Thursday, November 21, 2019

Radiation Detection Kit

A few weeks back I wrote about finding a folder with paperwork concerning the fallout shelter in the building I was moved into at work. I wrote about the food, water, and sanitation supplies that were placed here in 1962, all of which were scrapped long ago.

The fallout shelter paperwork that I found at my new place of work also included mention of a "Radiation Detection Kit, CD V-777-2". This was one of about four different kits issued, depending on the rated occupancy of the fallout shelter; the "-2" kit was the smallest, designed for shelters capable of holding up to 50 people. One of the notes in the file of fallout shelter paperwork was a memo that the kit was sent to the local doctor on 8 Oct 1963 for storage and safe-keeping because he was the "Civil Defense Doctor" for this area. Since the meters required calibration every 5 years or so, and they were the most expensive part of the supplies provided, it makes sense that they kept them outside of the shelter. Dr. Little has long since passed away, but I would have loved to talk to him about his role.

While digging through one of the back rooms, however, I actually found the radiation detection kit still in its box. One of the manuals and the D-cell batteries were gone, but everything else is still there and the handheld detector had been calibrated about 30 years ago. The calibration sticker surprised me; I didn't know that anyone was keeping up with CD supplies in 1990 since the whole project had been mostly abandoned by the mid-70s when FEMA took over from the Office of Civil Defense and the focus of their spending was switched to natural disasters and away from surviving a nuclear war. While researching the meters, I found that at least two states (Iowa and Texas) still have facilities to maintain and calibrate them, and there is at least one private calibration company.

This is the box I found, "fresh" from the state maintenance shop. Inside was a "survey" meter for checking the radiation on surfaces, and a bag of personal dosimeters (and the charger) for checking the total dosage a wearer had received. Both were only useful for measuring Gamma radiation, so the easier to stop Alpha and Beta would have gone undetected.

The survey meter is a Victoreen Model V-715, a high-range unit that was useful for finding gross contamination. With a low range of 0-0.5 Roentgen/hr and a high range of 0-500 Roentgen/hr, these meters were designed for very high levels of radioactivity. You can see the calibration sticker near the range selector switch.

The dosimeters are the newer V-742 model, with a range of 0-200 Roentgen, which is quite a large dose. (200 Roentgen = 1.75 Sv, which will cause severe radiation poisoning and possibly death.) Erin covered radiation doses very thoroughly in a series of posts titled "Radiation for Dummies", so I won't repeat it. I covered how they work in a post that you can find here.

There were also a plastic strap for carrying the survey meter over a shoulder and a manual inside the box. The manual covers the operation of the two types of meters and is written in typical governments form.

I'm not completely sure what I'm going to do with that box of toys. I may tuck them back in a corner of the back room for some other explorer to find after I retire, or I may check to see if a local museum might be interested in adding them to their collection. I'm still trying to contact the owner of the online Civil Defense Museum to see if anything I've found is unique enough to add to his collection; he has a lot of information about a rather interesting time in our recent history.


  1. Are they in working order, or has time and crappy batteries ruined them?

  2. They were stored with the batteries separate, so they should be good. The calibration is 25 years out of date, so I don't have any confidence in the accuracy of the meter, but the dosimeters should be fine.


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