1 March 2011

If the unlikely becomes likely: Medical response to nuclear accidents

Alexander Baranov

Alexander Baranov is a leading scientific researcher at the Burnasyan Federal Medical Biophysical Center of the Federal Medical Biological Agency, Moscow, Russia. He is a haematologist and an...


Robert Peter Gale

Robert Peter Gale is a physician and scientist. He is Visiting Professor in the Haematology Division, Department of Experimental Medicine, Imperial College, London. He led the US assistance to the...

On the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power station accident, the authors look at how public concern is increasing regarding the health consequences of radiation exposure—such concern, the authors write, is not shaped largely by fear of another Chernobyl, but by the potential use of nuclear weapons, improvised nuclear devices, or stolen conventional radiation sources by rogue states like North Korea and Iran and by terrorists groups like Al Qaeda. The authors, leaders of the US–Soviet medical team that responded to Chernobyl, write about their experience treating the Chernobyl victims and what lessons can be applied to future government strategies. The United States has the medical capacity to respond to a nuclear event like Chernobyl, the authors write, but an adequate medical response to a catastrophic nuclear event would be impossible. Dealing effectively with a nuclear disaster requires diverse strategies including policy decisions, public education, and, as a last resort, medical preparedness and interventions.