RIT Professor Leads the Fight to Protect Americans from Radiological Terrorism

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A few years ago, radiological terrorism, including the use of an explosive device containing radioactive materials or a so called “dirty bomb,” was more likely to be seen in the movies than it was seriously discussed on the evening news. Unfortunately, in our post-9/11 world the use of radiation to potentially harm millions of people is a much more realistic threat and one that all governments need to seriously address.

Andrew Karam, professor of biological sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology, is all too familiar with the potential dangers associated with radiation and is working to improve the federal government’s response to potential threats. He is currently a member of the science committee of the National Council on Radiation Protection, which is revising the council’s report on the management of persons accidentally contaminated with radioactive material. The report will be used to more adequately protect soldiers and civilians from the effects of contamination.

Karam is also working with the National Academy of Sciences to more adequately assess the health affects of depleted uranium, another potential weapon of terrorists.

“Although radiological weapons—‘dirty bombs’—are not likely to be very dangerous, most people don’t know this and they would panic after an attack. This reaction and the potential harm it can cause is very seductive to terrorist groups,” Karam says. “However, through education and proper preparation we can reduce the risks and minimize the effects of a potential attack.”

The council’s last report on contamination was written in the 1970s before radiological terrorism was a serious concern. Karam and his colleagues hope to add practical information and the latest techniques for dealing with the problem, allowing people who come in contact with radiation the knowledge necessary to properly handle the situation.

“When dealing with radiation, knowledge is the most important thing. If we can give people a practical guide for handling radiation and contamination we can save lives and avert disaster,” Karam notes.

Before joining RIT, Karam spent eight years in the US Navy’s Nuclear Power Program including three years on an attack submarine as supervisor of the Reactor Laboratories Division. He has also worked as a consultant for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Congress chartered the National Council on Radiation Protection in 1962 with the express mission to collect information concerning radiation and radioactive materials and to provide recommendations for protection against contamination.