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'Dirty bomb' breakthrough

British scientists have developed a revolutionary method of treating victims of radiation contamination. Trials of a new device, no bigger than a small suitcase, which can rapidly detect the extent of cellular damage caused by exposure to a nuclear "dirty bomb" or a radiation leak, will be announced this week. It could mean doctors being able to scan hundreds of potential victims at an incident within hours.

Current methods involve scientists taking blood samples which then undergo a complex battery of tests. Experts estimate that existing UK labs could handle only 100 samples a week.

Dr Kai Rothkamm, of the UK Health Protection Agency, said: "If there was a major radiological or nuclear event the hospitals in this country could be overwhelmed."

The new equipment will assess the total body dose of radiation by detecting the damage to proteins in the nucleus of cells. Each machine will be capable of processing 30 samples per hour.