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“Dirty” nuclear bomb – the weapon of mass disruption

What does “nuclear terrorism” really mean? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Elisabeth Eaves, 7 Apr 16 “………….– we’re far more likely to see the second scenario—a dirty bomb attack—than a nuclear explosion in the near future.

So what will that look like? Nothing like the aftermath of a nuclear weapon attack. As the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission explains, “A dirty bomb is in no way similar to a nuclear weapon.” The latter relies on fission or fusion to create an explosion millions of times more powerful than the former. A nuclear bomb could spread radiation over hundreds of square miles, whereas a dirty bomb could only do so over a few square miles. Dirty bombs have more in common with nuclear medicine than nuclear war.

dirty bomb

A dirty bomb wouldn’t immediately kill any more people than an ordinary explosive. It is a weapon ideally suited to terrorism, though, part of the very purpose of which is to sow fear. In fact, in the perverse psychology of terrorism, a mere claim that a bomb had spread radioactive material would have some of the same effect as a bomb that actually did so.

That said, getting hold of the sort radioactive material needed to make a dirty bomb isn’t difficult; it has occasionally even been stolen by accident. Literally thousands of sites, in more than 100 countries, contain the kind of sources required, which have many uses in agriculture, industry, and medicine. Radioactive isotopes are commonly used, for example, to irradiate blood before transfusions and treat cancer tumors…………

Once the public knew the bomb was radioactive, it would be hard to stop fear and chaos from escalating. Authorities would have to decide whether to let people flee, which could reduce their radiation exposure and begin an evacuation, but might also spread radiation through the city and let perpetrators escape.

So many variables would be involved in a possible dirty bomb attack that it’s hard to definitively predict an outcome. The IAEA divides radioactive materials into five categories, from Category 1, which is so harmful that exposure for only a few minutes to an unshielded source may be fatal, to Category 5, which poses a relatively low hazard. But Category 5 materials—such as the americium-241 found in lightning detectors or the strontium-90 used in brachytherapy cancer treatment—are more readily available, and if enough are brought together in one place, they can add up to a harmful dose. An early task for first responders would be to figure out what kind of radioactive material was used.

Then there’s fear of the big C. Radioactive isotopes are associated with an increase in various cancers, but by how much and over what time period isn’t perfectly known. A great deal depends on the concentration to which a person was exposed. Much ofwhat scientists have learned about radiation-caused cancer comes from studying the aftereffects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Various cities and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have produced studies and briefings on how to respond to a dirty bomb attack, and many of these focus on the costs of evacuation and decontamination. “A radioactive dirty bomb would not cause catastrophic levels of death and injury,” the Nuclear Threat Initiative report says, “but depending on its chemistry, form, and location, it could leave billions of dollars of damage due to the costs of evacuation, relocation, and cleanup … Buildings could have to be demolished and the debris removed. Access to a contaminated area could be denied for years as a site is cleaned up well enough to meet even minimum environmental guidelines for protecting the public.” Businesses would close, shipping would halt, wages would be lost. This kind of upheaval has earned dirty bombs the moniker “weapons of mass disruption.”………

April 8, 2016 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war

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