Radiological Hazards

Radiological Hazards

Andrew’s Note:  Today we return to the MULTI-SERVICE DOCTRINE FOR CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL, RADIOLOGICAL, AND NUCLEAR OPERATIONS , FM 3-11, MCWP 3-37.1, NWP 3-11, AFTTP 3-2.42 dated July 2011, Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.  Today’s entry is the third entry in this series.  In the first article in this series we discussed  Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Incidents and Hazards, in the second entry we went more in depth on Chemical Hazards then we discussed Biological Hazards.  In today’s finale to this series we look in more depth on Radiological Hazards including Nuclear Hazards.


Danger Radioactive Material1-36. Radiological hazards are an emerging threat to U.S. military operations. These hazards can arise from many sources other than nuclear weapons and can be dispersed in a variety of ways.

1-37. Radiological hazards include any electromagnetic or particulate radiation that is capable of producing ions to cause damage, injury, or destruction.  Radiological material causes physiological damage through the ionizing effects of neutron, gamma, beta, or alpha radiation. These types of radiation are referred to as ionizing radiation. Radiological materials can be found in a number of military and civilian environments (nuclear power plants, hospitals, universities, construction sites). [Andrew’s Note:  …or a truck]

Note. For the purpose of this publication, the term radiation denotes ionizing radiation unless otherwise stated.

1-38. Radiological hazards also include toxic industrial radiologicals (radiological material that is manufactured, used, transported, or stored for industrial, medical, or commercial processes). Possible sources of toxic industrial radiologicals that are capable of producing radioactive hazards are civil nuclear production, research, recycling, and storage facilities; nuclear waste containment sites; industrial and medical nuclear sources; nuclear materials and sources in transit; stolen or smuggled nuclear weapons grade material; medical and fossil fuel manufacturing and waste processing plants; and other industrial sources.

1-39. Adversaries could disperse radioactive material in a number of ways, such as arming the warhead of a missile with radioactive material from a nuclear reactor, releasing low-level radioactive material intended for use in industry or medicine, or disseminating material from a research or power-generating nuclear reactor. Unless radioactive sources are thoroughly shielded, improvised devices employing these materials will more than likely have a significant radiological signature that can be detected before detonation, dispersal, or deployment. The dispersal of radioactive material represents an inexpensive capability that requires limited resources and technical knowledge.

Radiological Dispersal Device

1-40. A radiological dispersal device is an improvised assembly or process, other than a nuclear explosive device, that is designed to disseminate radioactive material in order to cause destruction, damage, or injury.

Radiological Exposure Device

1-41. A radiological exposure device is a radioactive source that is placed to cause injury or death. A radiological exposure device that remains undetected may increase the potential dose to the intended target.


1-42. A nuclear weapon refers to a complete assembly (implosion, gun, or thermonuclear) in its intended ultimate configuration. Upon completion of the prescribed arming, fusing, and firing sequence, a nuclear weapon is capable of producing the intended nuclear reaction and energy release. With regard to the risk of proliferation and use by terrorists, the gun type weapon is a relatively simple design and is a concern because it does not require as much fine engineering or manufacturing as the other methods. With enough highly enriched uranium, nations or groups with relatively low levels of technological sophistication could create an inefficient, though still quite powerful, nuclear weapon. A nuclear weapon can be detonated in space, in the atmosphere above the earth’s surface, on the surface, or below the surface. The data in this chapter focuses on air bursts. When the detonation occurs in the atmosphere, the primary radiation products (X-rays, gamma rays, and neutrons) interact with the surrounding air molecules and are absorbed and scattered as they radiate from the point of detonation.

1-43. Nuclear weapon effects are qualitatively different from biological or chemical weapon effects. The nature and intensity of nuclear detonation effects are determined by the type of weapon, its yield, and the physical medium in which the detonation occurs. Some characteristics of nuclear weapon effects include—

  • The distribution of energy and the relative effects of blast, heat, and radiation depend largely on the weapon, the altitude at which it is detonated, and features of the target.
  • A typical nuclear weapon releases most of its energy as thermally generated X-rays at the point of detonation.
  • The amount of fallout depends on the weapon yield, weapon type, and height of burst.
  • The area affected depends heavily on the wind.
  • Surface bursts produce the most fallout.
  • The hazard to personnel depends on the level of radiation present and the duration of exposure.
  • Weather conditions affect fallout immensely.

1-44. The effects of nuclear detonations include—

  • Blast and shock. The blast produces shock waves, high overpressures, and severe winds.  Personnel suffering critical injuries from blast and shock effects would likely suffer lethal radiation exposure as well.
  • Thermal radiation. Thermal radiation is the heat and light produced by a nuclear explosion. It can cause burns over substantial distances. Secondary fires from blast and heat are additional hazards. Thermal effects can also disrupt operation plans due to fire and melting snow and ice impeding movement.
  • Electromagnetic pulse. The interaction of gamma radiation with the atmosphere can cause a short pulse of electric and magnetic fields that may damage and interfere with the operation of electrical and electronic equipment and can cause widespread disruption. The effects of electromagnetic pulse can extend to hundreds of kilometers, depending on the height and strength of the nuclear burst. High-altitude, electromagnetic pulse can generate significant disruptive field strengths over a continental-size area. The portion of the frequency spectrum most affected by electromagnetic pulse and high-altitude, electromagnetic pulse is the communications band.
  • Transient radiation. These effects are generally short-lived and can be extremely hazardous to aircraft and other electronically dense pieces of equipment.
  • Ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation includes particulate (alpha, beta, and neutron) and electromagnetic (X-ray and gamma) radiation of sufficient energy to displace electrons from atoms, producing ions. The initial radiation is a significant threat to personnel and materiel, including optical, mechanical, and electronic components. Gamma rays and neutrons have a long range in the air and are highly penetrating. Alpha and beta radiation may cause a hazard to personnel following a nuclear detonation.
  • Potassium iodine. Potassium iodine may be used to protect the thyroid from radioactive iodine in the event of an accident or attack at a nuclear power plant or another nuclear attack, especially where volatile radionuclides (which contain significant amounts of iodine 131) are released into the environment. Radioiodine is a dangerous radionuclide because the body concentrates it in the thyroid gland. Potassium iodine cannot protect against other causes of radiation poisoning or provide protection against a dirty bomb unless it contains radioactive iodine.
  • Fallout. In addition to the initial thermal and ionizing radiation and electromagnetic pulse, a nuclear detonation produces residual radiation that results from the dispersal of radioactive materials in the target area and downwind. Fallout may be a lingering, widespread hazard that severely limits military operations in the contaminated area. (See Appendix A for further details.)


1-45. Depending on the adversary’s specific objectives, widespread or limited methods may be used to create CBRN hazards. These hazards present physical and psychological effects well beyond the immediate target area. The preceding subparagraphs described the characteristics and effects of CBRN hazards and selected toxic materials. Appendix A provides additional information on CBRN hazard considerations.

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2 Responses to “Radiological Hazards”

  1. seriousone72 says:

    Let me interject a synonym (SP) for Radiological Dispersal Device… “Fukushima”. This subject has been almost forgotten by the MSM. Find out how to counteract the effects of radionuclides that you come in contact with. It’s called Chelation. EDTA, Boron, Melatonin, Milk Thistle, Zeolite. Are just a few of the effective substances.
    The governments “Recommended Daily Allotment” of supplements, is just enough to keep a person from getting scurvy. Look up” Optimal Daily Allotment” which a Nutritionist came up with. Let’s say they are quite different.
    Another thing to consider is drinking distilled water. It’s one of the safest means of removing radioactive substances. RO (reverse osmosis) is the other way.

    • admin says:

      I’m not sure of the efficacy of the above but it’s certainly worth reading up on. Distilled or RO water could certainly remove radioactive contaminates but the O in H2O can become radioactive as well.

      Hint for drinking distilled water…shake vigorously to infuse oxygen to make it more palatable.

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