March 4, 2010

TV show on 'dirty bomb' hitting Portland offered good advice

— WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week, Maine was the scene of a fictional nightmare that we all hope never becomes reality.

On Thursday, National Geographic aired a one-hour special depicting the impact of a ''dirty bomb'' attack in Portland. While dirty bombs -- which use conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material -- are fearsome, it is important to know that the U.S. government and the average citizen have tools to effectively prevent and respond to such a scenario.

Through the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and our National Laboratories, the federal government has the world's best nuclear experts working to prevent and respond to nuclear terrorism.

After more than 60 years of experience working with nuclear weapons and materials, nobody understands how to respond to and resolve nuclear and radiological threats better than we do. Today, our experts are working in more than 100 countries around the world to detect, secure and dispose of dangerous nuclear and radiological material that could be used in a dirty bomb.

Our teams work around the clock in all corners of the globe putting nuclear materials under lock and key and installing detectors at ports, airports and border crossings to prevent nuclear smuggling.

Our goal is simple: to make sure that terrorists never get their hands on the material needed for a dirty bomb.

Should the unthinkable ever happen, the U.S. government has the tools to respond.

Our teams would deploy and gather and share the critical information and provide medical advice for all types of radiation exposure. With state-of-the-art computer modeling, aerial surveillance and radioisotope identification, NNSA would provide crucial information to first responders to help them disseminate information to the community.

For the general public, access to such information is critical. Radiation is invisible and can easily make people feel ill-equipped and unable to respond to an attack in their community.

In reality, people are better prepared than they might think. You don't need to be a nuclear physicist to survive a nuclear or radiological incident. In fact, many of the steps we all take to prepare for natural and other man-made disasters can assist in the event of a dirty bomb.

For example, keeping sufficient food and water supplies and a battery powered radio can save lives.

In the event of a dirty bomb attack, for most people the safest thing to do would be to go inside and wait for direction from local government leadership. Do not self-evacuate without direction or it may increase the risk for you and your family. A dirty bomb would likely not release enough radiation to kill or cause severe illness to those unaffected by the immediate blast area.

Instead, the detonation would likely create fear and panic, contaminate property and require potentially costly cleanup. Being and staying informed is key to preventing panic and keeping people safe.

Going inside and waiting for director from local leadership ensures that you minimize the length of time you are exposed to radioactive materials, maximizes the distance between you and the radiation source and helps shield you and your family from exposure to radioactive debris.

If exposed, a gentle shower to remove any potential contamination can minimize the level of exposure and reduce the risk of inhaling radioactive material. Most importantly, staying tuned to local media for the most current information can help you make decisions about the safest course.

The U.S. Government is working every day to prevent a dirty bomb from ever becoming reality. Should one ever occur, the National Nuclear Security Administration, through cooperation with several federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services have the assets necessary to respond to an event, render the area safe and provide long-term recovery.

As citizens, we have a duty to stay informed and be aware of the safest course. With that knowledge and up-to-date information following an attack, we can prevent widespread panic, minimize exposure to radiation, and save lives.

— Special to the Press HeraldIn the event of a dirty bomb attack, for most people the safest thing to do would be to go inside and wait for direction from local government leadership. Do not self-evacuate without direction or it may increase the risk for you and your family. A dirty bomb would likely not release enough radiation to kill or cause severe illness to those unaffected by the immediate blast area.

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