Friday, August 27, 2010

NORCOM Scenario 11 Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD)

NORCOM Scenario 11 Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD)

Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD):

Any method used to deliberately disperse radioactive material to create terror or harm. A dirty bomb is an example of and RDD. It is made by packaging explosives (like dynamite) with radioactive material to be dispersed when the bomb goes off. Source

Note that it is generally thought that a does of 400 rem (external) over a short period of time will cause
death in approximately 50% of cases. So the above example would not be an instant death scenario.

A few of these weapons of terror have been built. But none to date have been successfully used.

Various events associated specifically with the attempted use of dirty bombs:

  • November 1995: Moscow Russia – A cache of radioactive cesium is discovered in Ismailovsky park after public boosts by the rebels as to its location.
  • December 1998: Argun, Chechnya- A container of radioactive materials attached to an explosive mine are found near a railroad line.
  • June 2002: Chicago, Illinois; Jose Padia a former gang member with known ties to Al Qaeda is arrested on suspicion of planning to build and detonate a dirty bomb within an American city. These charges are later dropped.
  • January 2003 Heart, Afghanistan: Plans and documents found on a captured computer indicate that Al Qaeda has succeeded in constructing a small dirty bomb though the device is never found.
  • November 2006, London, UK Dhiren Barot pleads guilty of conspiring to murder within the United Kingdom and United States using a radioactive dirty bomb.
  • January 2009, Belfast Maine: FBI search of the home of James G. Cummings, a white supremacist who had been shot and killed by his wife found four one-gallon containers of 35 percent hydrogen peroxide, uranium, thorium, lithium metal, thermite, aluminum powder, beryllium, boron, black iron oxide and magnesium as well as literature on how to build dirty bombs and information about cesium-137, strontium-90 and cobalt-60, radioactive materials.
  • April 2009, Ternopil Oblast, Ukraine: Arrest of a legislator and two businessmen for attempting to sell what was stated to be 3.7 kilograms of plutonium-239 but thought to actually be americium, a radioactive material commonly used in smoke detectors, which can also be used in a dirty bomb.

The likely attack:

  • Cesium -137 is the likely weapon of choice. It is readily available at medical facilities and food processing plants. It is easily dispersed in powder form and attaches to soil, concrete and building materials.

The likely effect:

  • Immediate casualties: Primarily will be factor of how large (if any) the explosion is. In general, to get the concentration needed to cause immediate illness or death, you would already be within the blast radius. The long term casualties are also not clear. Even for doses well above the “safe” limit: the added risk is essentially equivalent to that for smoking or a high fat diet.

  • Physiological Effect: There is fairly strong evidence from similar events (Sarin in Japan, Anthrax in the US, Bombings in London) that the public will not go completely crazy with panic. However, the long term impact will be very large. Seventy-five percent of the population exposed to nuclear detonation will suffer from psychological distress such as loss of sleep, inability to concentrate, or social withdrawal.

  • The cost (the big one): An estimated cleanup cost for a .7 kiloton detonation in New York City is $2.5 Trillion dollars if cleaned to the 5 rem/year limit, and $500 Billion if only to the 15 rem/year limit.* These are the current accepted “clean” standards.

Of course with the current potential cost to bailout Wall Street estimated at a potential $4.6 trillion dollars. If they had put an RDD there in 2006, some people would cal that: A Bargain.

* the source is a little unclear as to rem limit, but the cost levels are none-the-less fairly self-obvious.

Primary Sources:  Hanson, Lt. Col USAF Joel T., Raiological Sipersal Device Primer From A Terrorist's Perspective; Air War college Air University, 2008.  List of events is from the online resource for a PBS Nova special, Wikopedia, et al.

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