Public Should Have Radiation Detectors, Scientist Writes

Jun 02, 2010, 12:24 ET from Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons

TUCSON, Ariz., June 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Radiation may be invisible, but it is very easy to measure. With current technology, people no longer need to live in dread of a lethal exposure to radiation in the event that the unthinkable happens.

People may remember the old civil defense Geiger counters, or see them in movies. These instruments, along with the whole federal civil defense program, were discontinued in the 1990s, though still available from private vendors. Yet nuclear proliferation continues, and terrorists are known to be interested in building radiation dispersal devices (RDDs or "dirty bombs").

Highly specialized teams now have very expensive and sensitive instruments for detecting smuggled radioactive materials or monitoring spills. But most emergency responders have no instruments suitable for checking public exposure from a nuclear explosion or a "dirty bomb."

The self-indicating instant radiation alert dosimeter (SIRAD), which is the size of a credit card, could dramatically change this situation, writes radiation expert Allen Brodsky, D.Sc., in the summer issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. A radiation-sensitive chemical instantly and permanently changes color, so that the user can see whether he has accumulated a dose likely to cause sickness (more than about 50 rads), death (around 300 rads or more), or a low dose (less than 5 rads) with no likely short-term or long-term health risks.

The cards can be made for less than $20, and no training is required for use. No maintenance or power source is needed.

Averting panic could be their most important contribution. Unwarranted fear of radiation exposure could block rescue efforts or prevent performance of essential work.

The monitor also has peacetime applications "for enhancing the safety of the nuclear industry and medical interventions," Brodsky writes.

Brodsky advocates equipping emergency workers such as police officers and firefighters, as well as the general public.

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SOURCE Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons