Israel’s StemRad inks $4.5m contract to shield US troops from gamma radiation

Israeli-American company has developed shielding technology gear to protect first responders, defense forces, and space explorers from deadly radiation and nuclear threats

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Israeli-made radiation protection suit developed by StemRad. (Courtesy)
Israeli-made radiation protection suit developed by StemRad. (Courtesy)

Israeli-developed technology will be protecting US troops against potentially lethal gamma radiation and help them to be better prepared for a nuclear incident on American soil.

StemRad, a developer of Israeli-made radiation protection suits for space explorers, emergency responders, defense forces, nuclear industry workers, and and medical personnel, has secured a $4.5 million contract with the US Department of Defense for the acquisition of its radiation protection shields for the US National Guard.

As part of the contract, the Israeli-American company will provide 630 of its protective 360 Gamma belts to soldiers and airmen tasked with responding in cases of domestic radiological incidents, such as dirty bombs, terrorist or military attacks, or accidents that can include a nuclear reactor meltdown. In addition, StemRad will provide onsite training at the National Guard Consequence Management Support Center in Lexington, Kentucky.

“In the 21st century, the threat of nuclear and radiological incidents has only increased,” said StemRad CEO Oren Milstein. “Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in southeastern Ukraine, is currently occupied by Russian military forces. Several state actors such as Iran and North Korea are either racing toward a nuclear weapon or already possess one.”

“These developments have underscored the importance of contingency planning and protecting first responders from harmful gamma radiation in the event of an emergency,” Milstein noted.

The Israeli-American company was founded by Milstein and Daniel Levitt following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster to develop protection for first responders exposed to the highly penetrating gamma radiation emitted in such events. StemRad’s radiation suits are used to protect nuclear reactor workerss, radiological first responders, physicians and military forces, and astronauts.

The assembled female-formed mannequins Zohar (foreground), with the AstroRad anti-radiation suit, and Helga (background), without. (NASA/StemRad)

Headquartered in Tel Aviv, StemRad also has an office in Tampa Bay, Florida, with a team of biology experts, nuclear physicists and industrial designers that includes three Nobel laureates.

To date the firm has raised $16 million, backed by lead investors Jeff Vinik, a former hedge fund manager at Fidelity and owner of Florida hockey team Tampa Bay Lightning; Dr. Alex Gurevich, former head of global macro trading at JP Morgan; and the Patel family of Tampa Bay.

StemRad’s technology doesn’t try to protect the whole body, but aims to selectively protect organs with exceptional sensitivity to radiation, like bone marrow in the hip and in the vertebrae, and the gastrointestinal system.

Exposure to gamma radiation can result in radiation sickness, formally known as acute radiation syndrome — the accelerated destruction of blood cells and the inability of the body to replenish them due to damage sustained by bone marrow, which is needed to generate new cells.

Fifty percent of the body’s bone marrow is located in the groin and midsection areas — the parts StemRad suits protects, ensuring that workers and first responders are protected against the effects of radiation sickness but are able to maintain freedom of movement needed to assist others.

“Now that we are an approved form of personal protection, several other US military forces are planning to acquire the tech in 2024 and 2025,” said Milstein. “In the coming months, other units in charge of protecting the homeland will be getting our equipment. After that we expect to expand into combat forces.”

“Other target customers include additional nuclear utilities, foreign militaries (NATO and others) and firefighters in dense urban areas,” he added.

Earlier this year, StemRad donated 60 of its 360 Gamma radiation shields to Ukrainian first responders and emergency rescue services stationed in close proximity to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. Milstein personally delivered the wearable vests to Kyiv following developments of the war in Ukraine, including the repeated shelling of a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons.

Aside from the DoD, StemRad had a contract with the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona, along with the US Capitol Police and several fire stations in the US and in Japan. Commercial customers include two nuclear power reactors in Florida, according to Milstein.

StemRad’s technology has also been tested in space. NASA’s uncrewed Artemis I space mission launched its debut flight, aboard which were dummies wearing the company’s AstroRad, an anti-radiation suit co-developed with US defense giant Lockheed Martin to protect vital organs from gamma radiation.

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