Rori, an Israeli Defense Force search-and-rescue dog, searches the rubble of a fallen building for a simulated victim during United Front VII at Camp Yigael Yadin on June 19, 2018. (Photo by Sgt. Alejandro Smith-Antuna/120th Public Affairs Detachment)

Search-and-Rescue K9 Protection in Radiological-Nuclear Environments


It’s been 24 hours since an unknown entity detonated a nuclear weapon in the Port of Los Angeles. The blast wave blew down structures like dominoes, creating debris and dust that were pulled up into the mushroom cloud creating downwind fallout. The detonation generated a tsunami-like wave that flooded inland and covered parts of the city with radioactive water. The electromagnetic pulse radiated outward from the detonation location and bridged the integrated circuitry of electronics, making most all electronics inoperable to include cell phones. Consequently, those trapped in the collapsed buildings could not call for help and even if they could the dispatchers on the other end are likely either dead or equally trapped. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces have set up on the outskirts of the disaster area and hazardous material specialists are assessing the radiation levels on scene, while rescue managers are strategizing how to reach the estimated 100,000-plus individuals trapped in and around the collapsed buildings. Time is critical as these victims are succumbing to the blunt-force trauma while others are receiving radiation doses that could quickly accumulate to lethal levels. A quick and fast way to locate trapped or buried people is to use canine assets specifically trained for such work; however, this type of mission poses unique environmental challenges for both handler and canine.

Following the 2011 Japan tsunami, the related Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and the corresponding international rescue response, questions were raised on whether it is possible to improve the safety of using search-and-rescue canines in a radiological environment. One of the key aspects in these discussions was the exceptional difficulty in determining how to protect the canine when there is no concise or pertinent information available to define protective means and methods. Unfortunately, the lack of concrete data on canine health effects when exposed to low and medium levels of radiation resulted in a lack of a consensus on how to improve the canine’s safety. Safe radiation work limits were established for humans through empirical data and other study resulting in a minimum level of increased cancer risk to be at the 0.05, 0.1, and 0.25 Sievert limits.[1] Yet similar minimum radiation levels have not been established for working dogs, and the few studies that have been accomplished are in strong and opposing debate.[2] Additionally, individuals who work in a radiation zone can be afforded a certain level of personal protective equipment (PPE), yet the use of such protective equipment can prevent the canine from being able to move properly and perform its designated function. For example, respiratory protection used on a canine would severely inhibit its ability to smell buried victims in a collapsed building. The lack of PPE measures does not negate the importance of protecting canines, especially considering that it can take up to two years and tens of thousands of dollars to train and certify a canine, which results in an exceptionally limited resource pool. Accepting that a comprehensive study to establish safe canine radiation exposure limits would be extraordinarily difficult to undertake, but acknowledging that the canine assets need to be protected, this essay explores some theoretical options for protecting this key resource for search and rescue.

A radioactive environment can occur several ways, including through the detonation of a radiological dispersion device (RDD), a reactor breach, a nuclear weapon detonation, or just by the placement of a radioactive source. The environment of a radiological disaster can be categorized in one of two ways based on how the material resides in the environment, specifically sealed/contained or loose/uncontained. In an incident with a sealed radioactive source, the material is secured in a vessel or an amalgamate-type material, and emits ionizing radiation. An example of such sources could include density gauges, hospital radio-therapy instruments, industrial X-ray devices, etc. However, if the container is breached or amalgamate broken, until proven otherwise by survey, the event can no longer be considered “sealed/contained” and needs to be classified as unsealed/loose. In this case, material is free moving and can be spread by physical means or atmospheric forces. Such examples would include a nuclear detonation (with related fallout), a nuclear reactor release, a radioactive dispersal device, etc.

In the case of a sealed source, the radioactive source’s emittance is limited to a specific area, which can be easily surveyed and designated as an exclusion zone. Keep in mind that some of these radioactive sources are very powerful, resulting in a potentially large exclusion zone. As the radioactive source is sealed in a container and not mobile, the principal hazard to anyone entering the exclusion zone would be receiving a whole-body exposure of ionizing radiation. In an environment where the radioactive material is loose, it can be expected that there would be multiple exclusion zones of varying radiation levels, with the potential for different isotopes to be present. As the material is loose, constant surveying and exclusion zone adjustments will need to be undertaken. Also, depending on the radioisotope(s) involved, the half-life(s) may be short enough that the exclusion zone will shrink as the materials decays.

Defining the radiation exclusion zones enables a visualization of the hazardous locations; however, this does not preclude work from being accomplished in said zones. If rescuers need to enter the zone then the aspects of time, distance, and shielding need to be considered to lower exposures “as low as reasonably achievable” (ALARA):

  • Time: The longer an entity is exposed to a radiation level the higher the dose is received, and thus by limiting the time in the exclusion zone the accumulated dose is reduced.
  • Distance: By the inverse square rule, increasing the distance from a source by a certain factor will decrease the radiation by a squared proportional amount (I1/I2 = D22/D12 where I1 is the intensity at D1 Distance 1 and I2 is the intensity at D2 Distance 2). Under this principle, if it is possible to work from an increased distance (or a different incident angle) then the dose will be decreased. For example, if at 5 meters from a source a rescuer were receiving a dose of 5 Sv/hr and moved to a distance of 10 meters then the dose would decrease to 1.25 Sv/hr.
  • Shielding: Alpha and Beta particles can be shielded with a minimum distance in air, and protection is easily achieved with modern personal protective equipment (PPE). However, photon (gamma, X-ray) and neutron radiation can travel a great distance and will transit through all PPE. To shield against the photons or neutrons, the concept of “half-thickness” can come into play; namely, the thickness of a medium required for half of the incident radiation to undergo an interaction with the material. It may be possible to use existing structure or material at the disaster to help shield the work level and decrease the radiation level being imposed upon the workers/canine.

Although time, distance, and shielding are addressed as individual aspects to lower a radiation exposure, the aspects are far greater when combined and used in a complementary fashion: a canine is worked behind a cement wall, at a different incident angle from the source, and directed only as necessary into zones for quick checks.

Canine Exposure in a Non-Sealed Radiation or Nuclear Source Event

Looking first at an environment that has loose/unsealed radioactive material, there are a multitude of hazard routes that can impact a canine including whole-body exposure, inhalation, ingestion, and even potentially injection of the material. When considering how to protect a canine, the easiest method is simply to exclude them from entering zones with any level of contamination. If it is necessary to place them in areas of radiation then consider using dose limits in the hope of negating health effects, novel use of some PPE, and an adequate decontamination protocol to remove any radioactive material from the animal prior to it entering an uncontaminated zone.

External Dose Hazard

Understanding that there are currently no approved health-related values for canine exposure to radiation the theoretical limits from which work can occur can be established for protective measures. Canines were instrumental in determining the dose effects for humans, and using these studies with the associated LD50, LD5, and related health effects can loosely extrapolate that a 7-18REM, based on a 10-20kg animal, should be the level that minimally impacts a canine’s health (keeping in mind most working dogs are 20-30kg and that the increase mass equates to a decreased affect).[*] [3],[4],[5],[6],[7]  For simplicity, the suggested limit to 5REM annual dose to reflect the same dose levels defined in 29CFR1910 and 10CFR20 for radiation workers will be set. Keep in mind that this is a “whole body” ionizing radiation dose and does not consider hazards from any internal doses. This whole-body dose can then be drilled down further to daily working limits at the disaster scene. As an example, based on a 12-day deployment, 12-hour workday, and a 5REM allotment for the year, the maximum average dose rate the canine should receive is 35 mREM/hr. Thus, with the estimated safe working exposure limit defined, monitoring for this dose rate and corresponding accumulated external dose (internal is addressed later) can be considered.

One of the traditional methods to estimate an exposure is using a photo-luminescence badge as the badges are cheap, reliable, small, and easy to use – which makes for a simple technique to determine a canine’s total exposure, but it also requires a reading device that may not be present at the scene, making it impossible to know what dose received was until well after the work event. Additionally, it only captures a total dose for the measured period – it isn’t possible to know the dose rate. Another option would be to affix a “radiation pager” that has dose and detection capability to the canine, which would provide a real-time total dose, as well as the dose rate, without the need for a reading device. A secondary benefit from using such a device is that as the canine works in difficult-to-reach areas it will be collecting information for command on the presence and levels of radiation. Regardless of the monitoring technique used, once a canine has reached its operational dose limit it needs to be decided if the canine continues to work or if it is taken from the scene and replaced by a canine that has yet to cumulate any radiation exposure. This is not an easy question as 1) by leaving the canine in the environment to continue to accumulate dose it may result in the canine succumbing to radiation injury, but 2) bringing in a new canine may result in two canines becoming susceptible to radiation health effects (or neither canine having health effects).

Internal Dose Hazard

As a canine explores its environment it does so principally through the sense of smell. Just as in humans, the act of breathing will bring dust and small particles into the respiratory system. This becomes even more pronounced in the canine, especially as canines are working toward a specific scent. Thus, the risk of inhaling radioactive dust is significant. Additionally, a tendency of some canines is to taste areas to help in the exploration of the scent – imparting a threat of ingesting radioactive material. Unlike humans, it is impossible to provide working dogs with respiratory protection, since it will degrade or negate their ability to perform their function of smelling for the target odor (i.e trapped people). Ideally it is desired to know how much material was brought internally into the canine so that work periods and post-event care could be properly addressed. To estimate an internal uptake of radionuclides, the canine would need to be outfitted with a particle collection device across its snout and analyzed post work evolution by scintillation. Obviously, this is not practical due to how it would impact the canine’s ability to work, thus there is not a method for accurately determining the quantity of any inhaled or ingested radioactive material. If a canine is subjected to an area with a loose radioactive material it is recommended that an isotopic identification survey is completed to catalog the isotopes that the canine potentially up took internally. This information may be necessary for any follow-on veterinary care, especially if the canine requires chelation therapy.

Of all the potential radioactive isotopes there is one, iodine 131/132, which has a possible means for an internal protection. By administering potassium iodide (KI) prophylactics before exposure to the isotope, the thyroid can be protected (by saturating with iodine and thus blocking further uptake of the radioactive variant). The overall canine health effects of the KI supplement are not known; a risk/benefit decision will need to be made about whether to administer the potassium iodide.[†] Potassium Iodide prophylaxis at 1.4mg/KG was preliminarily determined to be sufficient for K9s by North Carolina College of Veterinary Medicine Department of Clinical Pharmacy[‡].

The final mechanism that has the potential to introduce a radioactive material to the internal system is injection. As the canine performs its search function it is subject to abrasions, cuts, and punctures – usually minor in nature, but sometimes a major injury may occur. If the item from which the canine received the trauma was contaminated with a radioactive material, then that material can be introduced internally to the canine. In terms of this article, only the radiological effects will be considered and not other impacts due to the chemical nature of the material. In the case of minor cuts and abrasions, the radioactive material will be in close contact to unprotected tissue, potentially leading to localized (but possibly severe) radioactive burns. These types of wounds need to be debrided as soon as possible, with immediate low-level radiological survey post cleaning to ensure that virtually all radiological material is removed. If the canine is to continue to work, the injury area needs to be sealed with an occlusive dressing to prevent any further contamination. Severe injuries that have extensive bleeding will self-debride (to an extent) as a volume of fluids exits the wound. Despite this action, as care is being rendered the wound site needs to be cleaned to remove any latent foreign material. In extreme cases as blood flows through breached arteries or veins it is possible that foreign dust material could be drawn into the bloodstream through a venturi effect. Packing of wounds using pressure dressings or chitosan packings can “theoretically” exacerbate this effect by pushing the radioactive material further into the wound and into closer contact to the circulatory system. Loose hemostatic agent may help offset this aspect by sealing those open veins, arteries, and/or capillaries. In the case of puncture wounds or impalements, other than cleaning the outside of the wound site and seeking veterinary care, there is no practical field care.

Ultimately, due to the radiochemical properties and decay paths of nuclides even minute quantities of material introduced internally would lead to significant health problems, including the possibility of death.

Personal Protective Equipment

When considering the nature of a loose radioactive material the primary hazard to a canine is an internal uptake through inhalation or ingestion – for which there are no protective measures that can be offered other than limiting exposure through a system of exclusion zones or limited exposure time. However, there are some measures that should be considered to help protect the canine’s whole-body exposure as well as potentially mitigating some of the threat from a source injection. As canines traverse a contaminated area, most of the contamination will occur on the pads (bottom of the feet). As the pads are semi-porous fine tissue to become embedded making the subsequent removal of contamination process difficult. If it is not adequately removed then radiation burns from gamma photons and beta particles could occur as the radioisotope is in close proximity to the tissue. To help prevent such an injury it is suggested that the canine be fitted with close-fitting rubber booties. By protecting the pads in this fashion it will offer a level of protection from the potential of radiation burns, increase the efficiency of the decontamination process, and help decrease the threat of the canine transporting radioactive material into a clean/cold zone. Granted, this will encumber the canine’s ability to move through uneven terrain (such as rubble piles), but proper use of the canine in the booties should offset this difficulty (i.e. directing the canine to easier traversed paths).

Beyond the pads and inhalation/ingestion of material, the next threat is a whole-body exposure, which is a threat in all radioactive-laced environments. To provide protection from beta radiation injuries to the torso, as well as to help prevent the potential for injection for radioactive contamination through accidental trauma, it is recommended that the canines be outfitted with close-fitting Kevlar vests. Based on the construction and thickness, the vest will be able to stop all close proximity alpha particles and a vast majority of beta particles before they reach the skin of the canine. Although canine Kevlar vests have not been directly tested against ionizing radiation sources, basic experiments have demonstrated that Kevlar material can provide a level of radiation shielding, thus theoretically lowering the whole-body exposure of the canine (especially when combined with some distancing measures).[8] Finally, by covering the hair and skin of the canine, the vest will also provide a “contamination barrier” that can be removed during the decontamination process, allowing for a more rapid and thorough decontamination. The vest can create a significant snag hazard, but this can be overcome by re-engineering the vest with tear-away panels or Velcro straps that will quickly release the vest from the canine if it becomes snagged.


If a canine becomes externally contaminated, that radioactive material needs to be safely removed in a systematic and efficient process to mitigate the hazard to the individual while not spreading the hazard in an uncontrolled fashion – by definition, the process of decontamination. Historically it was recommended to use a specifically designed HEPA filter vacuum to remove the radioactive material so to contain the material within the vacuum, but such a process requires specialized equipment and corresponding training and experience. On the flip side of the coin the CDC recommends using a normal water and soap (wet) decontamination process.[9] However, for anyone who has given a canine a bath, it is easily understood that it becomes especially difficult to keep the water from becoming airborne due to the canine “shaking” itself as that is an innate reflex. Consider that if the radioactive material is contained in the now airborne water droplets, that radiation now becomes an inhalation hazard for the canine and handler. Not to mention that the use of a wet decontamination process can create a significant contaminated waste stream. With these significant issues in the common processes, new technology in decontamination provides opportunities to safely remove a bulk of a radioactive material from a canine while negating these issues.

As a canine exits the exclusion zone all PPE (booties, vest) need to be removed, safely bagged, and tagged with the canine’s identification for follow on survey for radiation. After being stripped of gear, the canine needs to be surveyed for any radioactive contamination, with areas two times background or greater being marked.[§] Special attention needs to be paid to areas that would have high probability of coming in contact with ground materials (legs, underbelly, face). If the area contains significant hair (body), the area should be secured with high-quality medical tape and then shaved with hair clippers – the goal being that the tape will help contain the material in the hair and prevent it from becoming airborne. Next the area is to be wiped in proper fashion using a carbon-based micro-fiber membrane wipe to remove any additional radiation. After being wiped, the area needs to be resurveyed and if necessary additional wipes would be used on the shaved area until the radiation level is below the two times background level. In case of radiation contamination on the face, first the eyes, nose, and the inside of the mouth needs to be carefully flushed, with caution being paid to wash away from the organs. After flushing the hair areas need to be carefully wiped with the carbon-based wipe. Caution needs to be paid not to allow the carbon from entering the eyes or nose as it will severely irritate the membranes. If material has been inhaled and is in the canine’s nasal cavity, due to anatomy, it will necessitate immediate flushing by a veterinarian. The ears can be especially challenging due to the anatomy and depth. The only method to readily remove material is by flushing, and it may be desired to seek veterinary care to achieve the cleaning.[**] In other areas of minimal hair, the carbon-based wipes should be effective if applied directly. In case of pad contamination, it may necessitate soaking the pads in water to dissolve any dirt that might be contain radioactive material.

The last aspect to consider is if the canine has received trauma and the injury site contains a radiological contaminant. There are several general scenarios that should be considered, captured in the following:

  • Life-threatening trauma was received and there is a significant radiological contamination: Perhaps the worst of the considerations is one where the canine received a significant injury that is life threatening and the level of radiological contamination similarly poses a direct threat to the viability of the canine. In such a case the level of radiation will most likely be lethal to the canine, compounded by the trauma and the canine’s systemic response to the trauma. At this junction the safest and most humane action may be euthanasia.
  • Significant trauma with any level of radiological contamination: Unlike the previous example the trauma is slightly less severe and allows for some minimal time to remove the contamination before the canine succumbs to the injury. As medical interventions are being prepared (discussed above), if there is radioactive material in or near the injury site it needs to be rapidly flushed with a large quantity of 0.9% saline solution to remove as much material as possible via physical action. The injury site needs to be the priority for decontamination so as to not delay medical care (i.e. decontaminate the wound while the bandages are being gathered and opened). Then as care is being rendered the remainder of the canine can be decontaminated with the use of the carbon-based wipes.
  • Minor trauma and any level of radiological contamination: In this case the decontamination process needs to take precedent over treating the medical issue as the radioisotope poses a far greater risk. If there is radiation in or near the injury site repeated 0.9% saline flushes need to be accomplished to remove the material through physical action. Caution needs to be paid to wash the material away from the injury site, as well as sensitive organs (mouth, nose, eyes, etc.). The carbon-based wipes can simultaneously be used to decontaminate the remainder of the canine.

In all cases, if the canine is sent for definitive care, the veterinarian facility needs to be notified prior to transport so that the facility can properly prepare with appropriate isolation measures prior to arrival.

Canine Exposure in a Sealed Radiation Event

Sealed sources tend to pose a much easier problem to contend in terms of canine exposure. Generally speaking, these sources will be contained to a single location allowing for an exclusion zone to be set at the radiation limit. As the source is contained there shouldn’t be an inhalation or ingestion hazard, only the whole-body radiation dose hazard. However, some of these sources can be exceptionally powerful, resulting in a large exclusion zone. Adopting previously mentioned methods of limiting accumulated dose, the canine should only require dosimetry using a radiation pager, limiting the canine’s exposure to the source, and possibly a vest to offer some shielding from the source. Decontamination can follow normal methods set for the incident as it should not be possible for the canine to become radioactively contaminated.



The above essay was intended to provide possible options for protecting canines in a radioactive environment, as using a working dog in such a situation should not equate to a death sentence because of preventable radiation exposure. The sheer cost and time required to properly train, certify, and qualify a canine to perform search and rescue results in an exceptionally limited asset and necessitates that these working dogs are preserved. When the risk cannot be eliminated or avoid, the principals of time, distance, and shielding make it feasible to develop appropriate health physics-based plans to achieve these necessary canine preservation measures. Ultimately, the goal should be to safely allow the canine to perform its function in a contaminated environment through the use of appropriate tools and operating protocols.


The following section provides additional details on some specific radiation effects that can be imparted on a canine. This is strictly a summary and is only meant to provide some additional detail.

Thermal Radiation 

Thermal radiation is composed of electromagnetic radiation in the ultraviolet, visible, infrared, and X-ray regions of the spectrum. When thermal radiation strikes an object, part will be reflected, part will be transmitted, and the rest will be absorbed. Thermal damage and injury are due to the absorption of large amounts of energy within relatively short periods of time. The absorbed thermal radiation raises the temperature of the absorbing surface and resulting in burns.

In addition to the thermal effects of radiation, there is a sub-category of radiation referred to as “ionizing radiation,” where a photon or particle contains enough energy to interact with an atom resulting in the ejection of an electron. In such cases the ejected electron changes the chemical structure of the affected material resulting in the formation of a free radical. Both the free radical and the ejected electron will in turn interact with their immediate neighbors to induce further chemical changes. It’s the combination of all these effects that results in the various radiation injuries.

Radiation Effects on Personnel and Canines

Exposure to high levels of radiation can result in various harmful effects on the living creature through the previously mentioned mechanisms. Depending on where the affected cells reside, damage to the hemopoietic system, gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, and the central nervous system can occur. In considering the possible effects on the body of ionizing radiation, it is necessary to distinguish between acute and chronic exposure. In an acute exposure, the entire radiation dose is received in a short period of time (less than 8 hours) – such as in the initial nuclear blast. Chronic exposure occurs over several days to a lifetime – such as in the case of an individual working near a breached reactor. The importance in distinguishing the two is the effects of a large single dose, versus a period of exposure of a lower dose: an acute exposure to 50 rad can cause changes to the constituents of the blood, but if the same dose was spread over a period of a year, there would be only minor changes to the blood but induce an increased risk of cancer.[12], [13] An acute dose of 600 rad would cause serious illness and potentially be fatal after a few weeks, whereas 600 rad spread over 20 years would have very minor to possibly no effects on the person.[14], [15]

Gamma Radiation Effects

Gamma radiation is highly energetic and is so penetrating that a significant part will pass through the human body without interaction. About 75% of the photons will interact with and lose energy to the atoms of the target tissue. This energy deposition may occur anywhere along a given photon’s path, and therefore, anywhere in the body. If the gamma photon flux is high and the whole body is exposed, a fairly homogeneous deposition of energy will occur. This is in marked contrast to the highly localized energy deposition patterns of alpha and beta radiations. Because of its penetrating ability, the effects of gamma irradiation can be independent of the location of the source. High-energy gamma emitters deposited within the body can result in total body irradiation just as effectively as external sources, if the quantities deposited are large enough and despite the fact that the emitters may not be distributed uniformly throughout the body.[16]

Neutron Radiation Effects

Neutrons are uncharged neutral particles that do not interact with the orbital electrons of atoms as other types of ionizing radiation — instead the particles interact with atomic nuclei directly. Because of their mass and energy, neutrons can cause severe disruptions in atomic structure. This is much more pronounced in very light atoms, particularly hydrogen. Due to their short range, the accelerated nuclei produced by these collisions will expend their energy along short tracks of high excitation and ionization density. In tissue, about 70% to 85% of the entire fast neutron energy is transferred to hydrogen nuclei. The remainder of the neutron energy is dissipated in the nuclei of other atoms. After the neutrons have lost most of their energy through these collisions, the particles will reach an equilibrium energy state at which point they are referred to as thermal neutrons. Slow-moving neutrons have a high probability of being captured by the nuclei of a wide variety of elements such as sodium. Once an atom gains a neutron, the atom in turn become a different elemental isotope and is thus subject to a radioactive decay.

Beta Particle Effects

In simple terms a beta particle is an electron generated through a radioactive decay process. Beta particles will lose most of their energy after penetrating only a few millimeters of tissue. But, if the beta emitting material is on the surface of the skin it will cause a local radiation burn, similar to a superficial thermal burn. If the beta material is incorporated internally, the radiation can cause significant damage. This damage is a function of the number of sources and how the material is distributed in the body, which is determined by the chemical nature of the radioactive material. Due to the particle size, the density of energy deposited is much less for beta irradiation than that of alpha particles. As a result, the cells impacted by the particle may be damaged rather than killed outright, which may be of greater significance to the total organism than killed cells, particularly if the cells become malignant.[17]

Alpha Particle Effects

An alpha particle consists of two neutrons and two protons emitted in a radioactive decay. These particles are large and slow moving, and thus the energy is fully absorbed within the surface of the skin and can be stopped by a piece of paper. As it can be easily stopped at the surface of the skin, alpha radiation does not pose an external exposure hazard, but if alpha emitting material is internally deposited the radiation energy will be absorbed in a very small volume of tissue. Just like in the beta particle, the energy depositions will kill or damage the cells in the immediate proximity of the source.[18] Although this may seem like a local event that could be overcome by the body’s natural defenses, keep in mind the case of the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko using polonium 210 (an alpha emitter).


Incorporation of Radiation into the Human Body

  • Inhalation: An insoluble material that is inhaled in the form of an aerosol will be deposited along the trachea-bronchial tree. Much of it will be removed by the ciliary action of the mucosa lining most of the respiratory system, but a certain fraction, depending on the size, shape, and density of the particles, could penetrate down to the alveolar air sacs. Material retained can be a considerable hazard to the lung since the material is not easily ejected and will reside in the deposited site. A portion of this material has the potential to be picked up by the lymphatic system that interacts with the various pulmonary regions. If a soluble material is inhaled, it is absorbed very rapidly and completely, and often will not remain in the lungs long enough to cause significant damage. Once in the circulation, it will be distributed in the body based on the chemical properties of the material.
  • Ingestion: An insoluble material that is ingested will remain in the gastrointestinal tract and eventually be eliminated through normal system actions. However, as the material traverses the tract it will deposit its energy, causing radiation damage. When a soluble material is ingested absorption is quite efficient, allowing the radioisotope to enter the body system and be deposited in locations based on its chemical properties.
  • Transcutaneous Adsorption: An insoluble material contaminating the intact skin can be an external hazard only if it is a gamma or beta emitter. It will not be absorbed into the bloodstream and thus will not become an internal hazard. If a wound is contaminated, insoluble material will tend to remain localized in the tissue at the wound site, unless removed by debridement. Soluble material will be absorbed readily through wound sites and distributed within the body organs and tissues according to the usual metabolism and chemistry of the stable isotope. Isotopes dissolved in an ionic liquid (water, alcohol, DMSO, etc.) can be readily transported through the surface of the skin.

A radioactive material must be eliminated from the body, by either normally systemic means or medical intervention. Chelating agents, e.g., calcium or zinc DTPA (diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid), if administered soon after exposure, are effective in enhancing the elimination of certain radioisotopes.[19]  These materials are not very effective for radioisotopes that have been incorporated and fixed in organs and tissues. Other isotopes cannot be cleared from the body as rapidly, and there is no adequate treatment available at present for increasing the rate of removal of a mixture of isotopes that would be incorporated into the body as a result of ingesting fallout-contaminated food and water. The uptake by the body of radioisotopes can be blocked in some cases. For example, potassium iodide if given prior to an exposure to iodine 131/132 will block the uptake of radioiodine by the thyroid gland by saturating the thyroid with the iodine from the prophylactic. Similarly, orally administered Prussian Blue will reduce the absorption of cesium and Alginate will reduce strontium absorption from the gastrointestinal tract.[20]


Disclaimer:  The author is responsible for the content of this article. The views expressed do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Intelligence University, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Intelligence Community, or the U.S. Government.


Major Bryan Musolino, Ph.D., USAF is a WMD and Emerging Technology Assistant Professor within the Anthony G. Oettinger School of Science and Technology Intelligence. He instructs classes in WMD-Terrorism, chemical and energetic threats, joint professional military education, economics of technology, and identity intelligence. His current research lanes include chemical, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threats; irregular warfare operations; and stability operations. Major Musolino has worked myriad of topics as a chemist, to include the development of chemical warfare agent remote sensors, analyzing the effectiveness of CBRNE neutralization techniques and agent defeat weapons, and the identification/determination of contamination in aviation fuel. As a radio/nuclear chemist, he led a 36-member Division in developing and executing environmental modeling efforts for WMD/CBRNE events, stood up and led a new counter-WMD rapid deployment team, and developed/employed protocols for the U.S. Air Force’ nuclear treaty monitoring radiochemistry laboratory. From 2006 to 2008 Major Musolino was an all-source intelligence analyst with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Future Technologies Division. During this period, he published numerous final intelligence products covering emerging anti-material, energetic material, low –/ counter observable technology, and counter satellite / space technology threats. He led efforts for the test and analysis of biological agents being developed in multiple threat countries; resulting in the stand-up of a major laboratory for contingency operations support. Major Musolino holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Captain James Michael DeSimone, USAF, DVM, currently serves as the installation Public Health Officer, Medical Intelligence Officer and subject matter expert for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) medical counter measures at Patrick AFB and Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida. He is a Department of Defense certified public health emergency officer. Additionally, Captain DeSimone is a licensed veterinarian in multiple states, practicing preventive, emergency, and critical care medicine and surgery. His most recent work with the U.S Air Force was during a Joint combat deployment, identifying and mitigating chemical/biological attack protective measures for critical infrastructure and military working dogs at Forward Operating Bases in East Africa. Prior to his military service Captain DeSimone has approximately 12 years of experience as a member of several law enforcement and fire/rescue agencies. Serving in multiple roles to include, lead instructor for numerous courses including hazardous materials and working dog medical support. During these years he was a first responder to multiple man made and natural disasters.

[*] These studies were predominately conducted on beagles. It needs to be stated that many of todays working dogs are Labradors or shepherd type breeds that have a vastly different weight, life span, and genetic susceptibilities verse the beagle.
[†] There are currently no studies that have addressed the side effects of potassium iodide administration in a nuclear / radiological emergency.  Plumb’s Handbook provides the following potential side-effects: excessive tearing, vomiting, anorexia, hyperthermia, diarrhea… KI should not be given to canines with known allergies to iodine or hypothyroidism.
[§] Per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Radiation Emergency Medical Management, a threshold of two times background is set as a limit.
[**] If the canine is contaminated it would require treatment in a isolation / “hot zone” with the veterinarian in appropriate PPE
[1] “Radiation Emergency Preparedness and Response” Occupational Safety and Health Administration. DOI:  17 June 2020 at
[2] “wes Benefit from Radiation Shielding” Vet Gazette. 12 June 2015, DOI: 15 June 2020 at ; “Evidence That Lifelong Low Dose Rates of Ionizing Radiation Increase Lifespan in Long- and Short-Lived Dogs” NCBI. 17 Feb 2017, DOI: 15 June 2020 at
[3] “Acute Radiation Exposure Syndrome in Dogs after Total Body Exposure” Stanley Hartford; Naval Research Institute. 1960, DOI: 6 September 2014
[4] “Response of the Beagle Dog to Cobalt-60 Gamma Radiation” W.P. Norris; Argonne National Labs. 1968, DOI: 6 September 2014
[5] “Dogs That Survive “Lethal” Exposures to Radiation” E. B. Hager; Columbia University. 1961, DOI: 6 September 2014
[6] “Injury Accumulation and Recovery in Sheep” G. E. Hanks; U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Lab. 1966, DOI: 6 September 2014
[7] “Radiation Response of the Canine Cardiovascular System” Patrick R. Gavin; Washington State University. 1982, DOI: 6 September 2014
[8] “Performances of Kevlar and Polyethylene as radiation shielding on-board the International Space Station in high latitude radiation environment” Nature.  10 May 2017, DOI: 21 June 2020 at
[9] “Radiation Emergencies, Decontamination of Pets” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 4 April 2018, DOI: 23 June 2020 at
[10] “NATO Handbook on NBC Defense” DOI: 6 September 2014
[11] “Effects of Nuclear Weapons on Personnel” Ch 14, DNA EM-1, 1990, DOI: 6 September 2014
[12] “NATO Handbook on NBC Defense” DOI: 6 September 2014
[13] “Effects of Nuclear Weapons on Personnel” Ch 14, DNA EM-1, 1990, DOI: 6 September 2014
[14] “NATO Handbook on NBC Defense” DOI: 6 September 2014
[15] “Effects of Nuclear Weapons on Personnel” Ch 14, DNA EM-1, 1990, DOI: 6 September 2014
[16] “NATO Handbook on NBC Defense,” “DoD FM 8-9 Chapter 5, Biophysical and Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation,” “Effects of Nuclear Weapons on Personnel, Ch 14,” “DNA EM-1, 1990” DOI: 17 September 2014
[17] Ibid
[18] Ibid
[19] Ibid
[20] Ibid
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Major Bryan Musolino, Ph.D., USAF is a WMD and Emerging Technology Assistant Professor within the Anthony G. Oettinger School of Science and Technology Intelligence. He instructs classes in WMD-Terrorism, chemical and energetic threats, joint professional military education, economics of technology, and identity intelligence. His current research lanes include chemical, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threats; irregular warfare operations; and stability operations. Major Musolino has worked myriad of topics as a chemist, to include the development of chemical warfare agent remote sensors, analyzing the effectiveness of CBRNE neutralization techniques and agent defeat weapons, and the identification/determination of contamination in aviation fuel. As a radio/nuclear chemist, he led a 36-member Division in developing and executing environmental modeling efforts for WMD/CBRNE events, stood up and led a new counter-WMD rapid deployment team, and developed/employed protocols for the U.S. Air Force’ nuclear treaty monitoring radiochemistry laboratory. From 2006 to 2008 Major Musolino was an all-source intelligence analyst with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Future Technologies Division. During this period, he published numerous final intelligence products covering emerging anti-material, energetic material, low / counter observable technology, and counter satellite / space technology threats. He led efforts for the test and analysis of biological agents being developed in multiple threat countries; resulting in the stand-up of a major laboratory for contingency operations support. He has been deployed to the Mobile Air Transportable Theater Laboratory System as a chemist; the Combined Joint Task Force Troy as the Counter-IED Targeting Program OIC; and as the Director of Operations and Plans to the Deputy Advisor to the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior. Outside the military Major Musolino has been a Rescue and Hazmat specialist for several FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces since 2002; is a public safety diver; and is a canine handler for local search and rescue teams. Major Musolino holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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