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The U.S. is not ready to handle nuclear radiation sickness from a bomb, but here's how

October 13, 2017

Gregory Koblentz

No U.S. city is prepared for the casualties, chaos and destruction that would follow a nuclear detonation, write George Mason University professor Gregory Koblentz and Mary Sproull, a doctoral candidate at George Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government and a biologist with the Radiation Oncology Branch of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Fortunately, they write in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “new types of diagnostics to address this critical need are being developed in the field of radiation biodosimetry.” This, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the use of physiological, chemical or biological markers to assess radiation dosages and the likelihood of developing acute radiation syndrome.

It is an important undertaking given the increased tension and the nuclear, Twitter-based, saber rattling between the United States and North Korea.

Even a single nuclear detonation would be devastating, Koblentz and Sproull wrote. Infrastructure and communication systems would be impacted, first-responders and triage needs would be overwhelmed, and the list goes on.

On top of that, acute radiation syndrome, which may be the only effect in survivors without other injuries, would cripple existing systems.

The United States would be better prepared for a nuclear emergency if it worked to integrate emerging technologies into its emergency planning and response, Koblentz and Sproull wrote.

Gregory Koblentz can be reached at or 703-993-1266.

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or

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George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.