This week witnessed the gathering of 50 heads of state at a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. President Obama’s concluding speech only briefly addressed the threat of so-called dirty bombs and necessity of controlling the distribution of radioactive materials widely used in industry and cancer health treatment in hospitals and clinics throughout the world. The stated objective is prevent such materials from falling into the hands of ISIS, whether North Korea, or Iran’s terrorist proxies, Al Qaeda, or the self declared Caliphate of the Islamic State in conquered areas of Syria and Iraq. The problem of dirty bombs and more lethal CBW Weapons of Mass Destruction will be discussed by Dr. Jill Bellamy, United Nation’s Counter terrorism Task Force adviser and founder of Warfare Technology Analytics on The Lisa Benson Show, Sunday, April 3rd.
Recent actions by ISIS Paris and Brussels terror cells murdering a security guard at a Belgian nuclear facility and filming the offices of Belgian Nuclear research director’s office are an indication of a longer term strategy to unleash dirty bomb as a panic driven wave of terrorism in Europe. A front page story in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2010 illustrates the ISIS strategy that Dr. Bellamy will discuss, “ISIS Turns College Lab into Bomb School:”
Gen. Hate Magus, Iraq’s top explosives officer, said the facilities at the University of Mosul have enhanced Islamic State’s ability to launch attacks in Iraq and to export bomb-making know how when its fighters leave the so-called caliphate and return to their home countries. Dirty bombs are easily made, and so are biological agents as Weapons of Mass Destruction as Dr. Bellamy will reveal on the April 3, The Lisa Benson Show that airs at 4:00 PM EDT in the U.S.
Watch this 2003 WGBH/BBC co production on The Dirty Bomb originally aired on NOVA on PBS and Horizon on BBC in the UK.:
The documentary contains Interviews with nuclear materials research and counterterrorism experts from the UN International Atomic Agency, The U.S. Department of Energy, the CIA and the Federation of Atomic Scientists take the viewer through the scientific basis for radiation effects and actual occurrences of accidental releases. Overall, it illustrates the ease by which a terrorist with training could obtain radioactive materials like Cesium Chloride from industrial gauges, medical isotopes and the history of massive use of heavy radiation emitting Strontium 90 developed into thousands of standby generators and mobile seed generators, the latter using Cesium chloride.,
The documentary reveals a terrorist dirty bomb attempt in Moscow in 1995, discovery of high radiation Strontium containers in the mountains of the Republic of Georgia in 2001, as well as the panic effects of release of a handful of Cesium Chloride in Brazil in 1987 affecting 100 percent or over 100,000 of the city’s population. The documentary addresses the plausible risk of Al Qaeda and now ISIS obtaining these radioactive materials and the risk of contracting radiation sickness and cancer as the fallout from a dirty bomb explosion spreads. That is reflecting in two scenarios; one is a large dirty bomb explosion in Central London equivalent to the Cesium chloride in one of the Soviet seed generator that produces perhaps 10 killed from the explosion but increases the risk of cancer rapidly as the radius from the explosion increasing. Such a large dirty bomb blast would require enormous displacement of populations and economic decontamination requiring the virtual abandonment of the city center for a decade or longer. Think of the spread Strontium 90 with the Chernobyl reactor meltdown in 1986 in the Ukraine and the radiation sickness and cancer effects. A smaller explosion scenario depicts the explosion using a handful of Cesium Chloride in the Washington, DC Metro with the Metro carriages and the system’s ventilation system distributing the powdery Cesium flakes over a broader area; panic breaks out. That was not unlike the Anthrax attack on the US Senate Office Building in late 2001 that cost hundreds of millions in decontamination costs in US Postal Service sector centers and five deaths across the US from the biological agent sent via mail. Now read these excerpts from the Nuclear Regulation Commission from their Fact Sheet on The Dirty Bomb:
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT DIRTY BOMBS & RDDs
What is an RDD or “Dirty Bomb”?
A “dirty bomb” is one type of a “radiological dispersal device” (RDD) that combines a conventional explosive, such as dynamite, with radioactive material that may disperse when the device explodes. It is not the same as a nuclear weapon. If there are casualties, they will be caused by the initial blast of the conventional explosive. The radioactive particles that are scattered as a result of the explosion cause the “dirty” part. The explosives in such a bomb would still be more dangerous than the radioactive material.
What is radiation?
Radiation is a form of energy that is present all around us. Some of the Earth’s background radiation comes from naturally occurring radioactive elements from space, the soil, and the sun, as well as from man-made sources, like x-ray machines. Different types of radiation exist, some of which have more energy than others, and some of which can be more harmful than others. The dose of radiation that a person receives is measured in a unit called a “rem.” A rem is a measure of radiation dose, based on the amount of energy absorbed in a mass of tissue. For example, an average person gets about 1/3 of a rem from exposure to natural sources of radiation in one year, and approximately 1/100th of a rem from one chest x-ray.
Are Terrorists Interested In Radioactive Materials?
Yes, terrorists have been interested in acquiring radioactive and nuclear material for use in attacks. For example, in 1995, Chechen extremists threatened to bundle radioactive material with explosives to use against Russia in order to force the Russian military to withdraw from Chechnya. While no explosives were used, officials later retrieved a package of cesium-137 the rebels had buried in a Moscow park.
Since September 11, 2001, terrorist arrests and prosecutions overseas have revealed that individuals associated with al-Qaeda planned to acquire materials for a RDD. In 2004, British authorities arrested a British national, Dhiren Barot, and several associates on various charges, including conspiring to commit public nuisance by the use of radioactive materials. In 2006, Barot was found guilty and sentenced to life. British authorities disclosed that Barot developed a document known as the “Final Presentation.” The document outlined his research on the production of “dirty bombs,” which he characterized as designed to “cause injury, fear, terror and chaos” rather than to kill. U.S. federal prosecutors indicted Barot and two associates for conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against persons within the United States, in conjunction with the alleged surveillance of several landmarks and office complexes in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Newark, N.J. In a separate British police operation in 2004, authorities arrested British national, Salahuddin Amin, and six others on terrorism-related charges. Amin is accused of making inquiries about buying a “radioisotope bomb” from the Russian mafia in Belgium; and the group is alleged to have linkages to al-Qaeda. Nothing appeared to have come from his inquiries, according to British prosecutors. While neither Barot nor Amin had the opportunity to carry their plans forward to an operational stage, these arrests demonstrate the continued interest of terrorists in acquiring and using radioactive material for malicious purposes.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.