[ RadSafe ] Two unrelated questions for the group

Minnema, Douglas Douglas.Minnema at nnsa.doe.gov
Fri Dec 2 09:42:21 CST 2005


I have two unrelated questions that I'm combining into one e-mail for

The first one has to do with Am-241 sources in smoke detectors.  What
happens when the smoke detector is burned in a building fire?  Is the source
expected to survive intact or is there a potential for a release of some
type?  I would assume this has been considered multiple times, but I haven't
found the answer yet. If somebody can point me in the right direction I'd
appreciate it.

Second question:  My 15-year old son has a subscription to "Air & Space
Smithonian" magazine, and in the December 2005/January 2006 issue there is
an article entitled "The Invisible Killers: Can Astronauts Survive the
Radiation on a Journey to Mars?".  Has anybody seen this yet?  I'm not
familiar with current efforts in protecting astronauts from space radiation,
but some of the statements made in this article are clearly wrong, which
leads me to suspect that either the article was designed to be inflammatory
or the author just didn't understand the information he was given.  A couple

"From World War II atomic bomb detonations in Japan and the 1986 accident at
the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near Kiev, Russia, we know the effects of
brief but intense pulses of radiation: nausea, immune system shutdown,
central nervous system damage, and death within minutes to hours."

"Derek Lowenstein, chairman of Brookhaven's collider accelerator program,
has given voice to deep fears among scientists by asking: "Will astronauts
come back as blithering idiots or not?""

"The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration treats astronauts as
radiation workers."  "Today, the law limits the amount of radiation that
nuclear workers, including astronauts, receive to 5,000 millirem over the
course of their careers."

Since my son's long-held goal is to pilot the first spacecraft to Mars (and
yes, he is working hard towards that goal), he was obviously curious about
the article.  He does understand that ionizing radiation is often
misunderstood or mis-stated in the media (he is the son of an HP), but in
this case I can't answer all of his questions.

If somebody knows about this article or would be willing to look at it for
me, I'd much appreciate it.  Please contact me directly and I'll get a copy
of the article to you if necessary.


Doug Minnema PhD, CHP
<Douglas.Minnema at nnsa.doe.gov>

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