“We cannot expect that the defensive measures we take to prevent terrorists from infiltrating a nuclear device into our country will succeed indefinitely in a world where more and more nations—some reliable, others less so—acquire the capabilities to build the bomb. Like the levees around New Orleans, sooner or later the rising tide of nuclear weaponry will break through those barriers.”
When radioactive material and bomb-making components were found in an apartment near Tampa, Florida, last year – as part of an unrelated homicide investigation – the growing problem of readily attainable black market radioactive material was brought to the fore. Four men in their early 20s, members of a Neo-Nazi terrorist group called Atomwaffen Division (“atomic weapons” in German), may have been planning to carry out a mass casualty radiological attack. The presence of weapons, explosives, radioactive material and a framed photograph of Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) in their apartment suggested their intentions. Yet it was a deadly dispute among the men that led law enforcement to discover the radioactive material before an attack could be executed.
According to many nuclear experts, it’s only a matter of time until a plot to detonate a nuclear or radiological device is able to slip past intelligence and law enforcement officials. Avenues for attaining radioactive material are growing and include the black market and countries that loosely guard their nuclear material. Radioactive material has been stolen from numerous medical facilities in the United States according to a Homeland Security report. In addition, terrorists such as the abovementioned members of the Atomwaffen Division aspire to cause nuclear havoc by damaging nuclear reactors. Coupled with the threat of existing nuclear capabilities of hostile foreign countries, there is a real cause for concern about deadly radiation exposure and a need to prepare for the day when prevention fails.
The three forms of radiation emitted in a nuclear or radiological incident are known as alpha, beta and gamma. The ways to protect against these radiation types are:
How to prevent a radiation exposure:
Heavy clothing and even the outer layers of the skin prevent internal damage from alpha and beta radiation types (along with a respirator to prevent inhalation). Gamma radiation, however, is much more difficult to deal with. Gamma radiation involves high energy photons that easily penetrate the body, even from great distances.
StemRad’s solution to the gamma radiation problem is to selectively protect the most vulnerable cells in the body, thus avoiding the need for heavy material. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and numerous medical studies, the immediate cause of serious injury and death due to exposure to gamma radiation is damage to stem cells. Without them, the body cannot produce blood or fight disease.
In addition, stem cells are crucial for the body’s rehabilitation following radiation exposure. Thus, StemRad’s solution, which shields stem-cell rich parts of the body (such as bone marrow in the pelvic area), both reduces the chance of immediate death at high radiation levels and helps the body’s natural recovery. The table below shows results of product testing, verified by the U.S. Department of Energy.
[Caption] Lethality from gamma radiation is negligible using StemRad’s shield (table, in blue) while it grows to 95% at a very high dose without the shield (in red). Figures can change slightly depending on radioisotope.
Read about how StemRad’s technology is being used to protect NASA astronauts from large bursts of space radiation.