Science & Tech

Physicians warn of nuclear terrorist threat

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Hiroshima-scale nuclear explosion on a ship in port in New York City would result in more than 250,000 deaths, researchers estimate

In a new study, Lachlan Forrow, director of ethics support services at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. and his co-authors used software developed by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency to calculate the impact of a 12.5 kiloton nuclear explosion –- the same size as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima –- in the port area of New York City. They found that such an attack would result in the immediate deaths of 52,000 people, while another 44,000 individuals could be expected to develop cases of radiation sickness, of which 10,000 would likely be fatal. According to their calculations, radiation from fallout would cause another 200,000 deaths and several hundred thousand cases of radiation sickness. Furthermore, they say, in the wake of such an attack, little could be done to help survivors: More than 1,000 hospital beds would likely be destroyed. The researchers did the study to make the point that in the aftermath of September 11, the threat of nuclear terrorism is among the most real –- and most dire –- of the United States’ current public health concerns. The report was published in the Feb. 8, 2002 issue of the British Medical Journal.