The Loh Down On Science

Studying nuclear fallout makes a controversial comeback

Planning Guidance [Manual] for Response to a Nuclear Detonation / National Security Staff

Figure 3.1: Building as shielding – Numbers represent a dose reduction factor. A dose reduction factor of 10 indicates that a person in that area would receive 1/10th of the dose of a person in the open. A dose reduction factor of 200 indicates that a person in that area would receive 1/200th of the dose of a person out in the open.

Cheery question:  What's the best way to survive a nuclear blast?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, struggling to remember the Cold War.

Back then, everyone knew about nuclear bombs:  The initial explosion produces a localized shock wave, intense light, and searing heat.  Then the danger is widespread fallout:  radioactive particles of dust and debris. 

Today, as before, the government says:  Shelter someplace with thick walls and no windows.  Like a basement, or your survivalist neighbor's concrete bunker.

But what if you don't have either?  Since fallout is worst initially, are you better off staying in your flimsy home?  Or should you seek better shelter right away? 

Michael Dillon of Livermore National Lab says:  If you can get to a better shelter within five minutes, go go go.  But if better shelter is 15 minutes away, wait to head out.  But no more than 30 minutes. 

Confused?  Us too!  That's why critics say the model isn't helpful for a real emergency.

As far as bomb shelters go, all the more reason to give peace – and canned peas, if need be – a chance. 

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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