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Radiation: design challenge

 
Author
Posts: 55
Location: Mad River Valley, VT
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Here's a design challenge that seems almost inevitable to be something that people in some places must deal with. Maybe more:
Radioactive fallout from power plant failure or war.

Check this out:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVv1vsZxV00&feature=endscreen&NR=1

Imagine having to remove the top 2-10" of soil and start fresh. Then having radioactive material fallout each time it rains.
Earthworks and supermedicinals?

 
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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Looking at this as a thought experiment. Hmmm...

Such a large scale disaster would be beyond a challenge. I think it would be a daily struggle for survival. Politics, environment, even zombies (or their social equivalent) would be elements involved in one way or another. Rather than get into questions of how you survived the disaster to begin with, let's examine the scenario and find elements which can lead to problem solving methods in our undestroyed world.

Let's set up some parameters.
I'm going with the assumption that setting up an exclusion zone around the contaminated area is not possible or practical. Perhaps exclusions zones would exist for the areas of highest contamination, leaving less contaminated areas open. For whatever reason, contaminated land must be made productive. This scenario would demand that the contaminated area would be a significant portion of a continent and that evacuation is not possible because of logistic or political reasons.
For the sake of discussion, I'm going to project that some detection and monitoring equipment is available from universities, laboratories and government facilites, and these have been used to identify the uninhabitable areas and the depth of soil contamination in habitable areas.
I'll take the further step of assuming the crisis has completed it cycle and further contamination is from atmospheric particulates.
Considering material half-life, prudence dictates the land would not been worked for the previous year. Furthermore, it must be assumed that the level of radiation has reduced to a point that daily outdoor exposure is not life threatening. This level of exposure says 50-100 years will be the duration of the emergency. Anything more than that and the survivors will have eeked out their stone age existence in misery.

Elements to consider:
Soil
Removing the top 2-10" of soil will significantly alter the normal ecosystem. The top 6" of soil is where most of the organic matter and microbes reside. Replenishing these elements will be imperative.

Water
Surface water would contain radioactive particles as a result of runoff. Rainwater would also have residual particles for the next 2-10 years, gradually reducing, but not being eliminated entirely.

Plants
This gets split into 2 groups: new plants, started since the work on the land was started after the event, and old plants still in place since before the event.

Livestock
If people are around to work the land, it can be assumed that livestock are also around.

Fertility
If evacuation is not possible, I would think the importing of fertilizer/pesticide/herbicide feedstocks would not be possible. Crop inputs would be produced within the nation or must be locally sourced. Everything available must be utilized.

Protection
Given that time has passed, the remaining radiation would be gamma rays, sourced from the ground, atmosphere and rain. This is a line of sight issue and an issue of surface decontamination. Atmospheric exposure is a concern of respiration. Direct exposure from stratospheric particulates would be mitigated by the mass of atmosphere between the ground and the stratosphere. Continual exposure of low level radiation must be addressed, particularly with the young.

Now we need a plan of action.
I think the first step would be to prepare the site for long term use which mitigates continued exposure of the plants, animals and people. Removal of the topsoil will be a major undertaking. Once removed, it would need to be covered with uncontaminated material to serve as an absorber, blocking the release of radiation from the heap. Dig out a big deep pit, dump in the contaminated soil, cover it with the dirt dug out of the hole at the start. One big bad pit would serve a wide area, not just a single farm. Another option would be to dump this soil in a river to let it wash out to sea. Dumping in a deep lake saves work but would affect the life in the lake.
Next up is a perimeter. A mound of uncontaminated soil would be needed to block horizontal exposure from land that has not be scraped. 10' high would be in the ballpark. This would give it a base width of around 30 feet. This gets built around the entire production area. To maximize the area inside compared to the length of this berm, the site would be round. This is the least work for the area being protected. Natural barriers such as hills can help reduce the work, but the hill would not be usable. An island would offer an advantage here. The idea is to hide the entire place such that no, or as little as possible, outside land within a couple of miles is visible from the inside or the shielding is ineffective.
Protection from rain is the next issue to address. Cover the whole place with a dome? You need the rain. The volume of water needed for raising field crops is huge. Keeping the rain from falling on the field would be desirable. One method would be to cover the site with a transparent barrier. Another is a fine netting which will redirect the rainfall for collection and filtering. The netting can also offer protection from solar UV if the ozone has been affected. Maintaining this overhead covering will be needed for the first few years. After that, fallout contamination would be tolerable. Storing rainwater would require a considerable retention area. This can be outside the perimeter wall. This water would be filtered through gravel/sand to remove contaminants. The filtering material may need to be replaced, but without measurements I can't say much more.
Housing is covered with a deep layer of uncontaminated soil. Roof structures would need considerable attention. Ideally, incoming air is filtered, with the filters being replaced regularly. This has the advantage of maintaining a stable temperature inside. Other structures designed for human or animal habitation would also benefit from such a shield. Locating these structures in proximity to the perimeter berm will save some effort.
Water for consumption, cooking, bathing and cleaning would be served by a well.
Power would be tough to come by. If the problem was the result of a nuclear plant disaster, chances are good that electric generation is constricted. If war, it can be estimated that power generating plants, transmission and control systems are destroyed. Power for the well would need to be generated on site. A windmill on top of the perimeter berm, solar panels, muscle power. Indoor heating is not needed or is minimized, lighting is done with mirrors, cooking is primarily solar.

We are ready for crops and livestock.

Here is where it gets interesting. Because of the nature of this scenario, space and resources will be a premium. The residents would be living off the land, using what is available, wasting nothing, bringing in as little as possible from the outside, and have practically nothing to work with. Getting the absolute most production out of what is available will be the rule of thumb. We'll need to extend the growing season as much as possible. Crops will need to be planned to provide as diverse a diet as possible, providing calories and nutrition. They will need to come to harvest continually so as not to tax the available labor. They must get more energy from the food than they put into raising the food or they starve to death.

A greenhouse offers an advantage here. It does not have to be excessive, but there would be a space requirement per person. Effective design can keep it warm enough in the cold season for some production which will maintain vitamin production for the health of the residents. For seed starting, the advantage is considerable. Minimal soil and water are needed, and labor is minimized per plant. Conditions are as controlled as possible, giving the plants a solid head start. Once space in the growing beds is made available, a new plant can go directly in, with a several week head start. Condensation in the morning can offer a clean water source. I think placement on the north side of the site, built into the berm would ideal.

Planting areas would be enhanced greatly with hugelkulture. The wood going in would need to be stripped of bark outside the berm to remove contaminants. The wood inside would still be suitable for use. Legumes would be vital to improve the weak soil. Root crops would help break up the hard subsoil which is now at or near the surface. Plants would need to be closely spaced to maximize production and minimize water demand. Vertical growing methods would be required. Moisture retention with a deep mulch would be critical. Hair, feathers, lower leaves, washed materials, rocks, sheeting, everything that can be found. Great care and attention would need to be given to every inch of soil.

Establishing a microbial community in the soil would be paramount. Compost tea would really help kick things off. Worms would be a key element. They replace the work required, process whatever inputs are available, and transform soil into topsoil. The obstacle would be finding and gathering uncontaminated material. Water plants, being shielded, might be a solution. Bat guano and cave algae would be a gold mine.

Humanure would be a highly prized commodity. Composting every available material sourced from inside the perimeter would be a major endeavor. Leaves from the branches just after a rain could be rinsed to provide for more material. It will take much effort to get organic matter into the perimeter from outside sources, but you gotta have something to work with. Anything coming in from outside would have to be heavily rinsed, and the water would need to be purified-how about solar for that.

Reducing the workload, chickens can do much to prepare a growing area. Contain them, they'll scratch up an area, keep the bugs down, and add droppings. They also offer a source of protein for the plate. It would be necessary to track their genetics, culling as necessary. Until they can be free ranged outside the perimeter, they will need to be fed. They'll be few and skinny. I do not have a solution to offer for large livestock and their land requirements.

Tank raised fish have a place. With clean water, they are well shielded to begin with. Worms would offer a fine food source. Guts give the chickens a dietary boost. Cycling the water through plants will filter it, keeping it fresh without replacing volumes. The plants get the benefit of a high nitrogen input. As many systems as possible will need to be in closed loops, the waste of one part being an input for another part.

---
Just with this short piece of a thought experiment, I find that in a scenario such as this, a wide array of permaculture techniques offer key advantages.
 
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Paul Stamets has some interesting thoughts on the matter...

http://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/how-mushrooms-can-clean-radioactive-contamination-8-step-plan

Plant native deciduous and conifer trees, along with hyper-accumulating mycorrhizal mushrooms, particularly Gomphidius glutinosus, Craterellus tubaeformis, and Laccaria amethystina (all native to pines). G. glutinosus has been reported to absorb – via the mycelium – and concentrate radioactive Cesium 137 more than 10,000-fold over ambient background levels. Many other mycorrhizal mushroom species also hyper-accumulate.



Considering the immense area covered by fungal mycorrhizae, this could theoretically mop up radioactive isotopes over large chunks of land.

In addition to mycoremediation, zeolite has been used with great results in Chernobyl and other disaster sites. I suspect biochar could be used to much the same effect.
 
Ken Peavey
steward
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Outstanding!
The mycellium gather the isotopes, pack them into the mushroom. Hazmat guys harvest the mushrooms.
Wait a minute...I'm one of them hazmat guys!
 
steward
Posts: 7926
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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My feeling about biochar is that it would soak up and store the contaminants.
After it reached its saturation limit, it would need to be removed, and disposed of somewhere.
Perhaps, multiple applications to substantially reduce the contaminants.

Just leaving the saturated biochar in the soil would cause it to slowly release the contaminants over centuries.

 
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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pinus on the hills
mushrooms on the flats.
biochar in the drainages.
Wood in the stream mouths, with a biofilm mat of archea, and bacteria.
Think there are some archea that actually live on radioactives, found em around the natural reactor in South Afrika.

should do it pretty quick
 
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Location: Central Wyoming -zone 4
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chicken dog hugelkultur
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this is an interesting thread, one to which i will readily subscribe

a couple interesting responses thus far - definately helps you to realize all of what needs to be done to survive after such a disaster
stamets idea is interesting but i dont feel that it should become a national forest - not that a forest is bad, his idea is mostly sound but it seems like the disaster could be used as a massive land grab by someone with bad intentions and permanantly taken from the people who previously owned the land and that to me is a terrible, terrible thing

i think that hydro or aquaponics would definatly begin to be a predominate thing in such an area because if the water and media are all clean and have safe radiation levels then its self contained and easy to cover to prevent further contamination, not to mention it makes decent use of space and doesnt use as much water as farming in ground

in normal conditions permaculture is obviously the way to go to me but under such conditions i think permaculture designing would be more useful for healing the land while aquaponics would be more suitable for food production, coupled with small, omnivorous livestock that can also be easily protected and brought inside during radioactive rainfall, make use of the fish waste, and provide some waste for the fish to feast on, either directly or after something like BSFL has eaten ti and fallen into the FT

also if other things are not easy to obtain, i imagine filters for the water and what not would be ahrd to come by as well, and i wouldnt want to rely on outside sources, so what would work good to naturally filter the water of these problems?
would you run it through some filter media like rocks/gravel that has plants and bacteria in it first, and then run it through some fungal beds or something?
seems like that would be a question one should find an answer too if theyre seriously designing for such a scenario, whether it may happen in the future or has happened in the past
 
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wetlands would filter the water but in such a large scale disaster I do not see the point of not using all that you can get to filter water.
 
Devon Olsen
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chicken dog hugelkultur
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well perhaps im looking at it in the wrong light but it seems to me that with high radiation, one would want to make sure they distanced themselves from radiation as much as possible while reducing surrounding radiation as much as they can

so i imagine an entirely artificial environment, one where the radiation filled rain would be shed away and collected, then filtered before being allowed to enter your artificial system... perhaps if you filtered it by any means nessacary and then ran it through a series of wetlands AFTER filtering to filter it more thouroughly, and at the end of said wetlands you would extract water for your aquaponics, livestock and yourself
an environment where the air would be filtered and ran via ducts, rather than natural air currents
an environment in which all precautions that could be thought of were taken to keep radiation at safe levels within the artificial environment

of course this all a perfectly ideal environment, im not sure how practical it is after a disaster that would cause such an issue...
 
pollinator
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> remove 2-10 " topsoil...

Can anyone imagine _any_ method of removing topsoil over a large area? (Spec'ing the size of the polluted area is pretty important.) A 20 mile square encompasses 400 square miles. Assuming it's too large to remove soil wholesale that means the soil gets to stay and that means (probably) a different problem to solve. The people who control the energy and mechanical resources needed to even think about such a large project probably won't be real eager to commit to something like that if there are other alternatives - like relocating a million or so people where the individuals provide the resources (mostly) to make it all happen.

It looks to me like in any truly large scale disaster, the soil would stay. The people would move - or they would stay and take their chances with existing soil, plants, water - and each other. So assuming the ecological infrastructure would stay would make for more useful thought experiments.


Rufus
 
laura sharpe
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If there is exposure from a power plant, those effected have some hope of compensation but dirty bomb?

As for clean up, I imagine they will clean up the same way they cleaned up hiroshima...wait, the radiation will dissipate over time. This is not a satisfactory answer I know but it is what happened. I am not sure at what point the japanese citizens started taking iodine.

Look at what happened after chernobyl. The debry is still there, the people moved.

Luckily nothing nearly so sinister would be possible with dirty bomb.
 
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Well folks. After the baby boomers survived the fall out nation wide from all the bomb testing of he 50's, 60's and 70's I think w can be rst assured men can and will survive. Of course old age may be a thing of the past. The weak will die of disease and cancer will thrive. Man will go on I think. Everyone had a lot of great stuff to say. You all have been exposed to fall out. Especially if you are over 40.

Feel like a test subject yet? In many places in the west they can not burn wood from the forest. It recontaminates. Just a thought.
 
steward
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It's useful to look at Chernobyl, a real life example of this.

Link is to "The Long Shadow of Chernobyl," the site of a photographer who has been to Chernobyl repeatedly to document what's going on there.
 
laura sharpe
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images of a crumbling city hint at the social impact, the environmental impact just cannot be caught on film.

I do like the pictures of the communist city, the past most of the region couldnt wait to get rid of....

i am totally off base with this so far, here is a bunch of maps of the Chernobyl fallout:

http://allegedlyapparent.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/extended-fukushima-fallout-maps-sept-29-mext-release-fukushima-vs-chernobyl-2/

the impact of one nuclear disaster can be huge....which areas should have the topsoil removed? What would you do with the contaminated soil? would removing the soil not be yet another perhaps even greater enviromental assault? In all honesty, i have no idea of these answers but these are all questions which should be thought of.

I want to go into a big long chat about cs 137. this is an area i am much more comfortable speaking of then how to fix this sort of thing. The half life of cs 137 is around 30 years.
 
gardener
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I heard from a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine that they peel the potatoes because of Chernobyl.

Peeling or washing with mild detergent is effective for lead contamination around urban gardens. It would most likely be effective for particles of heavy elements in radioactive fallout too.

The most contaminated parts of plants in the study I saw were those closest to the soil: roots, then stalks and leaves, with fruits typically least contaminated. Washing seemed to reduce the contamination to much more acceptable levels. Mild detergent (like a drop per gallon of water) was extremely effective.
This suggests that most of the heavy metal contamination (lead in this case) is surface rather than internal.

For groundwater contamination such as Hanford, there will usually be some less-contaminated water sources nearby. Rain, or alternative aquifers.

I would be inclined not to wash huge areas of topsoil out to sea, as it can take millenia to rebuild in some places. I'd look at the half-life of the contamination, and look at putting contaminated soil to work growing either concentrators (for disposal) or filtering biomass (for converting that contaminated soil to less-contaminated mulch).

Finally - the most popular solution is probably going to be to breed like rabbits and try to keep ahead of the mutations.

-EKW
 
Daniel Morse
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Breed like rabbits. I will take that advice to heart.

Just read an old science fiction bool called "The Eleventh Commandment" By Lester Dell Rey I think. It came out in the 60's. The world after a nuke war. Its a little socially outdated to a bit. However it is a good story and the subject of man and food are part of the point. The ending chapters really tell the point. An easy read.
 
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