Medical defense against radiological warfare is one of
the least emphasized segments of modern medical education. Forty years
of nuclear-doomsday predictions made any realistic preparation for
radiation casualty management an untenable political consideration.
The end of the Cold War has dramatically reduced the likelihood of
strategic nuclear weapons use and thermonuclear war.
Unfortunately, the proliferation of nuclear material
and technology has made the acquisition and adversarial use of
ionizing radiation weapons more probable than ever. In the modern era,
military personnel and their nationís population will expect that a
full range of medical modalities will be employed to decrease the
morbidity and mortality from the use of these weapons. Fortunately,
treatment of radiation casualties is both effective and practical.
Prior to 1945, ionizing radiation was deemed nearly
innocuous and often believed to be beneficial. Individual exposures to
low-level radiation commonly occurred from cosmetics, luminous paints,
medical-dental x-ray machines, and shoe-fitting apparatus in retail
stores. The physical destruction caused by the nuclear explosions
above Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Civil Defense programs of the
1960ís changed that perception.
Since that time, popular conceptions and misconceptions have permeated both attitudes and political doctrine. The
significant radiological accidents at Chernobyl and Goi‚nia are models
for the use of radiological weapons. To date, radiological warfare has
been limited to demonstration events such as those by the Chechens in
Moscow and threats by certain deposed third-world leaders.
As U.S. forces deploy to
areas devastated by civil war and factional strife, unmarked
radioactive material will be encountered in waste dumps, factories,
abandoned medical clinics, and nuclear fuel facilities. Medical
providers must be prepared to adequately treat injuries complicated by
ionizing radiation exposure and radioactive contamination. To that
end, the theory and treatment of radiological casualties is taught in
the Medical Effects of Ionizing Radiation Course offered by the Armed
Forces Radiobiology Research Institute at Bethesda, Maryland.
Military Medical Operations
Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute
Bethesda, Maryland 20889Ė5603