We could also say that the radiation exposure would
likely improve the health of the population.
Wouldn't that eliminate the terror of the
Then the terrorists would have to go back to using
chemical and biological weapons.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Friday, June 28, 2002 4:30 PM
Subject: Re: [cdn-nucl-l] How Bad Would A
Dirty Blast Be? Here's What The Experts Say
> Posted in the Washington Post on June
13, 2002 and at:
Very interesting figure - for the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
> "...of those survivors since 1950 show that of 86,572 people
> levels of radiation thousands of times greater than a dirty
> produce, cancer deaths exceeded the expected numbers for
> by 335".
> How Bad Would A Dirty Blast Be? Here's What
The Experts Say.
> By Don Oldenburg
> Washington Post
> Thursday, June 13, 2002; Page C01
day, another "credible" terrorist threat. The disaster scenario
jour is now the so-called dirty bomb, so called because this is a
conventional bomb that plays dirty. Experts say a dirty bomb could
> in size from a small "suitcase" device to a truck bomb, and
> larger. Its explosive may be as ordinary as dynamite, but it's
> with radioactive material that, detonated, is scattered in
> airborne dust -- or "dirt." Hence the
> You have probably heard public officials and terrorist
experts say a
> dirty bomb's real threat is psychological. And that it
is a weapon of
> terror, fear, panic and disruption rather than one of
> But what else does the public need to know about
dirty bombs? How bad
> are they, really? Here's the
> What could happen if a dirty bomb went off in downtown
> Experts envision scenarios that could be on the
scale of Timothy
> McVeigh's 1995 truck bombing in Oklahoma City, which
killed 168 people
> -- with the added dimension of radiation
contamination. But it could be
> much less if it involved a small
device, such as one set off by a
> backpack bomber.
even a big one would do much less damage than Hurricane Andrew did
Florida," says Randy Larsen, director of the ANSER Institute for
Homeland Security, a nonprofit research organization in
> Almost all deaths and serious injuries would be
confined to the
> immediate vicinity of the explosion. The downtown area
would shake from
> the blast. Anyone nearby would know a bomb had
exploded but would have
> no clue it was a dirty bomb -- you can't
smell, taste, feel or see
> radiation -- until authorities announce they
have detected it.
> How widespread the damage?
In March, the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International
Studies simulated what would happen if terrorists detonated a
4,000-pound dirty bomb in a school bus parked outside the National Air
and Space Museum. In the simulation, the museum ended up almost
destroyed and nearby buildings damaged. An estimated 10,000 people
> in the immediate vicinity; how many would have died isn't known,
> acute threat was confined to a radius of a few city
> Although in the simulation, prevailing winds carried
> southern Pennsylvania, the amounts were very small
> dissipates quickly.
> The highest
contamination would occur in the blocks surrounding the
> blast -- or
about 10 percent of the District, says Philip Anderson,
> senior fellow
for homeland security initiatives at CSIS, who specializes
anti-terrorism strategies. People there would get about a
5-rem-per-hour dose of radiation. That's the amount the Environmental
Protection Agency says is the maximum safe dose to absorb in one year,
> standard that is considered very cautious; even absorbed in hours,
> amount is not likely to make you sick.
> Another 10
percent of the District -- people a half-mile to a mile from
> the blast
-- would be in contaminated areas, but not seriously
> contaminated. The
dose would be so small, says Anderson, that it would
> probably take
days or weeks to exceed the EPA maximum yearly safe dose.
> "The key
point," he says, "is that nobody is going to become sick or die
> John Zielinski, professor of military strategy and
operations at the
> National War College in Washington, estimates that,
generally, someone a
> mile from the blast is likely to walk away
unscathed. And "you could be
> within a couple hundred yards of it, and
if you are upwind, you might
> not have a problem at all," he says. "If
they set it off in a street and
> you are one block over and behind a
building, there might be no risk."
> Beyond those inflicted by the blast itself, the
number of deaths and
> injuries is likely to be minimal -- depending on
> material used, the size of the explosive, wind
conditions and the
> effectiveness of the evacuation
> Most experts play down any probability of
> "Threat to life? Not worried about it other
than the explosive device
> itself," says Larsen. "The main thing is,
people should not lose much
> sleep over this.
imagine if Timothy McVeigh had put five pounds of radioactive
and blew that up in Oklahoma. . . . No more people would have
died than did."
> Long-term effects of radiation exposure? Most
experts say that except
> for people in the immediate area of the blast
who survive, the odds are
> against anyone absorbing enough radiation to
suffer long-term effects,
> such as radiation poisoning or
> And the history of radiation exposure is on our side.
In a nuclear
> disaster second only to Chernobyl that occurred in Brazil
> junkyard workers pried open a metal canister from a cancer
> Inside was glowing blue radioactive cesium-137 dust. By the
> dozens of locals had been exposed. "Several ingested it,"
> Of the 20 seriously exposed victims, "four
died. But 100,000 plus people
> had to be medically evaluated. Most of
those -- 47,000 people -- had to
> take a shower and be monitored down
> Although the devastation was unimaginable and an
> people died from the atomic bombs dropped on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki --
> from the explosion and radiation poisoning
in the first year -- the
> long-term health-related problems for
survivors hasn't been as horrific.
> Charles B. Meinhold, president
emeritus of the National Council on
> Radiation Protection, a nonprofit
international clearinghouse for
> research on radiation safety, says
studies of those survivors since 1950
> show that of 86,572 people
exposed to levels of radiation thousands of
> times greater than a dirty
bomb could produce, cancer deaths exceeded
> the expected numbers for
that population by 335.
> What should I do if I'm in the
vicinity of the explosion?
> The basic rule is to stay inside or
get inside, then listen to the radio
> or television for further
> The amount of radioactive dust that could seep
inside or enter a
> building through its air-filtering system isn't
likely to be
> significant. "If you are inside of a building, your
chances are like
> getting several X-rays' worth of exposure," Zielinski
> If you're outside, determine whether the wind is coming
your way. "You
> don't want to be running down the street," Zelinski
says. "Get into a
> building and reduce the amount of dust that gets on
> Close to the explosion? Covered with residue? Stay put.
"If the response
> is good, they are going to try to decontaminate folks
closer in as
> opposed to those fleeing," says Zielinski. "Even if it
takes an hour for
> authorities to respond, you are going to get better
treatment there than
> going to a hospital."
reaction? Racing for mass transit or trying to drive home. Not
could you contaminate your car, but you could also spread radiation
your family. And experts are concerned that people trying to flee the
city would jam traffic routes and delay emergency teams from getting
> the scene.
> Experts say what the public needs to
remember most about dirty bombs is
> that if you survive the explosion,
the amounts of radiation are most
> likely so low that a few hours of
exposure isn't going to be harmful.
> "The public health people
would be there within three hours or sooner,"
> says Meinhold. "Let them
worry about evacuation, decontamination, etc."
> How about
> "Most or a large portion of the decontamination
effort is going to
> involve a soapy shower and a change of clothes,"
says the CSIS's
> Anderson, who recommends that if you think you are
near a potential
> terrorist target, it may make sense to keep extra
clothes, shoes, soap
> and shampoo on hand.
Zielinski: "The first thing [is] to try to get as much off as you
get the clothes off of you and put them in a trash bag. Then take a
> Can you drink the water?
> There may be
some contamination of water and food in some areas. "You
> can drink it,
but there are definite issues there," warns Anderson,
> explaining that
although a good rain would help clear contamination, the
> runoff might
affect the groundwater supply.
> Bottled water might be the safe
way to go until authorities have tested
> drinking water, he
> Would a gas mask help any?
> Gas masks,
experts say, may help in protecting against "particulate
since radiation attaches to particles in the air. But when you
much beyond the area of the blast, the dust is going to dissipate
quickly anyway. "I'm not not sure it would make a difference," says
> Should we stock up on potassium
> Again, the solution and the problem may not match well
in a dirty-bomb
> attack, experts say. Potassium iodide protects the
thyroid gland from
> absorbing radioactive isotope of iodine -- a
component of radioactive
> fallout that causes radiation
> "I'm not sure we're going to get to the point where
we will have many
> people, if any, suffering from radiation sickness,"
> How likely is an attack?
experts believe that terrorists already have the crude radioactive
materials needed and that a dirty bomb attack is one of the more
> terrorist scenarios -- some even say "inevitable." But Anderson
> that "it's a simple plan that is still reasonably difficult
> complicated to coordinate."
> But the biggest
problem in making a dirty bomb is that even if you find
> all the parts,
assembling them can kill you. True, some terrorists are
suicidal. Still, "first you've got to find it, then you've got
carry it around," says Zielinski. "By the time I get it, move it to a
site that is secure and grind it, I've probably already lost several
> To make and transport a dirty bomb safely would
require a lead container
> or shielding that makes it nearly impossible
to move. Handling the
> material can cause burns on the hands and body,
even through a backpack.
> And making a bomb without a shield means
almost certain death from the
> concentrated radiation levels of a
radioactive rod or "clump."
> What do we have to
> Experts say the answer is fear itself. Dirty bombs can
be as devastating
> as any conventional bomb. People will die in a
dirty-bomb attack. But
> they believe very few people will die or get
sick from its radiation.
> And the radiation is the terrorist wild card
for causing panic and
> psychological trauma.
are concerned that public panic is the biggest risk. "It stems
our society's inherent fear of radiation," says Anderson,
that he's not discounting the tremendous social and economic
implications of a contaminated area in an urban center.
blast area, he says, could be off-limits for several months during
intense cleanup efforts, and that could disrupt the local
> Still, "a lot of this stuff, you just take a big fire
hose out and you
> wash it down," says Larsen. "It's a heavy metal, so
it goes to the
> bottom of the river. It shouldn't be too much problem.
So then we have
> low levels of radiation. That's not as bad as smoking
> rather be a half-mile from a dirty bomb site than
> C 2002 The Washington Post
> cdn-nucl-l mailing
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