Nuclear threats or terrorists use of nuclear weapons or highly active radiation sources has become a possibility and needs to be addressed. Such threats include:
- Dispersal of highly radioactive materials by means of "dirty bombs".
- Contamination of drinking water or food supplies with highly radioactive materials.
- Direct attacks on nuclear power plants or nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities.
- Use of nuclear weapons by countries.
- Locating radioactive sources in heavily populated areas.
A "dirty bomb" combines conventional explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive materials packed around the explosive core. The idea is to spread radioactive material into the area around the explosion and frighten people. Indeed, the main damage from a dirty bomb would be associated with the blast itself, while contamination with radioactive materials to people or the environment is expected to cause only limited harm.
Dirty Bombs - What to Do:
- Leave the immediate area on foot. Do not panic. Do not take public or private rransportation such as buses or cars before they have been checked by competent authorities for contamination with radioactive materials.
- Go inside the nearest building. Staying inside will reduce people’s exposure to any radioactive material that may be present as dust at the scene.
- Remove clothes as soon as possible, place them in a plastic bag, and seal it. Removing clothing will eliminate most of the external radiation exposure from any radioactive materials deposited on them. Saving the contaminated clothing would allow testing for exposure without invasive sampling.
- Take a shower or wash as best you can. Washing will reduce the amount of radioactive contamination on the body and effectively reduce total exposure.
- Be on the lookout for information about the blast. Once emergency personnel monitor the scene and assess the damage, they will be able to tell people whether radioactive materials were involved and if any radiation induced health effects may be expected.
- Seek medical advice if you were near (within a few hundred meters) from the blast.
- Do not take stable iodine (e.g. potassium iodide) tablets without being told by competent authorities. It is not relevant for protection against possible health effects of a dirty bomb. If you need iodine prophylaxis you will be advised by the relevant public health or state emergency authority. Do not self-medicate but follow the directions from these authorities.
Even if people do not know whether radioactive materials were present, following the simple steps above can also help reduce any injury from chemicals present in the blast.
Dirty Bombs [pdf 20kb] Explanation of what a Dirty Bomb is and its health effects.
Nuclear weapon explosion [pdf 29kb] Health protection guidance in the event of a nuclear weapon explosion.