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The threat of terrorism now makes it vital for American civil authorities to properly understand the real risks involved. Imagine the problems that would arise from police and firemen running away from a dirty bomb attack based on false information about exposure to low doses of radiation. A city could be put in chaos.
I first learned about this reality from attending meetings of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, run by the wise Dr. Jane Orient. She explained how after 9/11 she found that the Tuscon, Arizona fire department had been given radiation detectors showing 15 millirem as the threat level. She herself then provided them with more realistic detectors.
Thankfully, there is (slow) international progress in better understanding radiation risks. For example, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation has finally admitted that we can't use the LNT hypothesis to predict cancer from low doses of radiation.
An excellent little book titled Under-Exposed describes radiation effects (and even the medical benefits of low doses) in great detail. For converting different measurements in the confusing world of radiation herewith is a very useful chart calculator. Another link shows specific health effects from different radiation levels.
The threat of homegrown terrorism is not going away. Washington must prevent future panics, unnecessary evacuations, and accompanying economic catastrophes by explaining to the American people the real levels of radiation risk.