Can You Survive a Radioactive Zombie Apocalypse?
Our Three-part Series Will Tell You What You Need to Know to Help You Stay Alive.
Originally published on TS Alan’s blog in May 2014. This re-post has been updated.
Most zombie genre authors don’t write about it and films don’t touch on it, but in a zombie apocalypse you’ll be dealing not only with the rampaging undead but most likely ones that are radioactive. When an outbreak happens, workers that maintain power stations, specifically nuclear power plants, will no longer be there to keep critical systems operational. Furthermore, the diesel engines used for backup generators only have enough fuel supply for three days.
There are 104 operational nuclear reactors in the United States alone with a second reactor due to come online in 2016 at the Watts Bar, Tennessee facility, and 28 applications since 2008 received by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for proposed new nuclear reactors. There are now over 440 commercial nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries. 56 of those countries operate a total of about 250 research reactors and a further 180 nuclear reactors power some 140 ships and submarines.
Nuclear power plants have fail-safe measures in place to prevent nuclear meltdown in case of a power failure. These include emergency diesel-powered generators, which are used to keep cooling pumps running. However, they will fail once their fuel supply depletes. Since spent fuel rods keep generating heat even after they are extracted, they are kept in deep pools of chilled, flowing water until they are cool and safe enough to be extracted and disposed of properly. Once the pumps stop, however, the cooling tanks will heat up causing the water to boil off; and when the water boils off, the fuel rods will become exposed and explode.
The destruction of these plants will cause massive radioactive noble gases and radioactive fallout far worse than Chernobyl. The chance of you being exposed to radioactivity is likely, even more so for those who live near nuclear power plants. And those zombies? The mostly brain dead undead will be wandering around all the fallout absorbing mass amounts of radioactivity, creating a radioactive zombie apocalypse.
Short-lived radioactive isotopes such as I-131s are initially the most dangerous. But due to their short half-lives (of 5 and 8 days), they will quickly decay. Since radionuclides with short half-lives break down long before they can affect groundwater supplies, this means that groundwater will not be badly affected. However, it will be the longer-lived radioisotopes such as cesium and strontium (with a half-life of nearly 30 years) that will remain the most dangerous. So, even though Potassium Iodine (the most common and effective treatment for radiation poisoning), if you can find it and take it in time, can effectively block the thyroid gland’s absorption of radioactive iodine and thus help prevent thyroid cancers and other diseases that are caused by exposure to airborne radioactivity, it is not a magic pill. There is no medicine that will effectively prevent nuclear radiation from damaging the human body.
So how can you avoid contamination? How can you tell if you are wandering through a radioactive hotspot, or that food or water supply you have just scavenged is irradiated, or that horde of zombies pursuing you is radioactive? You’ll need a Personal Radiation Detector (PRD) to warn you, so choosing the right one is a matter of survival.
There are several inherent problems with many “portable” PRDs currently available to the civilian populous, starting with some meter units that are designed for ‘peace time’ low-level radiation use and will not detect the higher, more dangerous, levels associated with nuclear emergencies. Although these PRDs are adequate for measuring natural background radiation levels (and above) to a point, most will ‘max out’ before the radiation levels approach anything near life-threatening (100 rads per/hr). Trying to determine the maximum dosage rate a unit can measure can be difficult. Most manufacturers’ specifications can be confusing, unless you’re a nuclear scientist.
What you need is a PRD that can detect low-level radiation and can warn you away from exposure to those higher levels of potentially lethal radiation. Look for units that can measure from 1 μR to 600+ R, gamma and 1 to 100 cps, neutron. Keep in mind if the PRD’s highest measurable dose rate is one roentgen per hour, then it is far too low to be of much use in a nuclear disaster.
Other issues amongst most units are a very limited battery life, relying on “AA” or 9-V alkaline batteries, some only able to operate up to 600 hours. There is also a size issue. Many are the size of paperback novel and either need to be carried in your bugout bag or clipped to your belt.
The most important things to consider when purchasing a PRD are: its sensitivity range from background radiation levels to extremely high fields, weight, ruggedness, battery life, a small size and the ability to detect both gamma and neutron radioactivity.
There are a handful of PRDs that fulfill the aforementioned considerations, and the cost can vary from a few hundred dollars to well over $1,000. Whatever you decide, just remember: Think smart, shop wisely, stay vigilant and be safe.