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
  • 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.

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
  • If
    you are advised to shelter in place, you should do the following:

    • 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.

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.

more information about radiation, check the following Web sites: www.epa.gov/radiation,

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
  • 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

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.

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.

1 Comment

  • What type of property damage would occur if a dirty bomb was denoated within a city? Impact on 2-way radios, cell towers, mirco-wave towers, radio towers, land line systems, electrical appliances, vehicle electronics, sat phones, cb radios? thanks for the quick reponse.

Leave a Comment