Monday, August 29, 2022

Planning For Putin's Nightmare Landscaping

One of the big issues after a thermonuclear Holocaust, just in case that is not enough, is food.  Yes, canned food is safe.  Just wash off the can.

Remember that the average American is carrying at least three weeks of reserve meals on them at all times.  The Civil Defense Diet will doubtless reduce long term cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and joint problems.  Short term, a lot of stress-related heart attacks and people overdoing it while digging through the rubble at the nearest Doritos factory.

But what about food not yet harvested?  The radioactive part of the fallout is dust and should wash off early. Wash the wheat before you grind it into flour.  Animals are a problem because they are not very competent at taking direction.  Herbivores will take in large quantities of radionuclides.  As predators up the food chain concentrate the nasties plan to take bear off your menu.

Now here is where it gets interesting.  A lot of the radionuclides are short-lived: I-131 has an 8 day half-life; in 32 days it will be at 1/16th initial levels.  Unfortunately iodine is a  critical nutritional component so you need to keep your body flushed with non-radioactive iodine for a few weeks.

Many of the nasty radionuclides have long half-lives like strontium-90 (29 years) and its daughter yttrium-90 (64 very hot days).  Strontium is especially important because it is chemically similar enough to calcium to replace it in your body (bones, neurotransmitters, teeth in growing children).  In some of these places these are permanent and will continue to spread radiation in destructive ways for many inches or even feet for years (beta particles in these cases with substantial range).

What about this stuff in the ground and water?  The short-lived stuff would decay to undangerous elements before most makes it into harvestable crops.  It might be best to live on whatever emergency food as long as you can.  In five years, a big fraction of the Sr-90 and Cs-137 will have decayed in the ground: that which is incorporated into the crops has another few months to cool and another month or two to reach your table.

Now we get to the cost-benefit ratio.  You have (slightly) radioactive wheat.  You are hungry.  Not "I want some Doritos" but I have not eaten in a week.  That wheat may cause stomach cancer in five years. Hunger, or Thunderdome, may kill you in the meantime.  Eat the bread.  If you are 60 or above, you will probably die of old age before the cancer.  Reserve the canned food for the younger ones.

What about radiation affecting the most common elements we use.  Hydrogen under neutron attack turns to deuterium which is not radioactive.  The tiny fraction of deuterium with a one petasecond dalliance with a neutron goes to radioactive tritium.  Most of the other elements (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen) have two isotopes: a very common one and the plus one neutron which is also stable.  It takes a lot of unlucky collisions to make much N-16, C-14, or O-18.  Worry more about botulism.

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