How to Purify Water After a Nuclear Attack – What you need to know

Surviving a nuclear attack is something I think about from time to time. One thing I don’t really see being discussed is how you’re supposed to get clean water after you survive the initial detonation…

There are 5 ways that radiation can be removed from water:

  • Reverse Osmosis
  • Activated Carbon and Ion Exchange
  • Distillation
  • Lime Softening
  • Filtration (Through Carbon or Soil)

These may seem like they’re too scientific or beyond your ability to do at home, but that’s just not the case. We’ll discuss some of the best ways to get clean drinking water after a nuclear attack as we go through the article.

Getting Clean Drinking Water After a Nuclear Attack

There are two thought processes you can choose to follow if you’re worried about surviving a nuclear attack. You can either prepare ahead of time or you can hope it doesn’t happen and learn how to get clean water on the off chance that it does.

I always suggest preparing ahead of time. It’s better to be prepared for a disaster than to have to scramble at the last minute and hope you have the materials and knowledge to make it through.

I also understand that we don’t always have the money or time to put toward preparedness that we may want. Either way, this article will have you covered.

Distilling Water to Remove Radioactive Contamination

Distillation is the process of turning water into steam and then collecting the steam and cooling it to turn it back into a liquid. There are a bunch of different ways to distill water using simple techniques. Solar stills, and stovetop or fire distillation techniques will all work.

Distilling water is not really feasible on a large scale, so this should really only be done as a last-ditch effort, but it is one of the few ways to get clean drinking water without having to have very many tools available. If you’re boiling every drop of water you’re going to drink or cook with, you’re going to be going through a massive amount of energy!

Scientists aren’t completely in agreeance about how effective distillation is at getting rid of radiation, but they all agree it will remove most of the worst contaminants. There is going to be a certain level of radiation left after distilling, but it’s most likely going to be safe to drink. There is a fear that distillation will not be able to remove potentially hazardous radioactive iodines.

Removing Radiation Through Settling

Settling is basically mixing contaminated water with clay found deep enough in the ground to not be contaminated. It’s also one of the easiest methods.

To settle the contamination out of the water:

  1. Fill a bucket 3/4 of the way with water.
  2. Add 1″ of clay (found 4″ or more in the ground) for every 4″ of water.
  3. Stir the mixture until all of the clay is completely suspended in the water.
  4. Allow the clay to settle for 6 or more hours.
  5. The clear water on the surface will be clean and drinkable. (It may still need to be disinfected.)

Removing Radioactive Contamination with Filtration

Soil is one of the best ways to filter fallout contamination from water. This technique removes 99% of the radioactive materials (including more radioactive iodines than most other techniques.)

To build a simple soil filter just follow these steps:

  1. Punch holes in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket, staying within a 2″ area in the center of the bottom. Punch the holes from the bottom up.
  2. Place 1″ of clean pebbles or stones in the bottom of the bucket.
  3. Cover the pebbles with a towel cut about 3″ wider than needed.
  4. Take soil from 4″ or deeper in the ground and pulverize it.
  5. Gently press the pulverized soil on top of the towel so that the edges of the towel are firmly against the edge of the bucket.
  6. Continue this process until you have 6″ to 7″ of earth packed into the bucket.
  7. Place another towel layer on top of the packed earth to keep the earth from loosening and to aid in filtration. Hold it in place with rocks or other material.
  8. Fill the top portion of the bucket with water and wait for the water to filter through.
How to Purify Water After a Nuclear Attack - What you need to know
Courtesy of Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine

Reverse Osmosis and Manufactured Filters

Reverse osmosis (RO) is the technique that the EPA considers to be the best way to remove radiological contaminants from water. They say it will remove up to 99% of all contamination and is the best way to filter small systems.

RO systems work by forcing the water through a membrane that has holes as small as .0001 microns so that almost everything is removed. It doesn’t remove dissolved gasses (some of which may be radioactive.) Household RO filters can be found on places like Amazon.

Activated carbon filters are readily available on the market as well. It is believed that filtering through an activated carbon filter will remove any radioactive gasses (such as iodine-131.) They have the drawback of eventually getting saturated and ceasing to remove contaminants after that.

Ion exchange is the process used in water softeners. It takes the contaminated ions from the water and replaces them with sodium ions as the water passes through the system.

The EPA suggests using multiple filtration techniques to make sure all of the radiation is removed. You could use an RO filter followed by an activated charcoal filter as an example.

How to Prepare Ahead of Time

The best way to prepare ahead of time would be to have a stored water supply for you and your family. Many people run into issues when they try to store so much water. The main drawback is it takes a massive amount of space and people in apartments and smaller homes may not have enough room.

Having a Big Berky water filter around is great since it filters out most of the things that can contaminate your drinking water.

Another way would be to have things like a Water BOB on hand so you can fill them as soon as you know that fallout is coming your way. You can also purchase water filters that will get rid of the radiation.

Where to Find Clean Water After a Nuclear Attack

The best places to find clean water outside would be from deep wells or sealed tanks that haven’t had contaminated water introduced to them. If your home gets water from a deep well, then you’re in luck!

Most underground streams will be clean as well. You have to be careful though because it’s possible that the stream may just have flowed underwater from an above-ground source without ever getting filtered.

Water from sewage pits will also be clean is no outside water has been introduced as well as shallow wells.

Runoff from roofs and other outside surfaces will initially contain more fallout than surrounding areas. After the first few heavy rains, most of the fallout will have been washed away and you can begin collecting water runoff from these sources again.

It’s also believed that sources coming from underground pipes for the first few hours. Fill containers as soon as possible to get a good store of water if you don’t already have one.

Traditional places inside the house will also still be clean if outside water sources didn’t contaminate them. These sources will still need to be purified if you’re using sources like toilet tank water or water heaters, etc.

The main thing to keep in mind is fallout is coming from the sky. If the water source cannot possibly be contaminated from it, then it’s free of radioactive material.

What Happens If You Drink Radioactive Contaminated Water?

Drinking water that is contaminated with radiation is very similar to eating food that is contaminated.

When you drink contaminated water, you are directly putting radiation-producing materials into your body where they cannot be removed or decontaminated. Usually, your body has natural protection from these in the form of your skin.

Once you put them directly inside your body there is no more natural protective layer to help keep some of the radiation at bay. At this point, you pretty much have to hope that you get rid of the radioactive material through the body’s normal waste removal process.

Related Questions

Can you boil radiation out of water? No, boiling water kills living organisms in the water that may be harmful, but it doesn’t remove radiation from the water. To successfully remove the radiation, you would need to collect the steam and condense it back to water.

Can you purify radioactive water? There are 5 ways that radiation is normally removed from a water source:

  • Reverse Osmosis
  • Activated Carbon and Ion Exchange
  • Distillation
  • Lime Softening
  • Filtration (Through Carbon or Soil)