward.

If you are caught in the middle of an explosion, there’s not much you can do to protect yourself. There’s a reason why nuclear weapons aren’t used in war.

But if you have any warning at all, here are the steps as recommended by the U.S. Government.

First, protect yourself from the blast itself!

If you are caught outside without warning, and you see the flash, get down! Face into the ground, keep your hands under your body. Protect exposed skin from heat and debris. As soon as possible, get up and take shelter to protect yourself from the radioactive fallout that is on its way.

Immediately get into to the nearest building. Head to the basement or to an interior room with no windows. Brick and cement block buildings are safest. Bring your pet in, too. These reminder images come from the CDC.

Next, get inside. Your goal is to be inside before the fallout arrives!

Fallout is like dust. It floats and ultimately comes down onto the ground. Whatever it touches it contaminates. Fallout gives off the most radiation in the first few hours after the blast. As time goes on, it weakens.

To repeat, seek out shelter below ground or in the middle of a building. Close windows, block fireplace, turn off A/C and fans to keep fallout from getting in.

If you were outside and believe you have been contaminated, as soon as you are safe inside remove your clothing and wash skin and hair with plain water. Gently wash pets, too. Seal contaminated clothing in plastic bags.

Once inside, plan to stay inside until the “all clear” is sounded. Assume at least 24 hours.

Sheltering in place after a nuclear emergency means . . .

  • Do NOT try to reunite with family – going outside may contaminate or re-contaminate you!
  • Be sure you have an emergency crank or battery-operated radio so you can get the news and hear the all-clear.
  • Use supplies of clean food and water – NOT food or water that may have been exposed to radiation!

If you live in a “target location” for a deliberate nuclear strike, don’t wait. Take action now to prepare for a nuclear emergency.

A target is most likely going to be a military installation or a nuclear reactor. We have more than 90 nuclear power plants in the U.S., and over 4,500 military installations.

  1. Find out if you live or work near a target! You can search for “military bases near me” to get Google’s local map with red pointers. And you can find a map showing nuclear power plants here:   http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/ Most reactors are in the eastern part of the U.S.
  2. Find out your local government’s “emergency plan” for a nuclear disaster at the target location. The plan probably involves evacuation.
  3. Have a Go-Bag packed so you can grab it if evacuation is called. Hopefully your car is half full of gas or fully charged.
  4. If evacuation is unrealistic, be ready to seal yourself into your house.
  5. Have a supply of potassium iodide (KI). It can help block radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid gland. The thyroid is the part of the body that is most sensitive to radioactive iodine. Potassium iodide is nonprescription and FDA approved. You’ll need enough for every family member for several days. Pills cost around a dollar each.
  6. You may want a way to measure radiation levels. Our bodies can manage exposure to low levels of radiation. Very high levels can cause immediate burns and sickness, as well as long term health problems including cancer.

Here are some products we have researched and recommend as potential additions to your emergency supplies. Click on links to get current prices and full details at Amazon, where we are Associates.

KI tablets, USP, 130 mg. 14 count. 

As you are shopping, consider the make-up of your family, and whether it would be easier for you to have smaller tablets (adults take two, child takes one) or even liquid (would have to be mixed with something). This is an inexpensive item so get a big enough supply that you don’t have to worry about running out. (Click on link above the image to get current price and how to use. These items go quickly; there are other options if these tablets are out of stock.)

For a better understanding of what’s going on around you, consider a radiation detector. Prices at Amazon range from under $20 to well over $500 so be sure to shop carefully!  Here are two examples. The first one, a simple card, would be very handy; it doesn’t require any maintenance or batteries.

Personal Radiation Detector for Wallet or Pocket

RADTriage FIT Personal Radiation Detector for Wallet or Pocket, Nuclear Radiation Detector, Electromagnetic Field Radiation Detector, Anti Radiation Dosimeter, Ready-to-Go Portable Radiation Detector. Store in refrigerator and lasts for years.

Full Featured Geiger Counter with LED readout and Audio Alarm

GQ GMC-500Plus Geiger Counter Nuclear Radiation Detector Monitor Dosimeter. Two tubes detect wide range of levels; lithium battery. Click link above the image for full details at Amazon.
Be sure to read the useful comments from purchasers!

Older folks know all about preparing for a nuclear emergency. If you’re younger, this may be new.

Please share this with the right people. And pick up supplies that make sense for you. I hope we’ll never have to test your preparedness on this one.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Nuclear Bomb Threat – What to do


Text - not a drill

If you’re close enough to hear a siren or get a text like the one above, you are in potential danger.

It doesn’t matter whether the danger is coming from a nuclear plant leak, a terrorist explosion or an incoming missile.

Take action immediately. You may have just a few minutes.

  1. Get to shelter. Get deeper into a building or deeper underground to put as much solid material – bricks, concrete, dirt – between you and the radioactive fallout. Obviously, if your shelter is hit directly by a bomb, it won’t protect you.
  2. Stay in your shelter. Radioactivity is worst at the time of the blast, but dissipates pretty quickly. According to the Department of Homeland Security, radiation will have declined to a little as 1% after 2 weeks.
  3. Don’t come out until it’s safe. This may mean 24 hours or it may mean 2 weeks or even longer! You’ll only know it’s safe if you have a way to get emergency communications from official sources.

Basic preparations to take now

Most preparations for a nuclear disaster are pretty simple, and follow the guidelines that we’ve laid out many times. Here’s a quick reminder list.

  1. Have a survival kit that you can grab at a moment’s notice. Take it with you to your shelter. You may want to have a battery-operated walkie-talkie in each family member’s kit so you can stay together in the dark.
  2. Stock your shelter with food and other supplies so you can shelter in place for days if need be. Obviously, if you are traveling or not at home, it will be difficult if not impossible to have enough supplies for a lengthy emergency stay.
  3. Be sure you have an emergency FM radio so you can monitor official transmissions.

Advanced preparations if you are in a target location

Some areas are more likely to be targets than others. For example, right now the emphasis seems to be on Guam and Hawaii, which could be reached by missiles from North Korea.

However, every nuclear reactor in the country – there are about 100 of them – could also be subject to an emergency or terrorist attack, as could different manufacturing, government or military centers.

If you live near one of these “prime targets,” you may want to make more preparations. These could include:

  1. Find out what your local government’s “emergency plan” is for a nuclear disaster. It probably involves evacuation.
  2. Be ready to seal yourself into your house. Bring in pets. Close all windows and doors, shut off fireplace, heater and A/C.
  3. Have a supply of potassium iodide (KI). It’s nonprescription and FDA approved. You’ll need enough for every family member for several days. Pills cost lessz than a dollar each. Be sure to check on expiry date.
  4. Consider having a way to measure the levels of radioactivity yourself. Geiger counters start at around $150. There are also Smartphone apps to measure radiation.

If you want more info and some specific recommendations for these products, please check out an earlier – now updated! — Advisory: https://emergencyplanguide.org/what-threat-do-you-face-from-a-nuclear-reactor-emergency/

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you get caught in an active radiation blast, you’ll need to protect yourself as best you can and then get the radiation — carried through the air like dust — off you. Steps for decontamination are pretty much removing your clothes and then washing off your body and hair.  Here’s an article from NPR that describes the process and the imprecise nature of that process: Decontamination



What threat do you face from a nuclear reactor emergency


Nuclear Power PlantWe have written before about the shadowy world of nuclear power plants. In last week’s news I found another of the disconcerting developments connected with plants that have been shut down and that are going through the “decommissioning process.”

This news comes from Vermont.

Briefly, the purpose of decommissioning is to remove and dispose of contaminated materials so that the property may be released for other uses. Since decommissioning can be a long and complicated. the plant owner is required during the plant’s lifetime to set money aside for that purpose.

Naturally, once the plant stops producing power, owners want to shut it down as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.

One of the steps they take is to petition to have the “emergency zone” around the plant reduced. We have written before about the 50-mile-zone vs. the 10-mile-zone; you can check that Advisory by clicking here.

It turns out that Entergy, owner of Vermont Yankee, has successfully petitioned the NRC not only to stop supporting planning in the 50-mile zone, but also planning in the 10-mile zone. In fact, it has petitioned to eliminate ALL its responsibility to the 18 towns around the plant.

Apparently the funds set aside for decommissioning have also been “used for other purposes.” Lawsuits are being filed, hearings held. It’s not clear what the outcome will be.

But this brings up the whole issue of emergency planning around nuclear power plants.

Can you answer these questions about living near a nuclear power plant?

Nuclear Reactors U.S.1. How far away is the closest nuclear plant?

There are about 100 operating nuclear plants in the U.S., and most tend to have a low profile. So if you don’t really know where the nearest reactor is located, here’s a link to a map from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC):  http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/  *There’s a lot more info behind each pin on the map at the site.

2. In an emergency, how will you be affected?

The NRC defines two emergency planning zones around nuclear power plants: 1) a “plume exposure” zone with a radius of 10 miles, where airborne radioactive material would directly impact people, and 2) a second zone with a radius of 50 miles where contaminated food and water could be ingested by people within the zone.

(As a side note, Japanese authorities set a 20 km “exclusion zone” around the destroyed Fukushima Daishi power plant. That zone continues to be adjusted as radiation levels change as the result of government clean-up efforts and new weather events.)

3. What preparations can you make to protect yourself from a nuclear accident?

If you live near an operating plant, it’s likely that the first you’ll know of an emergency is when you hear a siren. (3-5 minute blast, repeated) Immediately tune to your local FM radio station or TV station, or to one of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) stations.

  • Plan to shelter in place. The major hazard in the plume area is direct exposure to the radiation cloud – through breathing, touching particles on the ground, or eating materials that have been contaminated.
  • Go indoors and stay there. Close doors and windows and shut off furnaces, fireplaces and air conditioners. Keep pets inside. If you’re in your car, close the windows and vents.
  • Keep listening for updates!

4. What will the authorities be doing?

  • An evacuation may be called. Grab your survival kit/evacuation kit and follow instructions. Hopefully your car’s gas tank is at least half full.
  • You may be advised to take potassium iodide (KI). KI is a nonprescription medication that blocks uptake of radioactive iodine by the thyroid gland. It is FDA-approved and readily available, coming in 65 and 130 mg tablets and liquid form; children need half or even a quarter of the dose for adults, so follow directions carefully. KI is effective for about 24 hours and you need to have enough to last every member of the family for several days or until you can get out of the affected zone. (See purchase info at the bottom of this article.)
  • You’ll be notified when it’s safe to return. (How can you be sure it’s safe? See “More resources,” below.)

5. What about the threat of a closed plant?

Here in Southern California, the San Onofre plant ceased operations in 2013 after a history of maintenance problems. The owner of the plant is just now putting final touches on its “decommissioning plan.” Spent fuel is being stored in one of the closed reactor containers — just hundreds of yards from the Pacific ocean (risk of tsunami?).  Since the 2010 U.S. census counts over 8 million people living within 50 miles of the plant, ANY emergency here will have a big impact!

Clearly, the chances of a nuclear disaster are far less for a plant that is no longer running, but as long as radioactive fuel is still being stored on site a certain threat remains, whether from a weather event (like what happened and continues to happen in Japan) or a terrorist event.

So it’s back to you and your emergency planning team, whether that’s your family, your local neighborhood emergency response team or your workplace leaders:

  • Are you near a nuclear plant?
  • Is it operating at full or reduced capacity?
  • Is it shut down or scheduled to be shut down?
  • What is the emergency plan for the site?

As an active and concerned citizen, it’s up to you to learn more. I hope this article can be the impetus. We’ll continue to share what we learn . . .

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

More resources:

Buy KI tablets. As you are shopping, consider the make-up of your family, and whether it would be easier for you to have smaller tablets (adults take two, child takes one) or even liquid (would have to be mixed with something). This is an inexpensive item so get a big enough supply that you don’t have to worry about running out. This particular item often goes on sale at Amazon — note its expiry date! (Click on image or link to get current price details.)

IOSAT Potassium Iodide Tablets USP, 130 mg, 14 Count


For more understanding of your circumstances, consider a Geiger Counter. You can learn more about them at this Advisory and take a look at two versions here:

SOEKS 01M Plus Generation 2 Geiger Counter Radiation Detector Dosimeter (NEW Model replaces SOEKS 01M)

GCA-07W Professional Geiger Counter Nuclear Radiation Detection Monitor with Digital Meter and External Wand Probe – NRC Certification Ready- 0.001 mR/hr Resolution — 1000 mR/hr Range


There are less expensive options, including this app that works with your phone. Its  low cost makes it attractive for people living or working in areas of moderate risk, or for people who want a backup unit to carry on the road.. . .

Smart Geiger Counter Nuclear Radiation Dosimeter “X-Ray” and “Gamma” Detector Smartphone Android iOS with App


Don’t miss a single Advisory. Sign up below.


Should you include a Geiger Counter in your Survival Kit?


Three reasons for yes.

If you’ve been watching the news lately you no doubt know that our counterterrorism officials’ greatest fear is that terrorists will get their hands on enough nuclear materials to construct “dirty bombs” – bombs that could turn large areas of cities or communities into radioactive cesspools.

1. The dirty bomb threat

Admittedly, the odds are long on any one community becoming a target for this kind of attack. If you happen to live or work in or near a target area, however, having a reliable Geiger counter could be a real asset

2. Nuclear waste storage

While we don’t own one currently, we are considering purchasing a Geiger counter. For us, the decision is prompted by the fact that we are relatively close to a decommissioned nuclear power plant. It was closed a couple of years ago because of numerous equipment failures as well as design and construction flaws.

At first, its closure made us breathe a sigh of relief. Now however, our concern has risen again because levels of security and emergency planning for the decommissioned plant have been allowed to be reduced. And, finally, nuclear waste materials are being stored on the closed site – which is right on the Pacific Ocean and thus an obvious candidate for becoming the victim of storms and tsunamis.

(Why nuclear material is being allowed to be stored in this location is a question to be raised in another post. If you recognize this story as relating to San Onofre, in southern California, and it interests you, read more at: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/nuclear-658213-edison-waste.html)

3. Landfill threatened by fire

You may not have a nuclear power plant nearby, but consider this horror story that came out just last week.

According to St. Louis County (MO) officials, an underground fire at a landfill – a fire that has been burning for 5 years – is now within 1,000 feet of a nuclear waste dump.

Clouds of smoke have already polluted the region. Now it looks as though the fire will reach the decades-old dump filled with nuclear waste from government projects (like the Manhattan Project!) and weapons manufacturing — creating a radioactive smoke plume.

This entire situation became headline news in October when the school district sent out a letter to parents advising them that the school had “an evacuation plan for students” for when the fire reaches the landfill. Apparently, no plans for stopping the fire.

(Again, get more on this story at:  http://thefreethoughtproject.com/st-louis-preparing-nuclear-disaster-landfill-fire-nears-radioactive-waste-site/)

Could you use a Geiger Counter?

If you find yourself in any of these situations, or in similar ones, understanding your exposure to radioactive material may be prudent. If you travel to Japan, or if you are concerned about radiation levels in the food you eat, a Geiger counter could provide you with peace of mind.

In any case, here are two pieces of equipment to consider:

SOEKS 01M Plus Generation 2 Geiger Counter Radiation Detector Dosimeter (NEW Model replaces SOEKS 01M)

GCA-07W Professional Geiger Counter Nuclear Radiation Detection Monitor with Digital Meter and External Wand Probe – NRC Certification Ready- 0.001 mR/hr Resolution — 1000 mR/hr Range

There are less expensive options, including . . .

Smart Geiger Counter Nuclear Radiation Dosimeter “X-Ray” and “Gamma” Detector Smartphone Android iOS with App

The cost for the Smart Lab app (less than $35 when we wrote this) is a no-brainer for people who live and/or work in areas of moderate risk, or for people who just want a backup unit to carry on the road.

We are considering purchasing one of these for testing in our CERT program and, if they work as well as advertised we’ll probably purchase a half dozen for our Special Teams. As for the more expensive instruments, we recommend that you review all of the listed makes and make your decision based on your perceived level of risk and your own personal comfort zone.

UPDATE as of 10/25/2015: When we inquired regarding battery life, we received this email from John at Images Scientific Instruments, Inc., the distributor of the GCA-07W model shown above:

The 9V battery is not rechargeable. You can expect 10-12 hours of Geiger Counter usage per battery. Your battery lifetime time may vary. To extend battery life keep the LCD backlight off. 

The Geiger counter has an external wall transformer power supply for extended monitoring.

Final Note:  If you plan to volunteer as an Investigator with MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) to check out UFO sightings and test for radiation at reported landing sites, you will be required to provide your own Geiger counter. In this case, you will probably want the most sensitive unit  that fits your budget. (!)

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

An earlier Advisory describes other safety concerns and radiation-related items for your survival kit.  Read it here.