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Immediately after the apocalypse, a call went out for able-bodied adults in what was considered a noble death sentence at the time: go out into the radioactive wastes and begin to neutralize the fallout. Those that volunteered were provided radsuits, the means to repair said radsuits indefinitely, and lumbering zamboni-like machines that tilled the top six inches of soil under the ground so as to effectively bury the radioactive dust that had settled, then applied a thin layer of bacteria-synthesized Prussian Blue to the turned earth to serve as both a marker of 'neutralized' ground and to provide protection against caesium created by uranium-235.

Two hundred years later, this group still exists in the wastelands, having multiplied and flourished in their nomadic journeys. They have essentially become a cargo cult, still fulfilling their purpose in the 'blue zone' and essentially elevating the lumbering cleaning machines (along with their self-sustaining bacteria tanks) into supernatural protectors while they await the return of those who gifted them these great earthmovers.

I'm trying to think of a good, scientific reason to give them an odd physical trait that disallows easy reintegration into society. Originally, I hoped the Prussian blue was an effective skin dye, but I haven't yet figured out a way to pull that off without giving them major potassium deficiencies. They're likely a bit inbred by now, so my second thought was something akin to methemoglobinemia, the inherited disease that makes people's skin turn silvery. But combine that with the radiation they must have absorbed in their lifetimes, it strains credibility to say they managed to wander a radioactive zone for generations with a blood disease.

Can you think of a good, easily-discernible physical difference this group might have that would help reinforce their isolation without resorting to Fallout-style ghouls/supermutants (overdone) or crippling diseases?

I can come up with plenty of ideas story-wise, but I'm coming to you guys for science-based, rational consequences of the scenario I've set up.

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    $\begingroup$ "tilled the top six inches of soil under the ground so as to effectively bury the radioactive dust" Because we're going to want to use the land again, the topsoil must be hauled away (to salt domes, massive concrete pits, etc). $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 12 '18 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ What are you going to do with the top six inches of soil for 100k+ sq miles, though? Connect the dots between Berlin, Kaliningrad, London and Paris, and that's the area I'm working with. $\endgroup$ – Carduus Mar 12 '18 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ "the means to repair said radsuits indefinitely" That appears to fail the reality check. As does "along with their self-sustaining bacteria tanks". $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 12 '18 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ I was trying to condense the overview so that I'm not voted down for TL;DR. These are great details and I'm happy to look into their integration, but I'm not sure how it makes my question invalid. $\endgroup$ – Carduus Mar 12 '18 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ To address your issues, however: the apocalypse occurred in the 2100's. Self-sustaining colonies of bacteria are something we can (and do) do today. Likewise, we already have the technology for self-repairing tires and spacesuits that 'heal' micrometeorite damage. I'm not suggesting any of this is without inputs, but that with caretakers (the cargo cult), the bacteria and suits have been able to be sustained. $\endgroup$ – Carduus Mar 12 '18 at 19:44
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They were already different when they went out into the wastes.

As the apocalypse swept over the Earth, the nations of Northern Europe did what they could to take in refugees from dying lands. Among these were a large group of Kyrgyz herders, airlifted to Copenhagen in a single group.

The Kyrgyz were grateful to their new country. When the opportunity came to be of service they volunteered as a group. Two hundred years later the keepers of the land are still ethnically Kyrgyz, living in much the way their ancestors did on the steppes of Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz nomads https://silkroadexplore.com/blog/kyrgyzstan-the-land-of-nomads/

If the Kyrgyz do not meet the needs of your story, choose any ethnically distinct nonEuropean group of refugees and turn them into the keepers of your future Europe.

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Fallout isn't Death-Magic

Radioactive fallout only lasts like 6 weeks at dangerous radioactivity levels. The biggest issue is strontium-90 in the soil taking the place of potassium in the plant's growth cycle. This can be dealt with pretty much at leisure after the fallout's 6 week half-life (as little as 2 weeks, as many as 8 dependent upon blast proximity). Then you just scrape the soil layer contaminated with strontium-90 and re-seed the area with potassium. Strontium-90 would be out of the environment on its own after a few decades, so you really just need to treat an area big enough to grow food in and let time handle the rest of the countryside. Strontium-90 is only hazardous if ingested, so your fallout cleanup crews would pretty mush not have any need for anything heavier than a regular dust-mask, nor would they be needed for anything outside of the immediate area planned to be used for growing. The closest thing to physical differences such people would have would be a higher than usual instance of cancers and possibly some level of increased instances in birth defects.

I'm sorry, but your whole story idea depends on radiation basically being magic. Fallout basically takes care of itself after a few weeks.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do I really need to tell my entire story here in order to get a question answered? In my timeline, nuclear powers disarmed down to very low levels, but the few nukes that remained were high-yield cobalt-salted ones. As nukes of this magnitude and destruction-capability aren't meant to be used, they are meant as an additional level of deterrent: not only is the result MAD, but salting the earth for generations. But that wasn't the point of my question, so I have no idea why it's relevant. $\endgroup$ – Carduus Mar 13 '18 at 13:13
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Some sort of mental deficiency. If you volunteer for this kind of shit job you are not that bright, and then you have a closed community of not-that-bright individuals exposed to radiation. I think that pretty much guarantees that you will be visibly "special".

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An unfortunate side effect of those who were exposed to radiation of the WWII nuclear blasts in Japan, those exposed to Chernobyl radiation, and those exposed to radiation from Fukushima radiation is that of missing or malformed limbs in their children. Obviously, there were other more serious issues, but that is an obvious physical deformity.

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    $\begingroup$ Downvoted because there's absolutely no evidence provided to support this claim. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 13 '18 at 1:30
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Ummm google it. It is very well documented. Perhaps you should do research before you make an incorrect statement. $\endgroup$ – Keltari Mar 13 '18 at 1:32
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    $\begingroup$ You're the one making the claim, so I think it's up to you to provide supporting evidence. IMHO preferrably from reputable scientific organizations & publications, not anti-nuclear scare sites. For instance, the World Health Organization states re Fukushima "...no significant adverse outcomes were observed in the pregnancy and birth survey..." who.int/ionizing_radiation/a_e/fukushima/faqs-fukushima/en In fact, as with Chernobyl, almost all of the health problems seem to be the result of the forced relocation, not radiation. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 13 '18 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ rerf.jp/radefx/genetics_e/birthdef.html is a good source. $\endgroup$ – Carduus Mar 13 '18 at 13:23

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