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August 1, 1986

'No Place to Hide'—Computer Models TrackAtmospheric Radionuclides Worldwide

JAMA. 1986;256(5):566-568. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03380050022002

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"THE BIG SPONGE" is what initiates call ARAC—the Atmospheric Release Advisory Capability—and it is vital to the clean-up after a nuclear accident. But this sobriquet doesn't refer to a propensity for mopping up radiation. It alludes to ARAC's ability to soak up data on weather conditions, regional geography, and the release of radionuclides into the atmosphere at thousands of sites around the globe.

ARAC is a contingent of about 30 physicists, meteorologists, electronic engineers, computer scientists, and technicians who work at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory across the bay from San Francisco. It was initiated in 1974 and beefed up considerably after the accident in a nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island (Pa) in 1979.

The ARAC staff employs computer models to estimate the extent of surface contamination as well as radiation doses to population centers after hypothetical or real nuclear accidents.

ARAC works fast.