Nuclear War Preparation: How to Survive Nuclear Fallout

Surviving Nuclear Fallout Title

Are you prepared to survive nuclear fallout? Although it seems unlikely, nuclear fallout is always a possibility in the modern world and one that is surprisingly easy to plan for.

None of us want to contemplate a future that includes nuclear fallout, however it is a very real possibility. Several nations with unstable governments and a deep dislike for our own country are developing nuclear capacity. Terrorist groups also often have access to the materials needed to make “dirty bombs” that release radiation. In addition, American nuclear sites may not be as safe as we believe them to be, with terrifying examples in the near past.

Although no one can survive a nuclear blast at close range, there are ways to survive the fallout and to reduce the damage to your body. Many of these methods are easy and economical, allowing all of us the best possible chance at good health for a lifetime, even after a terrifying disaster such as this.

How Nuclear Fallout Effects the Human Body

A nuclear blast is dangerous on several levels. First, there is an initial thermal blast – basically a fast-moving shock wave of heat and light – that fries everything in the immediate vicinity. In addition, there is a great deal of nuclear radiation released which can have far-reaching effects. This radiation is one threat to your health from a nuclear blast that you can actually mitigate.

There are three main types of radiation released in a nuclear blast that we need to worry about. These include:

  • Alpha radiation. This radiation is the easiest to deal with as it is stopped by almost any material, even paper. Your skin is an effective barrier as well, although care must be taken to not ingest it or let it enter the body through cuts or the respiratory system.
  • Beta radiation. This is also stopped by barriers, although not as easily as alpha radiation. It can enter the body through ingestion, breathing, and even through the eyes.
  • Gamma radiation. These rays can penetrate the skin and other thick materials. This is unfortunately also the most deadly form of radiation, causing radiation sickness as well as long-term effects such as thyroid disease and cancer.

Leaving the Area? Your First Line of Protection

So what should you do if you’re suddenly in need of protection from nuclear fallout? Following these steps could save your life.

The first decision is whether you need to shelter in place or evacuate. Local authorities will offer advice based on your area and current weather patterns. If you can outrun radiation, that is usually your best bet. However, roads may be literal death traps if traffic is so congested that you cannot move as quickly as needed. Knowing of several exit routes is essential.

If you can leave, you will likely be safe. If your area has a nuclear fallout shelter, this is likely the best place to go. Many areas have shelters designed for this purpose, often dating back to the Cold War era. You should know ahead of time whether your area has these, where they are, and how to get there quickly.

how to survive nuclear fallout
If you can see the cloud, you should be moving away from it (don’t listen to Fallout’s Vault Boy). Your best strategy is to travel from one safe shelter to another until you’re good and far away.

What If You Can’t Safely Leave?

If you need to shelter in place, the situation becomes more complicated. Some people have nuclear shelters of their own but this is rare. If you have to remain in a shelter that is not designed to protect from nuclear fallout, there are ways to increase your protection.

You will want as much of a barrier between your body and the outside world as possible. Gamma rays can penetrate materials up to 4 inches thick, so a basement or interior room is your best bet. Immediately move all needed supplies such as food, water, and a radio into your planned shelter. It is best if you store needed items in this shelter to reduce the time it takes to prepare. You may have only a few minutes before deadly amounts of radiation diffuse into your area.

Next, improve your barrier. Using duct tape and plastic, cover all windows, doors, faucets, vents, plumbing fixtures, and other ways for outside air to enter your shelter. Consider stacking bricks, bags of sand, or even household items such as books in front of these vulnerable areas.

Gathering Necessities


Once you have secured a safe and fallout-free zone, fill all available containers with water so you will have an ample supply. Your water is likely safe immediately but will quickly become contaminated and unusable. If possible, prepare ahead of time by storing emergency water beforehand. Here is how to safely store tap water for extended periods of time. Plan to be in your sheltered area as long as possible.

First Aid

Good first aid is also essential. Since some types of radiation can enter through wounds, bandage any cuts and scrapes thoroughly. Keep ample supplies of bandages so these dressings can be kept sanitary as long as they are needed.


Ventilation is essential in a small space. You will need two small air vents. These should be fitted with filters, preferably ones designed to keep out radiation. Although radiation can be carried in the air, you will die much more quickly from suffocation than from nuclear particles.

Iodide Pills

Last, keep a supply of potassium iodide pills. Taking iodine will prevent your thyroid from being as severely damaged by radiation. Iodine will fill up receptors and keep radioactive iodine particles from attaching to your cells.

IOSAT Potassium Iodide Pills – 3 Pack

See Price on Amazon  

These are the potassium iodide pills I keep on hand for my family in case of any nuclear related emergencies. I like these because they are individually packaged, have a long shelf life, and are fully FDA approved. These are also the exact same pills the government hands out during nuclear emergencies.

The thyroid is particularly prone to damage from radiation and is a common site of post-radiation cancers. The CDC recommends that people keep potassium iodide in their homes and know the appropriate doses for everyone in their household.

Directions and Dosages:

Potassium iodide pills should be taken as soon after the blast as possible to help prevent damage to the thyroid gland.

  • Adults (including pregnant and breastfeeding women), as well as children weighing over 150 lbs: Take 130 mg.
  • Children between 3 and 18 years of age who are 150 lbs or less: Take 65 mg.
  • Infants and children under 3 years old: Take 16 mg.

It is generally recommended that people take a single dose of potassium iodide as soon as possible. Most people will not need more. However, if the radiation lasts in high levels longer than normal due to weather patterns, authorities may recommend that adults and older children take a second dose at a later time.

How to survive nuclear fallout.
A cameraman accidentally broke his safety goggles immediately before an experimental bomb was dropped. He closed his eyes and covered them with his hand for protection. He claims to have seen the bones in his hand during the explosion, just like an x-ray.

How Long Should You Shelter After a Nuclear Blast?

How will you know when it is safe to leave your shelter? Because of unpredictable weather in your area, having a radiation detector can be helpful. Face masks that provide a barrier against inhaling radiation may be a necessity, especially if you decide to venture outside to assess the situation.

A Few Days

In general, people who are far enough from the blast to escape immediate death, as well as upwind from the event, will be able to leave their shelter in around 72 hours. If you are in this category, you should plan on immediately evacuating the area. Although levels may not be high enough to cause radiation sickness immediately, long-term exposure to low or moderate levels of nuclear fallout is dangerous.

Or Perhaps a Few Weeks

If you are downwind from the event, your area may be exposed to a higher dose of radiation. This will then take longer to dissipate. People in this category may have to shelter in place for weeks before it is safe to leave.

The best way of knowing when it is safe to leave is to wait for the all clear from authorities. Keeping a wind-up radio or other means of communication with the outside world is essential. Do not assume you will have electricity, functional telephone service, or a cell phone grid in the weeks after a nuclear blast. These events can damage infrastructure for months or even years.

The best way to protect yourself when you are cleared to leave is to avoid touching anything in your environment. Cover your eyes and mouth if possible. Treat everything around you as contaminated. The levels of radiation are likely still quite high even if not enough to kill you. Reducing your interaction with the environment and amount of time in a contaminated area is essential to your long-term health.

If you have hazmat suits or respirators, this part of the process is much easier. Simply Dom your choice of protection and flee immediately.

Necessary Items for Nuclear Fallout

It is ideal for every American to have an appropriate fallout shelter or access to a government one in order to survive nuclear fallout. However, this is rare. If you do not have this kind of shelter, you can still be prepared to survive nuclear fallout by having the following items:

  • Heavy plastic sheeting and tape for covering windows and other outlets to the world.
  • 30 day supply of food and water, for each family member.
  • A heat source if your area requires this in certain seasons.
  • A first aid kit including potassium iodide for at least two doses for everyone in your household.
  • A hazmat suit or respirator that protects against radiation, in case you need to venture out to assess safety.
  • Lighting such as flashlights or laterns.
  • An extra change of clothes, to be worn outside the sheltered area and changed before re-entering.
  • Can openers, knives, and other tools.
  • A sanitation kit including toilet paper, feminine hygiene supplies, and a way to dispose of human waste.
  • A radio that does not require electricity.
  • Extra batteries.
  • Various forms of entertainment.
  • Items needed for children and pets if applicable.
  • Personal protection from crazy people, zombies, and anyone else who may decide to invade your safe haven.

This may seem excessive. However, it is the only way to guarantee you are safe in the event of a nuclear blast is to be prepared. These items may make the difference between life and a long painful death.

Video: The Radius of a Nuclear Blast and Fallout

The radius of a nuclear blast and it’s resulting fallout depends on the size of the bomb, how it is detonated (in the air or on the ground), and various other factors. Here are a few examples to gain a better understanding of how your distance from the center of the blast may affect your chances of survival.

Level of Destruction at Various Distances

Name of Bomb
100% Death Rate Most Buildings Collapse 1st Degree Radiation Burns
Davy Crockett
(20 Ton)
66 feet
(20 meters)
197 feet
(60 meters)
394 feet
(120 meters)
Fatman Nagasaki Bomb
(20 Kiloton)
426 feet
(142 yards)
2493 feet
(831 yards)
3900 feet
(1300 yards)
The Tsar Bomb
(100 Megaton)
3 miles
(4.8 kilometers)
19 miles
(31 kilometers)
45 miles
(72 kilometers)

Note: The above listed distances are approximations and are often rounded off. They are meant to give you a general idea of the level of destruction that can be expected at various distances from each type of nuclear bomb.

survive nuclear fallout- immediate blast zones of nuclear bombs
The immediate blast zone of well-known nuclear bombs. Fat Man that hit Nagasaki killed over 70,000 people, and look how small it is in comparison to the Tsar bomb! Note: The Davy Crockett bomb is not depicted here but is approximately 1,000 times smaller than the Fat Man bomb.

Treatment for Radiation Sickness

If you are exposed to high levels of radiation, you should take note of how much time passes before you start feeling the effects of radiation sickness. These effects are usually first noticed in the form of diarrhea and vomiting. The quicker you experience radiation sickness, generally the higher levels of radiation you were exposed to.

Unfortunately, not much can be done to treat radiation sickness in the field. Managing the symptoms is the best that can be done without seeing a specialist in a hospital setting.

The Best Steps to Take Are: 

  1. Limit any further exposure.
  2. Decontaminate the outside of the body.
  3. Treat any radiation burns.

Decontamination can be accomplished by removing and discarding any clothing that was being worn at the time of exposure. This will eliminate approximately 90% of the radioactive particles that are on the outside of the body. Showering will remove additional particles. Performing both these steps as soon as possible after exposure to fallout is extremely important to reduce the chances of external radiation burns. If you were exposed to lethal levels of radiation, death will usually occur between two days and two weeks after exposure.


Although many Americans prefer to ignore the potential threat of nuclear exposure, it is nonetheless a present danger. Preparing for this catastrophic kind of event will not guarantee your safety, but it will certainly increase your chances of survival.

Are you prepared with the necessary fallout items, including some sort of nuclear fallout shelter? Share your plans to survive nuclear fallout below.

John Walter

John Walter is an emergency preparedness consultant with eight years of experience and training in related fields. He is a passionate prepper living in the Sacramento area of California.

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