Planning for emergency response to dirty bomb assisted by study

The Brookhaven Laboratory released study results on Monday that predict a realistic scenario of how radioactive material from a dirty bomb would spread through the air after detonation.

Steve Musolino, from Brookhaven Laboratory and health physicist in the Nonproliferation and National Security Department, worked with Sandia National Laboratories' Fred Harper for the past 10 years to apply results of explosive experiments and determine the results. The pair has offered recommendations for responders, planners and decision-makers on how to plan a response.

"We recommend a revised initial hazard boundary at 250 meters to protect responders and the public from acute radiation effects before coherent radiation data are available, when all we know is there was a bang and somebody has detected radiation," Musolino said. "There is a larger area going out to 500 meters in all directions and two kilometers downwind where we recommend the public shelter-in-place to avoid low levels of contamination on the ground and to avoid the passing plume. "

Musolino said the study provides radiation measurements that can be used to map a "footprint" to be used in making decisions on how to best protect the public.

"The reality is that if there is a large fraction of the radioactive material going into the air, you're going to have this messy chaotic splatter of contamination," Musolino said. "You can't accurately tell the public how to avoid this radiation hazard until you map it. This is one of the reasons sheltering-in-place is an important protective action."

The new study results give recommendations for how to gather data and measurements after a blast, so first responders can react quickly and appropriately.

"As more field data become available, the first responders can generate a more accurate map that can be coupled with and compared to computer modeling and aerial-based measurements," Musolino said. "All these data get pulled together so that decision-makers can make recommendations for public safety and for responder protection as well."