What Types of Terrorist Events Might Involve Radiation?
- Possible terrorist events could involve introducing radioactive material into the food or water supply, using explosives (like dynamite) to scatter radioactive materials (called a “dirty bomb”), bombing or destroying a nuclear facility, or exploding a small nuclear device.
- Although introducing radioactive material into the food or water supply most likely would cause great concern or fear, it probably would not cause much contamination or increase the danger of adverse health effects.
- Although a dirty bomb could cause serious injuries from the explosion, it most likely would not have enough radioactive material in a form that would cause serious radiation sickness among large numbers of people. However, people who were exposed to radiation scattered by the bomb could have a greater risk of developing cancer later in life, depending on their dose.
- A meltdown or explosion at a nuclear facility could cause a large amount of radioactive material to be released. People at the facility would probably be contaminated with radioactive material and possibly be injured if there was an explosion. Those people who received a large dose might develop acute radiation syndrome. People in the surrounding area could be exposed or contaminated.
- Clearly, an exploded nuclear device could result in a lot of property damage. People would be killed or injured from the blast and might be contaminated by radioactive material. Many people could have symptoms of acute radiation syndrome. After a nuclear explosion, radioactive fallout would extend over a large region far from the point of impact, potentially increasing people’s risk of developing cancer over time.
How Can I Protect Myself During a Radiation Emergency?
- After a release of radioactive materials, local authorities will monitor the levels of radiation and determine what protective actions to take.
- The most appropriate action will depend on the situation. Tune to the local emergency response network or news station for information and instructions during any emergency.
- If a radiation emergency involves the release of large amounts of radioactive materials, you may be advised to “shelter in place,” which means to stay in your home or office; or you may be advised to move to another location.
- If you are advised to shelter in place, you should do
- Close and lock all doors and windows.
- Turn off fans, air conditioners, and forced-air heating units that bring in fresh air from the outside. Only use units to recirculate air that is already in the building.
- Close fireplace dampers.
- If possible, bring pets inside.
- Move to an sealed room or basement.
- Keep your radio tuned to the emergency response network or local news to find out what else you need to do.
- If you are advised to evacuate, follow the directions
that your local officials provide. Leave the area as quickly and
orderly as possible. In addition –
- Take your Go Pack.
- Take pets only if you are using your own vehicle and going to a place you know will accept animals. Emergency vehicles and shelters usually will not accept animals.
What is Radiation?
- Radiation is a form of energy that is present all around us.
- Different types of radiation exist, some of which have more energy than others.
- Amounts of radiation released into the environment are measured in units called curies. However, the dose of radiation that a person receives is measured in units called rem.
How Can Exposure Occur?
- People are exposed to small amounts of radiation every day, both from naturally occurring sources (such as elements in the soil or cosmic rays from the sun), and man-made sources. Man-made sources include some electronic equipment (such as microwave ovens and television sets), medical sources (such as x-rays, certain diagnostic tests, and treatments), and from nuclear weapons testing.
- The amount of radiation from natural or man-made sources to which people are exposed is usually small; a radiation emergency (such as a nuclear power plant accident or a terrorist event) could expose people to small or large doses of radiation, depending on the situation.
- Scientists estimate that the average person in the United States receives a dose of about one-third of a rem per year. About 80% of human exposure comes from natural sources and the remaining 20% comes from man-made radiation sources – mainly medical x-rays.
- Internal exposure refers to radioactive material that is taken into the body through breathing, eating, or drinking.
- External exposure refers to an exposure to a radioactive source outside of our bodies.
- Contamination refers to particles of radioactive material that are deposited anywhere that they are not supposed to be, such as on an object or on a person’s skin.
Health Effects of Radiation Exposure
- Radiation affects the body in different ways, but the adverse health consequences of exposure may not be seen for many years.
- Adverse health effects range from mild effects, such as skin reddening, to serious effect such as cancer and death. These adverse health effects are determined by the amount of radiation absorbed by the body (the dose), the type of radiation, the route of exposure, and the length of time a person is exposed.
- Acute radiation syndrome (ARS), or radiation sickness, is usually caused when a person receives a high dose of radiation to much of the body in a matter of minutes. Survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs and firefighters responding to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant event in 1986 experienced ARS. The immediate symptoms of ARS are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; later, bone marrow depletion may lead to weight loss, loss of appetite, feeling like you have the flu, infection, and bleeding. The survival rate depends on the radiation dose. For those who do survive, full recovery takes from a few weeks to 2 years.
- Children exposed to radiation may be more at risk than adults. Radiation exposure to the unborn child is of special concern because the human embryo or fetus is extremely sensitive to radiation.
- Radiation exposure, like exposure to the sun, is cumulative.
Protecting Against Radiation Exposure
The three basic ways to reduce radiation exposure are through—
- Decrease the amount of time you spend near the source of radiation.
- Increase your distance from a radiation source.
- Increase the shielding between you and the radiation source. Shielding is anything that creates a barrier between people and the radiation source. Depending on the type of radiation, the shielding can range from something as thin as a plate of window glass or as thick as several feet of concrete. Being inside a building or a vehicle can provide shielding from some kinds of radiation.