Although the threat of full-scale nuclear war is low, there is always the possibility that we might end up with radioactive fallout in our drinking water.
An overseas regional nuclear exchange, nuclear accident, reactor explosion or meltdown, or a dirty bomb can all contaminate our water.
There are many filters available on the market that claim to remove 99 percent of radioactive particles, but the truth is that no one filter will remove all the particles from drinking water.
Disclaimer: This article is for interest and information purposes only.
What Types Of Radioactive Particles Might Be In The Water?
There are hundreds of radioactive particles that fallout will deposit over the land and in our water. Some of them will be short-lived, while others will remain in the environment for many years.
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Of the multitudes of potential isotopes we may find in fallout, strontium-90, cesium-134, cesium-137, and iodine-131 are of particular concern.
This is more a concern in the fallout from a nuclear detonation rather than a meltdown or nuclear accident.
The problem with strontium-90 is that its half-life is 29 years which means that it can remain in the environment for hundreds of years before it decays to a point where the danger is negligible.
Strontium-90 can cause bone cancer and leukemia in people who consume contaminated food or water.
Cesium-134 And Cesium-137
Cesium-134 and Cesium-137 have half-lives of 2 and 30 years, respectively.
They are found in fallout, and if people are exposed to them, they can suffer from acute radiation sickness and possibly increase their cancer risk.
This isotope has a half-life of only around eight days but has serious adverse health consequences for those exposed to it in nuclear fallout.
Iodine-131 will accumulate in the thyroid, potentially leading to thyroid cancer or Thyroiditis.
Many more isotopes can be found in water and food after exposure to fallout, but they are far too numerous to list here.
Filtering Radioactive Particles From Water
Three methods have been shown to filter most radioactive materials from water effectively.
However, no one filter will remove every radioactive particle, so if you want to set up a system to decontaminate drinking water after a nuclear detonation or accident, it is best to have all three on hand.
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The EPA recommends reverse osmosis to remove many radioactive materials from water. It can remove 99% of uranium, radium, alpha or beta particles, and photon emitters.
Reverse osmosis will not, however, remove gaseous contaminates such as radon.
In addition, Idoine-131 will not be filtered by reverse osmosis because it is an isotope that, when found in water, is a dissolved gas.
Reverse osmosis works by pushing water through a semi-permeable membrane. The water which passes through to the other side of the membrane is clean and mostly free of contaminants.
These systems usually employ several filtering steps to filter out and remove particles of differing sizes. Dissolved gasses, however, will find their way through the pores of the filter membrane.
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Reverse osmosis filters are widely available and can even be installed in a home to filter water throughout the house.
With these filters, however, there is a problem of what to do with the contaminates that have been filtered out.
Systems designed for your entire home use a large portion of the water to wash away the waste through your household drains and into the sewer system.
In the case of radioactive fallout, you will be left with radioactive wastewater; in portable systems, you will be left with a wastewater tank to dispose of.
Ion exchange filters are often sold as water softeners, and they work by passing water through resins that contain positively or negatively charged ions.
These ions essentially swap places with the contaminants in the water.
This is a dramatic oversimplification, but the basic idea is that the particles we do not want in our water are trapped in the resin filter media when safe ions replace them.
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Unfortunately, ion exchange filters are not particularly good a filtering out viruses and bacteria or other bugs that can make us sick, so they are not suitable for a stand-alone water purification system.
Ion exchange has been found to be particularly useful in filtering our Cesium-137 but is also effective against uranium, radium, as well as alpha and beta particles.
Ion exchange has the same downfall as any other filter, where you will be left with filter resins that are now contaminated with radioactive particles.
Activated carbon filters absorb contaminants as the water passes through the filter.
The problem with these filters is that once they reach their absorption capacity, they will no longer remove any particles.
Evidence suggests that carbon filters effectively remove radioactive fallout from our water.
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Still, as with all filters, they will not remove 100 percent of the radioactive particles.
Some reverse osmosis filter systems will also include an activated carbon stage within the filter. However, it would still be a good idea to have an external one as a redundancy.
As with other filters, once an activated carbon filter has reached capacity, it will be full of radioactive fallout, which needs to be disposed of appropriately.
What Filter To Use
The best way to filter radioactive particles from your water after an attack or accident is to develop a system that uses all three filters.
You could start with an activated carbon filter to get most of the particles, followed by an ion exchange filter to soften the water and remove some missed particles, then complete the process with a reverse osmosis filter.
Regardless of how you set up your system, you will need extra filter media for each filter and a method to safely dispose of the waste.
Food and water security will be a paramount concern after any nuclear incident, regardless of what it is.
The most crucial thing to consider is establishing your filtering method well before you need to use it.
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