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Nuclear Accident? Fasten Up Your 'Radiation Belt'

A staff member of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. measures radiation levels inside the central control room of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

A staff member of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. measures radiation levels inside the central control room of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. // Koji Sasahara/AP

An Israeli company has developed a "StemRad 360 Gamma" belt that could protect its wearer from the effects of gamma radiation in a nuclear emergency.

It might not ever be stylish. But the belt could prove to be a lifesaver for first responders who strap it around their midsection in the event of an atomic accidentReutersreports.

The belt appears fairly smooth on the outside, but is described as "three-dimensional" inside. It contains lead as only one feature of its key technology, according to Oren Milstein, the co-founder of the Stemrad company that created the protective item. He did not want to disclose additional details about what lies inside.

The idea behind it is to protect bone marrow, which is concentrated in the pelvis and can be key to surviving exposure to radiation. A full protective suit made from the StemRad 360 Gammatechnology would have been too heavy to wear, its maker said.

"Conceptually, it's agreeable that the bone marrow is the most radiation sensitive tissue and that bone marrow is able to regenerate itself," Milstein said. "So kind of like adding one plus one, we know that if we perform partial shielding on bone marrow, we get an increased survivability of the individual."

The belt does leave the rest of the body exposed -- including the liver and thyroid -- so it cannot protect its wearer fully or allow long stays at irradiated sites. But Milstein says it can allow a wearer exposure up to a dose of 1,000 rads, which otherwise could lead to illness or death.

The company has taken orders from Israel, Japan and Russia, and is looking to promote the radiation belt more widely.

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