The topic of nuclear fallout shelters is one which has received wide spread attention in the newspapers and magazines of our country during the past several years. Shelters have achieved even greater prominence since the President of the United States has advocated providing and equipping enough shelters to accommodate the entire population of the U.S. Although the whole problem of providing fallout shelters perhaps does not have the same significance for all of us as it does for the country in general, the editors of Beacon Lights evidently considered the problem cogent enough to devote a little space to it.
Before we discuss fallout shelters, it would be well to consider the phenomenon from which they are designed to protect their occupants. When a nuclear bomb is exploded, a fantastic amount of uncontrolled energy is released in a very short time. It has been estimated that about 50 percent of the energy released takes the form of a blast wave. About 35 percent of the energy appears as heat and light radiation, and about 15 percent is nuclear radiation. Exactly how much energy is released depends upon the size of the bomb. (Archibald and Sherman, “Civil Engineering,” June 1962)
Since experimenting with nuclear bombs can be rather hazardous, such experimenting is carried out only with strict governmental control and most of the results are secret. Some information has been published however, regarding the effect of nuclear explosions in the range of 10 megatons (equivalent to 10 million tons of dynamite). The results indicate that, if such a bomb were dropped within 5 miles of the center of Grand Rapids, Michigan, every building in the city (10-mile radius) would be destroyed by the blast wave, and fires would be started as far away as Holland, Grand Haven and Ionia, Michigan (25-mile radius). The nuclear radiation, trapped by particles of debris created by the explosion, can be carried hundreds and even thousands of miles by the wind. It is protection from this nuclear radiation for which fallout shelters are built.
In general, the most dangerous components of the nuclear radiation are the gamma rays (other types of radiation are produced, but we will limit our discussion to this one). Gamma rays are very similar to X-rays in their characteristics. Both have the ability to destroy any living tissue which is exposed to them. It can easily be seen that the effects of our hypothetical explosion could be increased by the death of many people too far away to see, hear or feel the blast. It is those people who, in the event of a nuclear war, would not be killed by the blast(s) but would be killed or injured by the radiation for whom the government is preparing to spend about 600 million dollars in a nationwide fallout shelter program.
The three factors which are important in decreasing the effect of radiation are: distance, shielding and time. Any measures which are taken as protection against the gamma rays must include an abundant measure of at least one of those factors.
Distance can provide protection from radiation, since the intensity of the radiation decreases as one travels farther from the source in very much the same manner as the intensity of light from a light bulb decreases as one travels away from it. Distance cannot be expected to provide much protection from the radiation which we are discussing, however, since the radioactive particles of debris can be carried around the world by the wind and brought to earth again by the rain.
Shielding can provide protection from radiation, since any material has the ability to absorb radiation to some extent. In order to be effective against gamma rays shielding should be a very heavy, dense material. Lead, for example would make an excellent shelter. Concrete would be a much more practical material. Some shelters are being built in mountain caves to take advantage of the mass of rock above.
Time is the final factor which can provide protection from radiation. It is characteristic of the elements which produce the radiation that they burn themselves out. Radiation is produced by a conversion of mass into energy and hence, a given mass can produce a limited amount of radiation before it becomes so small as to be insignificant. Since it takes an extremely long time for most materials to become inactive, it is more common to speak of the half-life of a material. The half-life is the period of time in which a material losses 50 percent of its activity. The half-life of each radiation producing material is different. Some are as short as a few minutes. Others are thousands of years.
The problem of entering a fallout shelter becomes immediately obvious. Assuming we have built a shelter with adequate shielding, how long must we remain in it before it will be safe to come out? There does not seem to be any unanimous answer to that question. Some say a few days; others say at least a month.
Preparing for life in a fallout shelter will be quite similar to preparing for a camping trip, with a few added problems. An adequate supply of uncontaminated air, food and water must be available. Those three basic necessities will become extremely valuable in a shelter. In addition, an adequate means of waste disposal must be provided. Electricity is one “necessity” which will probably not be available.
Another problem to consider is the condition of the earth when one is ready to emerge from the shelter. After a nuclear holocaust like the one we are told we may expect, the earth might be almost devoid of life of any sort, and certainly not abounding with food. Clothing and shelter too would be practically unobtainable.
Our government has claimed that a shelter program will be a deterrent to war. We can be sure, however, that there will continue to be wars and rumors of wars, perhaps even nuclear wars until the time that has been appointed by our God for the end of all things and the harvest of the earth as described in the Book of Revelation.