The expanding nuclear capabilities of both state and non-state actors call for increasing awareness of nuclear personal protective equipment (PPE).
In contrast to the common perception, nuclear PPE is needed not only after detonation of a radiological device. A significant portion of the military’s strength is expended towards preventing a nuclear disaster, and this in itself may involve exposure to high levels of radiation. Military units interdict, and come into close contact with, smuggled nuclear materials that could be used in an attack. Subsequently, military forensics teams study the nuclear material to identify where it came from. Nuclear disablement teams may be deployed to search for and defuse radiologic devices (such as dirty bombs), which emit radiation. A variety of special mission units, in the army and navy, carry out operations to block nuclear buildup in hostile countries and to gather intelligence on nuclear activity. In addition, military units may support inspections at nuclear plants to find out whether they are being used as enrichment facilities.
When performing these missions, military personnel are currently not protected from harmful gamma radiation, which is the most penetrating form of radiation. A radiation suit protecting from gamma radiation would be laden with lead or other dense material, greatly encumbering mobility. Thus StemRad has developed a radiation shield that covers the tissue in the body that is most vulnerable to radiation – the bone marrow. To a staggering extent, this nuclear PPE prevents the most immediate threat to the body from high doses of gamma radiation – acute radiation syndrome – while also mitigating some of the risk of subsequent cancers related to radiation exposure. For instance, at extremely high gamma radiation doses, such as 6 Gy, the immediate threat of acute radiation syndrome results in a 95% chance of lethality, yet with the shield’s protection from radiation its lethality is as low as 0%, dependent on the radioisotope (and subsequent cancer incidence is also reduced). The technology is actively supported by the scientific community, including a wide range of radiation experts and three Nobel laureates.
StemRad has developed two types of radiation shields for military purposes, one of which is tailored specifically to the military’s prevention efforts. While the StemRad 360 Gamma protects the bone marrow from all directions (it’s dubbed “360” due to 360-degree protection), the StemRad Gamma Lite protects the bone marrow and gut (the second most sensitive tissue) mainly at the front of the body, which, when defusing a dirty bomb, for instance, faces the radiation source and is in most need of protection. The focus on anterior protection results in an even more lightweight shield (15 lbs vs. 25-30 lbs). The logic behind anterior nuclear PPE is that numerous pre-detonation scenarios involve moving towards the source – to intercept it – or, in the case of forensics teams, facing the source, to examine it. In contrast, post-detonation scenarios involve widespread radiation and the bone marrow must be protected on all sides )for more on that, see the next blog post).