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News of the Day ... In Perspective


Homeland Security proposes accepting higher radiation exposure in the event of a “dirty bomb” attack

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published a document advising the government to allow people to reoccupy areas contaminated by radioactive materials from a terrorist attack, even if they would be exposed to twice the radiation level that nuclear power plant workers may receive.

A delay in restoring essential services could lead to public health and welfare impacts “that could be more significant than the direct radiologic impacts,” the document stated.

Guidelines from the International Commission on Radiation Protection say that evacuation or cleanup may not be required until doses equal 10 rem/yr, or 30 times what the average American receives from natural background and medical sources of radiation.

Nuclear power plant opponents say the standard should be the EPA limits when tearing down power plants, or 0.025 rem/year, one-400th of the international standard (Matthew Wald, NY Times 1/5/06).

The document can be downloaded from the Federal Register of Jan 3, 2006, vol 71, no 1, pp 173-196. Public comments must be received by March 6, 2006.

The DHS states that “based on intelligence information, the potential for terrorist attacks in the United States using radiological materials or a nuclear device has grown.” It calls for “flexibility” as deemed appropriate under the local circumstances, to ensure that “actions taken cause more good than harm.” It notes that “the guidance does not apply to acts of war between nation-states involving nuclear weapons.”

Additional information:

“NAS Stands by ‘No Threshold’ Theory of Radiation Damage,” News of the Day 7/5/05, with links to pertinent articles in J Am Phys Surg.

“Chernobyl Cancer Deaths Fail to Materialize,” News of the Day 10/4/05

“Risks in Perspective” by Bernard L. Cohen, Ph.D., J Am Phys Surg, summer 2003

Background radiation with comparisons (adapted from TD Luckey, Health Physics Newsletter, June 1995)

EPA level of concern:    .001 rem/yr
Limit nearby nuclear power plant:    .0.005 rem/yr
U.S. average background:    .0.3 rem/yr
Chernobyl forced resettlement:    .0.5 rem/yr
Colorado plateau:    .0.6 rem/yr
Gerais, Brazil:    .2.3 rem/yr
Optimum for health (per Luckey)    .10 rem/yr
Ramasari, Iran    .48 rem/yr


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