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Radiological Weapons

By James Madsen, MD, MPH, Adjunct Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics; Chief, Consultant Branch, Chemical Casualty Care Division, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; US Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, Aberdeen Proving Ground South, MD

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Ionizing radiation is discussed in detail elsewhere (see Radiation Exposure and Contamination : Types of radiation). Mass casualties due to ionizing radiation can result from the detonation of a nuclear (fission) or a thermonuclear (fusion) device, from the contamination of conventional explosives with radioactive material (such a weapon is called a radiation dispersal device [RDD], or a dirty bomb), or from placement (eg, under a subway seat) of a concealed point source of radiation. In cases of the deliberate use of radiation as a weapon, it must be determined whether patients have been exposed (irradiated), contaminated, or both. If contamination has occurred, determination of whether it is external, internal, or both is needed. Use of the ASBESTOS acronym (see Table: ASBESTOS: Secondary Assessment of Mass Casualties Due to Chemical or Radiological Weapons) is helpful in making these determinations. Another useful clinical resource is the online and downloadable module, Radiation Emergency Medical Management (REMM).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy of the Department of Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.