Radiation Blog

Radiation Protection for the Military: After Detonation

12.31.18 | Monday | Nofit Amir

Despite prevention efforts by both the military and internal security agencies, the use of a radiological dispersal device (RDD – commonly referred to as a dirty bomb) by hostile state and non-state actors is widely believed to be just a matter of time. An RDD is composed of relatively easy-to-obtain radioactive material (such as iridium 192), which can be found in medical facilities and other industrial settings. The radioactive material is then affixed to an explosive such as TNT – rather than an enriched uranium or plutonium source needed for the detonation of a nuclear device. While the extent of an RDD’s damage is less catastrophic than that of an improvised nuclear device (IND), the mechanics of an RDD are simple and widely known.

The ease of construction of such a device, and the availability of black market low-grade radioactive material, means that RDDs are a relatively realistic option for terrorist organizations. Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have openly declared their intent to obtain or develop such a device, which could render parts of a metropolitan area uninhabitable and cause untold economic damage and danger to human life depending on the load of radioactive and explosive material.

Bomb technicians need protection when defusing RDDs, since before detonation the radioactive material is highly concentrated and gives off the highest dose rates. Thus StemRad, with the support of the US Department of Defense, developed the Gamma Lite shield (described in the previous blog post).

After detonation of an RDD or IND, military forces may be called upon to act while exposed to radiation on domestic or foreign soil, in civilian areas or on the battlefield. This includes CBRN and National Guard military forces that train for such scenarios, military personnel that purposely go into the heart of the contaminated area with dosimeters to uncover and monitor peaks of radiation, and other special forces units in the army, navy and VIPR personnel.

Wearable Radiation Protection

At present, these military units do not have any wearable protection against the harmful effects of gamma radiation – the most penetrating type of radiation. Gamma radiation penetrates body tissue, destroying stem cells in the bone marrow that are essential for blood production, thus leading to Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS), which is the immediate cause of death due to gamma radiation exposure.

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Echoing numerous medical studies, the Center for Disease Prevention (CDC) states:

“Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS), or radiation sickness, is a serious illness that can happen when a person is exposed to very high levels of radiation, usually over a short period of time….The cause of death in most cases is the destruction of the person’s bone marrow, which results in infections and internal bleeding.”

Now, for the first time ever, StemRad’s 360 Gamma radiation shield is available to protect warfighters and other military emergency response personnel from the lethal effects of exposure to gamma radiation. The 360 Gamma protects tissue in the bone marrow-rich pelvic area, ensuring that a sufficient volume of the wearer’s bone marrow is saved to avoid the lethal effects of ARS. The 360 Gamma protects the body from the life-threatening dangers associated with high dose radiation exposure and mitigates many of the long-term health dangers (such as certain cancers) that can occur.

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