With this week’s bellicose boasting about who has the bigger red button on his desk, an alert Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention felt more than a bit on the nose.

With the prospect of actual nuclear war breaking out between North Korea and the United States seeming ever more real, the CDC is moving to prepare health professionals and others on what the public health response would be to a nuclear detonation.

The CDC announced it is staging a grand rounds — a teaching session — on the topic. The target audience: doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, pharmacists, veterinarians, certified health education specialists, laboratory scientists, and others. The event will be held Jan. 16.


A spokesperson for the agency said planning for the event has been underway for months — in fact, since CDC officials took part in a “radiation/nuclear incident exercise” led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency last April, Kathy Harben said in an email.

“CDC participants felt it would be a good way to discuss public health preparedness and share resources with states and other partners. State and local partners also have expressed interest in this topic over time,” she said.

Still, the timing of the announcement was eerie, coming on the heels of back-to-back threats exchanged between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.

“Join us for this session of Grand Rounds to learn what public health programs have done on a federal, state, and local level to prepare for a nuclear detonation,” urges the CDC email advising people on one of the agency’s mailing lists about the session. “Learn how planning and preparation efforts for a nuclear detonation are similar and different from other emergency response planning efforts.”

The CDC holds grand rounds virtually monthly on topics such as birth defects prevention, diseases spread by ticks, and sodium reduction. A previous grand rounds on radiological and nuclear disaster preparedness was offered in March 2010.

The titles of several of the talks that will make up the session are enough to give one pause, including “Preparing for the Unthinkable,” and “Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness.” Equally unsettling is the image of a nuclear mushroom cloud on the webpage advertising the event.

“While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be a limited time to take critical protection steps,” the agency said. “Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness.”

“For instance, most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation. While federal, state and local agencies will lead the immediate response efforts, public health will play a key role in responding.”

The event will be webcast live from the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, and the will be posted on the grand rounds archive page a few days later that week.

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  • W

    “with this week’s bellicose boasting about who has the bigger red button on his desk”

    We have always had our nuclear arsenal for deterrence. A reminder to North Korea that our arsenal is far superior to theirs is not bellicose boasting, but a reiteration of our exact policy. A reminder that we actually still have that policy from our president has become a bit of a novelty, but it is not boasting, nor is the U.S. bellicose about it’s nuclear arsenal.

  • I am astonished to read ironic comments about this subject in this journal.
    Things are becoming dangerous.

    It is very important to give scientific information about the special nature of atomic bombs.
    Scientists know that atomic weapons produce damage far beyond their plain mechanical effects. Radioactive materials cannot be neutralized, only confined. Some of these materials exhibit fast decay rates. Others, like plutonium, have a half life of 24 thousand years, lasting virtually for ever if spread out in the atmosphere.
    To decay 1 thousand times, 10 half-lives should pass by, which in case of plutonium, means 240 thousand years!
    For instance, Iodine 131 would take 80 days and Caesium 137 would take 300 years to get down to 1/1000 (actually 1/1024).

    Of course is necessary to study ways of survival but, as pointed by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), it must be understood there is no way to get a complete medical response to the damage such weapons impose.
    The Hiroshima device was nothing, compared to a modern hydrogen bomb.

    Interestingly, the US and Russia had never engaged in an atomic war. There is a reason for that: both countries have sufficient knowledge to understand it would just be the end.

    North Korea represents a different danger: its social and political system is so closed, its people kept uninformed and without ways to exert any restraining force over its crazy dictator.

    So, CDC should have the courage to warn the public that nothing would be the same after an atomic weapons exchange, and this would be for ever.
    Even the slightest atomic explosion would create at least a huge economic recession.

    A good course for president Trump could be to consult with some scientists in order to learn more about the atomic subject, and then convene an urgent UN Assembly to discuss the situation created by the North Koreans. This time, in his speech he should, instead of just talking politics, expose some scientific information in order to make the world understand the definite madness that an atomic war represents.

    Perhaps – just perhaps – he could then build sufficient collective pressure through the UN, able to convince or topple the North Korean mad dictator.
    President Trump is right in trying to counteract the North Korea’s menace, but the way he has been doing it, like as if it were a personal subject between two leaders, is not allowing the world to understand it’s much, much more. Its an ultimate survival subject that should be prompting the whole world to do something about it, now, instead of letting president Trump alone trying to save the world.

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