The Dirty Bomb Threat: Mass Destruction or Mass Disruption?

The Vancouver Sun claims that the WikiLeaks website has sent documents to the Daily Telegraph containing sobering news about nuclear, chemical, biological, and dirty bomb terrorism, including the following:

A leading atomic regulator has privately warned that the world stands on the brink of a “nuclear 9/11”.

And here’s a bit more:

Thousands of classified American cables obtained by the WikiLeaks website and passed to The Daily Telegraph detail the international struggle to stop the spread of weapons-grade nuclear, chemical and biological material around the globe.

And apparently with only mixed success. Dirty bombs (bombs that contain radioactive elements) are cited as particularly worrisome. The next decade looks to be a turbulent one.

Here’s a bit from a NOVA interview with Dr. Graham Allison, a leading expert on the subject of nuclear terrorism and dirty bombs:

NOVA: So if a fairly sizable dirty bomb went off in the center of Boston on a windy day, and a lot of people were exposed to its radiation, would people be at all equipped to deal with it?

Allison: I suspect not, because they probably haven’t been well-informed. They would quickly go to a Web site to try to see what they could learn about it. Some people would go out and buy a book about nuclear terrorism, and other people would take sodium iodide, thinking, “I heard that that had something to do with this or that.” But there would be general confusion, as unfortunately there would be for most counterterrorist acts at this stage, given on the one hand the absence of an effective education process for people, and on the other the desire not to know too much about this.

A NOVA documentary clip on dirty bombs is here. It raises a very provocative question: might dirty bombs start functioning as weapons of mass disruption (as opposed to destruction) in which countries are increasingly forced, after such incidents, to simply abandon whole blocks of their great cities, bringing down their own buildings and clearing the areas because nobody wants to return to them? 

For still more information, here’s the full NOVA page devoted to the subject.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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