So, in my world, there is a secret group of people, known as the bunker dwellers. They see themselves as racially superior to all of the wastelanders, whom, they believe were genetically degenerated by the radiation of the nuclear war. They are a continuation of the United States Government, and plan on taking over the country once more.

They have set up a small military encampment, 70 miles west of their bunker, home to about 500 soldiers, and a few doctors. Camp Alpha. They use this as a place to plan out missions and experiment on wastelanders.

The problem is, they believe that the wasteland is poisonous, and anyone who goes out their will be rendered genetically unsure.

My question is, can the soldiers at Camp Alpha be protected from radiation, 24/7?

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    $\begingroup$ Depends on the source and level of radiation and the exact meaning of "totally". $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander: The radiation is just below deadly levels, but still to poisonous for the Bunker Dwellers. And by totally, I mean totally. As in, no radiation contact soldiers $\endgroup$
    – DT Cooper
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 0:20
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    $\begingroup$ If the soldiers hung out in a lead lined vault playing cards they would be protected. But I could do that kind of soldiering. The whole point of soldiers is they go out and soldier around. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ Any protective shielding has "shielding factor" which means by how many times radiation is weakened. A factor of 1000 means that radiation is weakened 1000 times, but 1/1000 is still greater than 0. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 1:03
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    $\begingroup$ "Totally protected from radiation": We live in a radioactive world, we always did and we always will. Air is radioactive. Water is radioactive. Concrete is radioactive. Humans are radioactive. You may want to explain what the word "totally" means. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 4:53

4 Answers 4


Not mentioned in other answers is the need to perform perfect dust filtering. Radioactive materials can and do form dust which floats in the air, and will be trapped in the lungs when breathed in.

Oh yes, and water must be filtered to remove any trace of contaminants. For that matter, water itself is slightly radioactive, due to the presence of tritium, an isotope of hydrogen. Fossil water (water from prehistoric storage aquifers) can be distinguished from modern water due to its lower radioactivity.

As well, Camp Alpha will need a lead roof hundreds of meters thick to protect against cosmic rays.

Or maybe you might want to specify something a little more specific than "protected from radiation". The potassium in your body contains about 5,000 Becquerels of Potassium-40, and a similar amount of Carbon-14 due to those pesky cosmic rays.

  • $\begingroup$ @JonCuster - Oops. You're right, and I knew that. Got carried away. I've edited. Thanks. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 17:54

Remember the difference between radiation and fallout.

The bunker dwellers would be scared both of the direct effects of radiation and of ingesting radioactive particles which do their work inside the body, impossibly to shield.

  • Shielding against radiation requires mass. Lead is a common example. There are different types of radiation, with different shielding requirements. Alpha radiation is easy to stop, gamma radiation is harder.
  • Shielding against fallout requires either a chemical-proof barrier (suit and mask) or other ways to keep the radioactive isotopes out. For instance, eating large doses of non-radioactive iodine can mitigate contact with radioactive iodine, because less of the radioactive iodine stays in the body.

It sounds to me that your bunker dwellers need voodoo science -- they go through motions which sound plausible to them, regardless of the actual effects.

  • Lead aprons for the gonads to prevent mutations in the germline.
  • Dust avoidance. Filters on the air conditioning, frequent showers, etc.
  • Iodine pills.

Yes, it is possible for this army to be protected from radiation.

The problem is, everything depends on the amount, megatonnage,location, and detonation height the bombs, not to mention how long its been since the bombs were dropped. For the sake of this question, we'll assume that we're talking about a total nuclear war taking place, since we are evidently talking about a full-on wasteland situation.

Now, at this point, we have to define what you mean by 'wasteland' If you're talking about a barren, Fallout/Mad-Max desert, then the conflict really could have taken place anytime from 5 to 20 years ago. During this period after a nuclear war, for the first 1-5 years you would experience a harsh and likely devastating nuclear winter, where the temperature and amount of sunlight would drop, which, when combining with the vast clouds of radioactive dust sweeping the country, would result in pretty much all plant and animal life dying, at least in North America and whatever other geographical locations were heavily nuked.

After this, it is possible that with the build up of greenhouse gasses and destruction of the ozone layer caused by the nuclear war, the world could enter a Mad-Max type nuclear summer, in which the vast plains are transformed to deserts, creating an even harsher wasteland. Huge radioactive dust storms, reminiscent of the dust bowl would sweep across these vast new deserts, carrying possible lethal doses of radiation with them. However, after 20-30 years, even if the world has not regrown its flora and fauna, by this point most of the radiation will have settled and dispersed to non lethal levels.

So, at this point, you have a couple of options:

  1. Wait 30 years, and you've got no problem with radiation

  2. If you want to set up camp prior to this 30 year period, everything comes down to geography. It will be necessary to set up camp in an area that is fairly distant from any contaminated site, and also UPWIND from the location. This will generally be west of the blast area.

  3. It will also be wise to set up at a higher altitude, like at the top of a mountain range, which is unlikely to be as severely effected by radioactive fallout, as the radiation will settle mostly on plains and plateaus. Mountaintops will likely be free of severe radiation within 5-10 years.

  4. You can also take advantage of the rain shadow effect by setting up camp in the rain shadow of a mountain range, which will prevent radiation from being carried from irradiated areas in the EAST into your camp.

  • $\begingroup$ So essentially, a high valley somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. $\endgroup$
    – majestas32
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. That's pretty much it. $\endgroup$
    – John Doe
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 17:16

You could try lead lining all your buildings and clothes. Any dense material should do, but make sure it covers everything and is between your people and the outside world. Your people wear radiation suits lined with this stuff. Their helmets interface with the outside world via a camera. Their breathe via oxygen tanks which are refueled back at base using filtered air to remove radioactive particles.

The buildings are air-locked and have a decontamination room and undressing room to prevent contaminants from getting inside and to wash off anything that might have stuck to them during the journey.

Its going to be heavy and trouble some, but it would total protection from radiation (might need to increase the thickness of the metal plating if you need more protection).


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