Earlier this week, North Korea claimed it tested a hydrogen bomb, a thermonuclear bomb so powerful that it uses an atomic bomb as a trigger.
Only five countries are known to have hydrogen bomb technology, while another few officially have atomic bomb capacity.
Atomic bombs are one type of radiation emergency. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes six types of radiation emergencies, three deliberate and three accidental.
The deliberate sources include an atomic bomb or improvised nuclear device; a dirty bomb in which explosive materials are used to disperse radiation; and a radiological exposure device, which is a radiation source that someone has hidden. Accidental sources of radiation include a nuclear power plant accident like the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami; a transportation accident; and an occupational accident, involving radiation from a workplace source like a hospital. Not like this.
The principles of preparing for radiation emergencies are the same no matter what type of incident. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, they are time, distance, and shielding.
Basically, this means limiting exposure to the radiation source by limiting the time you’re exposed to it, traveling away from the source -- even to a basement -- and putting a barrier of lead, concrete, or water between you and the radiation source. The middle of a multi-story brick or concrete building or a basement, are better places to shelter, according to ready.gov.
Unless the radiation emergency is a pinpoint source, or unless you’re told to evacuate during a radiation emergency, you will likely be asked to shelter in place.
In that case, the mantra for people and their pets is get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned, according to ready.gov.
So, this means having an emergency kit. In addition to the basic supplies every emergency kit should contain: food, water, a radio, flashlight, copies of important papers and medical supplies, add things like plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors. These are useful to seal up doors, windows and all other places in a home where air comes in from outside. Also consider having Iosat Tablets in your kit to help block absorption of radiation in your body.
The radio is especially important because you’ll be able to get directions and information. During the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident, people were evacuated in waves. On the first day, March 11, 134,000 people were evacuated from an area about 12 miles surrounding the plant. Four days later, another 354,000 people were evacuated. Another group farther out was evacuated on March 25.
In the U.S., nuclear power plant officials use two emergency planning zones. The first, within a 10 mile radius, is an area where people can receive direct exposure to radiation. The second, within up to a 50 mile radius, is an area in which radioactive material from the plant can contaminate food, water, and animals. If you live within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant, you might want to consider keeping a portable emergency kit for your car, suggests ready.gov.
A nuclear explosion also produces an electromagnetic pulse that travels miles beyond the blast zone, according to a 2013 study simulating the impact of a nuclear explosion on a major city. This pulse combined with the damage from the blast can “shock” an area’s power grid, which can possibly cause power disruption and power failure up to 11 miles in any direction beyond the damaged area. In the large city the study imagined, this meant a blackout for up to 3 million people.
In case of blackout, make sure you’ve got a way to charge your electronic devices and backup power systems for any vital battery-powered devices, like medical ones. Hopefully we won’t have to deal with any nuclear fallout, but in the chance that we do (and North Korea isn’t making it any easier), it’s best to be prepared for the worst.