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The reality of the nuclear scenario

Michael Courey knows there’s nothing practical about the situation, if and when a nuclear event should occur. He also knows that with even the blast from one of the smallest nuclear devices would cause complete destruction within a 2-mile radius.

At a lecture Thursday night at the Embassy Suites, Courey and four researchers addressed the possibilities terrorism could have in the United States and the role the USF Center for Biological Defense has played in bioterrorism studies.

In the event of a nuclear attack, Courey said clean-up would be extremely difficult because of the amount of radioactive material that would be deposited in the area, not to mention mortality rates.

Courey said with one megaton, which is a relatively small nuclear device, the blast damage within a 3.2-mile diameter would have a 50 –percent-blast mortality.

“Now that doesn’t mean 50 percent will survive because nobody is going to survive,” Courey said. “Not to mention, things will instantly burn into flames because of the temperature.”

Courey said the temperature from the explosion would result in degrees measured in the millions, causing first-degree burns within 22 miles from where the air blast occurred.

Even if a fallout shelter was provided, Courey said, there would be little or no life-support conditioning.

“I’m not an expert and I don’t know any experts because we don’t have experience with this,” Courey said. “But we have to do everything we can to prevent this.”

Daniel Lim, professor of microbiology for the USF Center for Biological Defense, said USF has been working with government agencies, companies and other universities to develop tests for biosensor hardware.

“Every conventional technique we have today is limited,” Lim said.

Technology for detecting toxic substances or anthrax, he said, are time consuming and require sophisticated equipment and training.

Lim said the USF Center for Biological Defense is able to detect e.coli, salmonella, ricin, small pox, anthrax, protein toxins, bacteria and cocaine.”Very few platforms can detect all types of agents,” Lim said.

Lim added that powder substances could be processed for anthrax in minutes, and any threatening substances that test positive can be archived for criminal prosecution, which no other lab can do.

“After Sept. 11, agencies in New York … called me to see how they could use (USF’s) technology,” Lim said.

But in October 2001, USF received 1,100 items thought to be anthrax, none of which tested positive, said Jacqueline Cattani, director of USF Center For Biological Defense.

“These were just everyday things that people became afraid of,” Cattani said. “The impact totally overwhelmed the public health system.”

Cattani said items such as cookies, computer keyboards and luggage were brought to the center to be tested, simply because people were afraid.

Cattani added that the disaster chain for response was not followed properly in October when handling anthrax cases. The chain begins at the city level and from there, follows to the county, state and then federal levels. Cattani said there were cases being reported from the city level to the federal level, which created political problems in areas.

A more recent concern occurred when the United States went to war with Iraq, which created a fear that water could be contaminated with life-threatening substances. Lim said USF is now working on establishing biosensors online so it could constantly monitor the water.

“A lot has happened in the last two and a half years concerning bioterrorism,” Lim said. “Five years ago, it was a much different issue.”