Frequently Asked Questions


What is so special about the NukAlert-ER?

The NukAlert-ER is a unique radiation detection and measurement instrument. It is a Geiger Counter in the truest sense, but it is able to measure radiation levels far higher than traditional Geiger based devices. Traditional Geiger counters sized for sensitivity adequate to measure background radiation levels are inherently incapable of measuring the life threatening levels possible from a power plant catastrophe or nuclear attack. Unlike the NukAlert-ER, the "dead time" of traditional Geiger counter circuits causes a sensitive counter to become inoperative above about 100mR/hr (a level which may be a long term health risk, but is far below immediately life threatening). The NukAlert-ER uses sophisticated high-voltage control circuitry and statistical analysis of the pulses from the Geiger tube to enable radiation measurement over an intensity range from 1 uR/hr to 600R/hr. This technique is referred to as "Time to First Count" in radiation detection textbooks. The NukAlert-ER is the first inexpensive portable instrument to employ the TTFC method. The result is a single device that can be used as a sensitive Geiger counter, survey meter and dosimeter. Its wide dynamic range facilitates the location of shelter, aids decontamination of people, allows preliminary evaluation of food, and measures wind blown fallout from distant sources.

What is the difference between the original Nukalert and the Nukalert-ER?

The original NukAlert Keychain Radiation Detector is essentially a "Foxhole Finder". It purpose is to guide its user to shelter from a high level radiation event. Its readings are approximate and its measurement range is limited (100mR/hr to 50R/hr - a 1:500 range). It is not sensitive to low level radiation and has no ability to measure accumulated radiation dose. The main advantages of the legacy NukAlert are its low price, zero maintenance, ruggedness, and portability. It was designed to address the total absence of survey meters in America. The NukAlert-ER is a precise measurement instrument that quickly responds to radiation levels 10,000 times lower and 20 times higher than the legacy NukAlert. It also has accumulated dose measurement functions, settable alarm levels and data communication capability. The NukAlert-ER with its wide measurement range is useful not only for finding shelter, but also for analyzing lingering low level radiation in the recovery phase after a nuclear event. Both the Legacy NukAlert and the NukAlert-ER are valuable tools for responding to a nuclear incident.

My AA batteries only seem to last a few days in the Nukalert-ER. Is that normal?

The Nukalert-ER specification, based on careful measurement, is:
Battery Life (2600mAhr Alkaline):
Up to 65hr at background count rate
~32hrs between 1mR/hr and 10mR/hr
~24hrs Geiger above 100mR/hr
Up to 1 year in periodic monitor mode
Up to 3 years sleep (hibernate) mode
Significant battery consumption is the price that must be paid for the computing power and precise high voltage control that allows the instrument's enormous measurement range. At our fabrication and calibration facilities we use NiMH rechargeable batteries. We have found that the very best charger is the Powerex MAHA MH-C9000. There is great variation in the capacities of AA batteries (wikipedia.org/wiki/AA_battery). NiMH batteries typically yield about 60% of their rated cpacity when new, and their capacity gradually increases as they are repeatedly charged and discharged. Their capacity begins to taper off after about a hundred charge/discharge cycles, yielding 50% capacity after a few hundred cycles. If long term monitoring is desired, either power the NukAlert-ER from a USB power source (PC or Universal cell phone charger), or use the Periodic Wake mode.

The present battery voltage is displayed in the NukAlert-ER main menu as an estimated percentage of battery capacity remaining. The percentage is based on NiMH rechargeable batteries. If alkaline batteries are used, a percentage above 100% will be seen with fresh batteries. If a USB connection is delivering power, a (USB pwr) message will be displayed beside the measured battery voltage, and the batteries will not be drained.

What/Who is ViewPointSonics

Viewpoint Sonics is an LLC formed by the hardware and software designers of the NukAlert products. This web page and the database of live readings from web-connected devices are hosted by Viewpoint Sonics. Sales of the NukAlert products are handled by KI4U, Inc. (Nukalert.com). Government sales are handled by Apogee Communications Group.

What is a geiger counter?

It is an extremely sensitive radiation measurment instrument that can detect individual particles of radiation. It does this by detecting an electric spark initiated by each particle in a tube filled with a special gas mixture called a Geiger tube.

Does radiation cause cancer?

Our bodies continuously repair most radiation damage. This process takes place over a period of weeks or months. At high radiation dose rates the healing process is overwhelmed by the accumulation of radiation damage to cells. A dose of more than 100R absorbed over a short time period (days) is likely to cause a person to develop symptoms of acute radiation sickness, while lower doses rarely cause acute illness. The average American has a 24% chance of lifetime fatal cancer. A 100R dose increases that cancer risk to about 32%, while a 10R dose increases lifetime fatal cancer risk less than 1%.

Why are you bothering to make a radiation monitoring network? Aren't there lots of those already? Doesn't the government do that?

The Federal Government has a network of radiation monitoring stations called RADNET (epa.gov/radnet). There are about 3 stations per state. The RADNET stations are very expensive, require constant maintenance, and are not set up to measure high level fallout. In fact, RADNET stations are so sensitive that they will be paralyzed by a high level fallout event. They are designed primarily for analyzing trace amounts of isotopes from distant sources. The present response plan for nuclear and radiological incidents depends upon reports by responders of radiation levels measured by hand held instruments. This plan would yield inconsistent data from a variety of often inappropriate instruments and measurement methods. Additionally, the reporting by responders would add congestion to already heavily strained communication paths. We are proposing a simple inexpensive standardized fixture for the automatic reporting of fallout measurements. We are also proposing a non-governmental, vendor neutral, open public database for this and other radiation data. After the Fukushima disaster there was great confusion caused by the absence of trustworthy radiation measurements. We have determined that the only information sources now trusted by the public are the local fire department and local TV weather forecaster. Radiation measurements before, during and after radiation emergencies should be gathered in a public database managed by fire and rescue organizations. We are working toward establishment of a non-commercial, non-governmental, radiation measurement database hosted by firefighter organizations and freely available to the public.

Why do you see people in tyvek suits responding to a radiological event? Don't you need tons of lead or concrete to protect you from radiation?

Hazmat responders typically wear protective gear designed to keep chemicals and irritants off of their bodies. These suits could be useful in a radiological event to prevent skin burns from Alpha and Beta radiation sources. Ordinary clothing would be nearly as effective for civilians exposed to similar substances, but would have to be disposed of if they became contaminated. These tyvek suits offer no protection against gamma radiation which, once the dust has settled is the primary hazard. If dust or smoke is suspended in the air, as it was after the 9-11 attack, it could be radioactive and one should breathe through a cloth to avoid inhaling it.

How is a reactor melt-down different from a nuclear weapon?

The nuclear weapon contains a relatively small quantity of nuclear fuel which is designed to burn almost instantly and produce an enormous output of heat and explosion. On the other hand the nuclear reactor contains an enormous quantity of radioactive material nuclear fuel that is designed to burn slowly and release its heat in a useful way. In a reactor melt-down as the fuel begins to explode it is disbursed which limits the magnitude of the explosion.

Is there really such a thing as a "backpack nuke"?

Yes, a crude nuclear weapon can be produced with as little as 15 pounds of plutonium. Such a weapon could fit in a large briefcase and produce an explosive yield sufficient to level buildings within a third of a mile radius and distribute intensively radioactive fallout over hundreds of square miles. It is quite possible that terrorists could acquire and use such weapons.

If New York City were hit with a nuclear weapon, how long would it take to get back to normal life? What would the recovery process look like?

If it were a military nuclear weapon the devastation of Manhattan could be nearly complete. Military weapons are designed to produce maximum destruction, but because they are detonated at altitude they yield relatively lower amounts of fallout. On the other hand, a terrorist nuclear weapon exploded at ground level would produce much less physical damage but enormously greater radioactive fallout. It would be like the World Trade Center attack with radiation being the hazard instead of asbestos. Within a year after the nuclear attack on Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were being rebuilt, and within 10 years their populations had returned to pre-war levels. Today, both are thriving metropolitan areas. So, it is possible for cities to recover from a nuclear attack. However, for those who experienced the attacks, life was never the same.

I've heard that there is such a thing as "radiation pills"? How could a pill protect you from radiation?

One of the harmful radioactive materials given off by a nuclear weapon detonation or power plant melt-down is radioactive Iodine. Because it is concentrated in the thyroid gland it's possible, by taking a proper dose of non-radioactive Iodine, to saturate the thyroid gland and limit the uptake of the radioactive isotope. This must be done very early in a radiation event. Because the half-life of radioactive Iodine is only about a week, there would be no need to take Iodine pills in the event of a "dirty bomb" or RDD attack.

Does a nuclear weapon give off radiation before it is set off? Don't we have sensors all over the place that can detect them?

Nuclear weapons give off very little radiation before detonation and are therefore very difficult to detect. One must get within several yards with very sensitive equipment for at least a few seconds to detect one. While billions of dollars have been spent on the effort, it is not true that we have instruments all over the place to detect nuclear weapons nor is it true that aircraft flying overhead are likely to detect such weapons. It is probably just as easy to get nuclear weapons into this country as it is heroin or cocaine.

I saw a movie (2013 Installment of Die Hard) where they sprayed some kind of "anti-radiation" stuff on radioactive material to make it safe to be around. Is that possible?

No, it is complete NONSENSE! (although, some pure Alpha or low energy Beta emissions might be contained With a glue or encapsulant)

In this day-and-age, nobody is actually going to use nuclear weapons - isn't that a thing of the past?

The entire history of mankind is a long series of one group using a weapon's advantage to subjugate or annihilate another. Do you really think we have advanced beyond that?

What is a "dirty bomb"? how is it different from a real nuclear weapon?

A "Dirty Bomb" is a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) - that is, a means of dispersing radioactive material. The material (most likely Cesium 137) is already intensely radioactive before dispersal. Such material may be mixed with an explosive and detonated for dispersal, or simply sprinkled from a car or aircraft. A saltshaker full of Cs137 dispersed can contaminate a city block, but is unlikely to give anyone a lethal dose of radiation unless that person is exposed to a concentration that goes undetected for some time. A nuclear weapon is an arrangement of fissionable material (Uranium, Plutonium) that is detonated by compression into a critical mass, initiating a nuclear chain reaction, which releases fantastic amounts of energy and explosive force. This process can scatter large amounts of radioactive material intense enough to kill unsheltered people within hours or days over hundreds of square miles.

In the aftermath of a nuclear detonation, what emits radiation? does the air become radioactive? Do surfaces exposed to the blast become radioactive?

The fireball of a nuclear detonation vaporizes whatever it comes in contact with and, by neutron capture, renders much of it radioactive. The vaporized material then condenses out and falls to earth from the vapor plume as it is carried by the wind. This is called fallout. It is easily seen on surfaces as ash or dust. The vapor, smoke and dust can be dangerous to breathe, so one should breathe through a cloth while seeking shelter. If there is no visible ash or dust on previously clean surfaces, there is probably no fallout. Upon reaching shelter, dusty outer clothing should be removed and left outside. As much dust as possible should be shaken out of hair while avoiding breathing it. Once the fallout has settled (within a few hours - longer, further away), the air is not radioactive, but the dust on the ground may be giving off rays that can kill. Fallout emits gamma rays that can penetrate roofs, walls and cars. The best protection is found deep inside large buildings or basements. The crater left by a nuclear detonation, and objects near it will retain radioactivity for some time. Generally the most intense and deadly radiation will dissipate within a few weeks and areas affected by fallout may be reentered with careful monitoring. The safest action to take after a nuclear detonation is to find the closest best shelter and stay there for a few days, or till told to evacuate. Most uninjured people who follow these simple precautions will survive.

Where can I find authoritative information on actions to survive a nuclear or RDD attack?

The government has prepared an excellent work on response to a nuclear detonation:fas.org/irp/agency/dhs/fema/ncr.pdf

Information on RDD response can be found at:crcpd.org/rdd_handbook/rdd-handbook-forweb.pdf

Actions For Survival by Dr. Allen Brodsky: actions4survival.com

Encouraging information is available here:ki4u.com/goodnews.htm

Free download of "Nuclear War Survival Skills":ki4u.com/nwss.pdf