How to Survive a Dirty Bomb (Radiological Dispersion Device)

Three Parts:Before an RDD EventDuring an RDD EventAfter an RDD Event

Terrorist use of an Radiological Dispersion Device (RDD) — often called “dirty nuke” or “dirty bomb” — is considered far more likely than use of a nuclear explosive device. A "dirty bomb" combines a conventional explosive device — such as a bomb — with radioactive material. It is designed to scatter dangerous and sub-lethal amounts of radioactive material over a general area. Arming yourself, and others, with the proper safety protocols can drastically reduce the likelihood of severe bodily harm.

Part 1
Before an RDD Event

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    Take preventative measures as you would for a nuclear fallout.. There is no way of knowing how much warning time there will be before an attack by terrorists using an RDD, so being prepared in advance and knowing what to do and when is important. Here are some important details to consider in advance of a possible detonation of an RDD device:
    • Do you have enough food to feed you and your family unassisted for 48 hours? Stock up on non-perishable goods such as rice, beans, dried fruits and vegetables, and powdered milk.
    • Do you have enough water to accommodate yourself and your family? Store enough water to provide at least one gallon per day per individual.
    • Do you have basic medical needs provided for? Aim to store a first aid kit, a first aid instruction booklet, as well as any emergency prescriptions in a safe place.
    • Do you have basic communication devices? Flashlights, radios, and whistles may come in handy.
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    Add plastic sheeting, duct tape, and scissors to your disaster supplies kit if not already present. These items are extremely versatile and will allow you to improve upon, fashion, or repair a large number of items you may need or come across after the RDD event.
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    Know the different variables of an RDD strike. The size of the affected area and the level of destruction caused by an RDD would depend on the sophistication and size of the conventional bomb, the type of radioactive material used, the quality and quantity of the radioactive material, and the local meteorological conditions—primarily wind and precipitation. Understanding how the different variables affect the size and magnitude of the fallout area will greatly increase your chances of healthy survival.
    • Many RDD strikes theoretically depend on wind-borne dispersion. Knowing, for example, that the prevailing winds in the Northern U.S. are westerlies — which blow from west to east — is critical if you happen to find yourself downwind of an RDD strike.[1]

Part 2
During an RDD Event

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    Assume radiological contamination has occurred and take the proper precautions. Particularly in an urban setting or near other likely terrorist targets, this assumption helps keep you prepared and on your toes. As with any radiation, you want to avoid or limit exposure. This is particularly true of inhaling radioactive dust that results from the explosion.
    • While the explosive blast will be immediately obvious, the presence of radiation will not be known until trained personnel with specialized equipment are on the scene. Whether you are indoors or outdoors, home or at work, be extra cautious.
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    Breathe through the cloth of your shirt or coat to help filter out dust or other contaminants in the air. The goal here is to improvise when you are left with no other options. This will not safeguard you against all forms of radiation; it will merely limit your exposure.
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    Seek shelter indoors immediately in the nearest undamaged building if you are outside. If you manage to avoid breathing radioactive dust, your proximity to the radioactive particles may still result in some radiation exposure. If appropriate shelter is not available, move as rapidly as is safe upwind and away from the location of the explosive blast. Then, seek appropriate shelter as soon as possible. Listen for official instructions and follow directions. Remain indoors.
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    Limit infiltration of radioactive particles. Turn off ventilation and heating systems. Close windows, vents, fireplace dampers, exhaust fans, and clothes dryer vents. Retrieve your disaster supplies kit and a battery-powered radio and take them to your shelter room, preferably underground or in an interior room of a building, placing as much distance and dense shielding as possible between you and the outdoors where the radioactive material may be.
    • An interior room on the lowermost level, preferably without windows such as a basement, is the ideal location to stay.
    • Seal windows and external doors that do not fit snugly with duct tape. Plastic sheeting will not provide shielding from radioactivity nor from blast effects of a nearby explosion, but can help keep radioactive dust from infiltrating your shelter.
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    Listen for official instructions and follow directions. Turn on your radio, surf the web, or interact with members of your family or community in order to gain relevant, accurate information.
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    Stay calm and help spread the word. In the event of an RDD strike, the likelihood of serious radiological contamination is extremely low.[2] Even near the epicenter of the blast, radiological dispersion may be weak and will reduce rapidly.[3]
    • Help others near you remain calm. Terrorists using a dirty bomb likely expect widespread panic and social upheaval after a sudden strike. Reacting calmly, logically, and decisively — as well as spreading that message of reason — is a great asset in a time of panic.
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    Save your potassium iodide pills for larger nuclear fallout. Although potassium iodide pills may be effectively taken in the case of nuclear bombs or nuclear power plant leaks, they are not effective against dirty bombs.[4] In the event of a dirty bomb, move away from the location of the blast as quickly as possible to limit exposure to radiation.
    • Potassium iodide will only protect you against inhaled or swallowed radioactive isotopes of iodine.[5] It's better to keep them for situations in which their usage becomes truly urgent.

Part 3
After an RDD Event

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    Decontaminate yourself if you have been exposed to radioactive material. To do this, remove and bag your clothing (and isolate the bag away from you and others), and shower thoroughly with soap and water.
    • Do not use conditioner after shampooing your hair. Conditioner helps bind with radioactive materials in your hair and is strongly discouraged in the event of a dirty bomb.[6]
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    Use a plastic bag to seal and dispose of any clothing you were wearing at the time of the blast. Seal up any clothing that may have been contaminated, label it as radioactive, and put it somewhere far away from humans and animals. You may bury it if you properly mark the area and can remember where you put it.
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    Seek medical attention after officials indicate it is safe to leave shelter. The likely fallout from a dirty bomb is not anticipated to last longer than several days.
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    Continue listening to your radio or watch the television for instructions from local officials, whether you have evacuated or sheltered-in-place. Do not return to or visit an RDD incident location for any reason.


  • The primary purpose of terrorist use of an RDD is to cause psychological fear and economic disruption. Some devices could cause fatalities from exposure to radioactive materials. Depending on the speed at which the area of the RDD detonation was evacuated or how successful people were at sheltering-in-place, the number of deaths and injuries from an RDD might not be substantially greater than from a conventional bomb explosion.
  • Contamination from an RDD event could affect a wide area, depending on the amount of conventional explosives used, the quantity and type of radioactive material released, and meteorological conditions. Thus, radiation dissipation rates vary, but radiation from an RDD will likely take longer to dissipate due to a potentially larger localized concentration of radioactive material.
  • Potassium iodide may be used to protect you from the uptake of radioactive iodine. However, it will not decontaminate you from other internally ingested or inhaled radioactive elements. If taken, it should be consumed in proper quantity and only within the first six hours of exposure. Dosing:
    • For adults - 130 mg
    • For children - 32 mg to 65 mg

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