Weapon of Terror – NOT
By Gordon Prather
According to Attorney General Ashcroft, Jose Padilla -- al Qaeda 'jihadist' and Illinois reform school grad -- learned how to construct a radiological dispersal device (RDD) by surfing the Internet.
Incredible. Much of the stuff that Google dredges up on any subject is either wrong or outdated. How would Padilla know what to cull? Who to believe? For example, the New York Times has such an anti-nuclear bias that you dare not take as gospel truth anything you read there about RDDs.
What might Padilla have 'learned' about RDDs by surfing the Internet?
Well, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Iraqis actually constructed and tested three prototype 3000-lb RDD bombs. Much of that weight was for shielding bomb-makers, bomb-testers and bomb-droppers from radiation, even though each bomb only contained about two Curies of radiological materials.
[By way of comparison, a radioactive Cobalt-60 source used for cancer treatment is typically several hundred Curies. A typical nuclear reactor fuel assembly -- even after a ten-year under-water cool-off period -- is still tens of thousands of Curies strong.]
The Iraqis detonated one their RDDs on the ground, and dropped the other two from aircraft.
Three radioactive holes in the ground.
Very little of the radiological material was dispersed outside the hole. Certainly not enough to incapacitate troops. As for terror? The radiological material -- inside and outside the crater -- can't be seen, felt or heard. It won't kill you. Won't even make you sick. So, in 1988, the Iraqis gave up on the development of RDDs for battlefield use.
The war hawks claim that Saddam has continued to work on RDDs and intends to supply them to terrorists. To do that, Saddam would have to whip up a fresh batch of radiological materials. But, wait a minute. He can't. The reactors he used to make his first batch have all been destroyed and cannot be rebuilt.
But how about the rave reviews given RDDs on websites maintained by foes of nuclear power? They claim that if reactor 'spent' fuel is reprocessed, terrorists can steal the concentrated highly radioactive fission products -- or the weakly radioactive Plutonium itself -- to make RDDs.
Stealing spent-fuel -- reprocessed or unprocessed -- is a good way to commit suicide. Even if the terrorist stayed one meter away from an unshielded spent fuel assembly, he would receive a lethal dose of gamma rays in less than three minutes. Of course, he wouldn't die instantly. Might take a day or two. Not long enough to make and deliver a RDD, however.
Well, how about using Plutonium? Plutonium carefully dispersed can kill humans when ingested, but relatively high doses are required. Dogs have been forced to ingest the human equivalent of about 100 milligrams of Plutonium. Result? The dogs die from pulmonary edema within 10 days. That's bad, but ingestion of that much cyanide would kill you within 10 seconds.
Human inhalation of about 20 milligrams might result in death within a month. According to W. G. Sutcliffe et al at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, in order to ingest that much, a person would have to breathe air containing 20 milligrams per cubic meter of Plutonium particles of exactly the right size for at least an hour.
If a terrorist explosively dispersed a kilogram of Plutonium -- which is a lot of Plutonium -- then the volume of air containing 20 milligrams per cubic meter would only be 66-ft on a side. Of course, if the kilogram of Plutonium was dispersed outside or in a mall, then the Plutonium particles wouldn't remain confined to that cube of air. Air currents would further disperse the particles.
It's one thing to make dogs in cages acutely ill, but quite another to kill -- or even terrorize -- thousands of mall-rats with a RDD. If you don't tell them they've been exposed to a RDD, they won't know they're supposed to be terrorized. If you do tell them, they probably won't believe you. Contrary to what the New York Times and the anti-nuclear websites proclaim, a RDD is a non-starter as a weapon of terror.
But don't stop worrying. Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz assures us that 'enemy combatant' Padilla was also considering other forms of terrorist activity.
Like what? Well, maybe dispersing cyanide. Padilla returned to this country last month about the same time banditos stole 10 tons of sodium cyanide down Mexico way. They haven't recovered all of it yet, have they? Or caught the banditos who did it?
The Dirty Secret of 'Dirty Bombs'
By KHIDHIR HAMZA
The Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2002
The arrest of a "dirty bomb" suspect in Chicago has focused attention once again on al Qaeda. But it would be a mistake to ignore possible state links, especially with Saddam Hussein.
During Iraq's long war with Iran it became clear that terrorizing the Iranian troops by using chemical weapons was much more effective than all the artillery and aerial bombardment that we could muster. Newly transferred to the Military Industrialization Corp. headed by Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-law, I discovered that a team from the Atomic Energy Commission was already working on radiation weapons on the theory that they could achieve the same effect. It was 1987 and Iran's troops were entrenched in Iraq's only seaport, Fao. No amount of bombardment could dislodge them. The trick was to cut off their supply lines by contaminating the border region with Iran.
Recognizing that this was wartime, and thousands were dying in battles daily, I could not immediately dismiss the idea. Not having a powerful enough reactor, the Atomic Energy team resorted to using reactor materials that had already been irradiated, such as the Zirconium in the reactor channels. They could not use the spent reactor fuel since it was checked regularly by the international inspectors. But a test was made in a desert region after enough radioactive material was assembled. As expected, the radioactive materials dispersed too fast and the lethal zone was almost nonexistent outside the blast area. Within a few days there was no more than background radiation outside a very small area. Another test gave the same results and the project was dropped.
But it was recognized at the time that while a dirty bomb is not an effective weapon of war, it remains an effective weapon of terror. A contaminated building is a different story than an explosion in the desert sands. Sure enough, I started hearing reports that Iraqi intelligence was inviting some of our nuclear chemists to inquire about how much is a lethal dose and what are the best sources of radiation. They soon realized that the best way to kill someone with radiation was not to spread it widely over a big area; a person could wander through a radiated area for years without noticeable effects. But if someone inhales radioactive materials such as plutonium dust even in tiny quantities, he will most probably be doomed to disease and death. Thus it's much more effective to release radioactive materials, not in the desert, but in a confined environment such as a
building where it's more likely to poison people.
Too busy at the time pursuing the nuclear weapons option, Atomic Energy personnel were stopped from meeting intelligence experts. However, I am sure the intelligence agency pursued the subject more diligently by creating its own research team. Thus I was not surprised at the recent news that a defector from the Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence organization, was part of a team buying Russian radioactive material routed through an African country. Nuclear materials were handled in a very cavalier fashion in Iraq. Radioactive materials were carried in personal cars without much protection most of the time. Neutron sources for oil well logging (a method of studying the composition of potential bore holes) were dispersed without much training, leading to some accidents that resulted in large contaminated areas.
My guess is that if the U.S. nuclear industry is missing some materials, the story is much worse in countries like Iraq, Iran, Libya, Pakistan and the former Soviet republics. This creates an environment in which countries can claim lack of discipline of their workers as a cover for many missing radiation sources. The only serious controls over the smuggling of radioactive materials out of Russia now are the many sting operations by the Russian intelligence services rather than the actual control over the materials themselves. However, such operations are much less in evidence in the other former Soviet republics. Thus, according to one Russian expert, there are more sellers than buyers of nuclear materials in these countries.
This environment is ideal for countries like Iraq to train and support a terrorist operation using radiation weapons with complete deniability. If anthrax spores were used to terrorize the U.S., plutonium particles are more effective. No high technology is needed to create plutonium dust and once tiny quantities of plutonium are lodged in the lungs, there is no known cure. Most probably the victim will not even know that he is afflicted till it is too late. There will be no measurable radiation emanating from his body since the emitted radiation from plutonium is short-range. His lung tissues will absorb the radiation, blocking it from being detected by outside detectors. Thus, unlike anthrax, detection is much harder. And plutonium is much more available in spent reactor fuel. Restricting the lookout for this source of terrorism to al Qaeda is taking the easy way out. No matter how much their caves and former dwellings were searched, all that was found were some primitive documents about nuclear radiation. The real expertise -- and the real stockpiles of nuclear material -- remain in countries like Iraq and Iran. With Afghanistan removed as a safe haven, terrorist training grounds and sources of expertise have to come from these countries. It is time to face the real problem and deal with it.
Mr. Hamza, former director of Iraq's nuclear program, is president of the Council on Middle Eastern Affairs.
Dirty Bomb --- Problems for Terrorists
By S. Fred Singer
Letter to Editor, Wash Times (published on June 13, 2002)
With all the current concern about “dirty bombs,” here are a few things that should be kept in mind, based on simple calculations:
First, it’s the explosion that kills not the radioactivity. Although prolonged exposure can make you sick, you may not want to stick around long enough for that to happen.
Second, assembling the radioactive material is almost sure to kill any terrorist. After all, a square mile of contamination needs to be compressed into less than a few cubic feet. That’s a several million-fold concentration. And the stuff would get so hot; it would melt most containers.
There are ways to get around such technical difficulties, but they are not easy. Then again, terrorists can spread radioactivity more slowly – without using a bomb to disperse it – and achieve almost the same psychological effects.