CDC Releases New Five-Point Radiation Hazard Scale

It’s storm season, and the local TV meteorologist is warning that the storm just off the coast is a Category 5 hurricane. We immediately know what that means: get to safety, we’re in for a big one. But what if Mother Nature wasn’t the culprit? What if the threat to you and your family was the result of an attack or an accident that caused the release of hazardous levels of radiation? The danger would be invisible – but very real.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a Radiation Hazard Scale to help communicate the immediate potential impact in the event of a radiation emergency. Until now, public health officials and emergency responders haven’t had a tool like the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (the official name of the well-known hurricane category scale!) to communicate the effects of a radiological incident.

CDC Radiation Hazard Scale

Back in 2011, the Fukushima Diiachi nuclear power plant accident was given a rating of 7 (“major accident”) on the 7-point International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), a scale developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency to rate the severity of an event. The new CDC Radiation Hazard Scale complements the INES scale by rating the radiation impact and risk to people depending on their proximity to a release. Had the CDC scale been available in 2011, environmental scientists and radiation safety experts could have used it to let emergency responders at the Fukushima plant know that the radiation hazard was a category 4 or 5, and they could have shared the information with area residents. At the same time, residents 240 km (150 miles) away in Tokyo could have been told to expect a category 2 radiation hazard.

The CDC hopes the Radiation Hazard Scale will assist emergency responders and public health officials to better educate the public on their risk for health effects from a radiological emergency, as well as encourage the use of recommended protective actions if necessary.

 “We commend the CDC for the development of this very important communication tool in the event of a radiation emergency,” said NTI’s Vice President for Material Security and Minimization Andrew Bieniawski. “This tool provides a much needed and very useful radiation hazard scale to better inform the public in the event of radiation emergency, including in the event a potential radiological dirty bomb.”

NTI’s work on radiological security aims to raise awareness and reduce the threat of dirty bombs and radiological incidents through securing dangerous materials that are vulnerable to accident or theft.  To learn more about NTI’s work on radiological security, read NTI’s Radiological Security Progress Report

February 8, 2017
Rachel Staley Grant
Rachel Staley Grant

Director of Public Education

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