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Lincoln Journal Star August 14, 2002

DIRTY BOMBS

What is a dirty bomb?

A "dirty bomb" is a conventional explosive such as dynamite that has been packaged with radioactive material, which scatters when the bomb goes off. It kills or injures through the initial blast of the conventional explosive and by spreading radiation and contamination -- that's where the term "dirty" comes from. "Dirty bombs" can be of almost any size.

Is a dirty bomb a weapon of mass destruction?

It is probably more accurate to describe dirty bombs, as Steven E. Koonin, provost at the California Institute of Technology does, as weapons of "mass disruption" that could spread fear and disrupt daily life.

"These weapons are not about terror. They are about psychological fear and they are about economic destruction, not casualties."

The effects could also be more long-lasting than any other type of strike, said John Pike, director of the Global Security Organization. "You have long-term potential health hazards and you also have longer-term psychological social and political impacts that can go on weeks, months, maybe years," he said.

Which radioactive materials could be used in a dirty bomb?

Almost any type of radioactive material with military, industrial, or medical applications could be used in a dirty bomb. Weapons-grade plutonium or uranium, as well as freshly spent nuclear fuel, would be the most deadly but are also the hardest to obtain and handle.

Do terrorists have such radioactive substances?

The likely radioactive ingredients for these devices -- cesium, cobalt and iridium isotopes -- are widely used for industrial purposes and are easy to come by. Radioactive material is stored in thousands of hospitals, labs and factories across the country -- often with few safeguards, because private businesses are responsible for ensuring their security.


Copyright 2002 Lincoln Journal Star