In the past, a number of these sources have been misplaced, and in a small number of the foreign cases, this has led to serious contamination, including a few deaths. Efforts have been made to better control these radiological sources, but since at least , there has been increased concern that terrorists might use them to create an RDD. Calculations have shown that an attack would be unlikely to produce radioactive contamination sufficient to kill or even injure anyone. The only direct medical effect from such an attack would be an increased long-term cancer risk.
The immediate impact, therefore, would be mainly psychological and economic. Governmental authorities would declare the more heavily contaminated areas off-limits. Some people might avoid any area where contamination was detected, no matter how slight. If an RDD were used in a major urban area, the economic losses could be in the billions or even tens of billions of dollars.
Given the widespread use of these sources both in the United States and overseas, it is unlikely that all of them can be protected sufficiently to prevent a terrorist from obtaining one. Fortunately most radiological sources are not very suitable for producing an RDD. Many have too little radioactivity to cause much contamination, and some are so radioactive that anyone who stole them would be dead before they could make an RDD. There have been proposals to phase out those radiological sources that represent the highest risk, but the users have resisted, and thus far the sources are still being manufactured.
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However, the decision-making process has been ponderous. Hence, with the long history of evolving and sophisticated attacks of terror in urban centres of India, there is a need for more public discourse on the nature of such a threat. There are tens of thousands of functioning radioactive sources in over countries, and these sources find applications in multiple medicinal including cancer treatment , industrial, and agricultural purposes.
Simply, radiological terrorism can be defined as the intentional and malicious use of radiation from the decay of radioactive materials to cause injury fatal or otherwise to person or property by unlicensed exposure through a particular device or method.
ISIS and Dirty Bombs
A majority of radioisotopes either have a very short or very long half-life, and so that leaves us with about a couple of dozen radioisotopes that match the criteria of having intermediate half-lives. Add to that the high level of prevalence of use of such a group of radioisotopes in commercially used and widely available radioactive sources, and we are left with no more than a dozen high-risk radioisotopes.
Cobalt Co , cesium Cs , strontium Sr , iridium Ir , among others, are some of the highly radioactive isotopes that are widely used in various medicinal, commercial, and industrial sources of applications including sterilisation and food irradiation, single- and multi-beam tele-therapy, industrial radiography, high- and medium-dose brachytherapy, research and blood irradiators, level and conveyor gauges, radioisotope thermoelectric generators, etc.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, keeping in mind the potential harm to human health, has categorised the commercially used radioactive sources based on radiation safety hazards as high-risk Category 1, 2, and 3 sources.
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The respective half-lives also play a role in establishing the threat potential of a radioisotope. So, there are a lot of permutations and combinations that go into selecting the right amounts of the right radioisotope. Drawing from a proposed definition by George Moore, a radiological weapon can more simply be defined as any device or method, except for a nuclear yield-producing device, that intentionally and maliciously uses, or intends to intentionally and maliciously use, radiation from the decay of radioactive materials to cause injury to person or property by unlicensed exposure.
The design and form of attack of a dirty bomb limits the use of a gamma emitting radioactive material to maximise the external radiation threat.
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However, in their study, James Acton, Brooke M. Rogers, and Peter D. The scenarios include the spreading of radioactivity through dissemination of radioactive materials in an aerosolised form to be more effective in getting the targets to inhale them.
Sprayers can be used in crowded streets or at iconic sites of a city; airplanes used for crop dusting can also be employed to do the same. The aerosolised material can even be disseminated through ventilation systems in closed places such as theatres, concert venues, sports arenas, etc. Even the intentional spreading of materials by mail similar to the Anthrax attacks would constitute an RDD. If carried out successfully, the I 3 attacks can be operationally more useful and at the same time presumably easier to carry out for the non-state actors.
go to site Unlike a dirty bomb attack, these attacks may take longer to be identified, leading to a wider spread of contamination. A relevant example here would be the use of Polonium possibly by the Russian government to poison Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent. He reportedly died within three weeks of being exposed to the radioactive material.
It was already too late by the time it could be successfully detected that he was in fact suffering from radiation sickness. Radiation Emission Device RED is another possible type of radiological weapon, which can include an unshielded stationary or mobile radioactive source that is emitting radiation. The most relevant case-study for understanding the scenarios of widespread malicious dispersal of radioactive material was the non-terror radiation accident in Goiania, Brazil, in — where a mishap initiated by the callousness in disposing an old radio-teletherapy machine in Goiania led to the death of 5 people.
Scrap metal scavengers took away the source capsule from the machine, which contained about Curie of powdered Caesium, and later one of the scavengers punctured the source capsule which allowed the powder to leak out. Different types of radiations interact with and damage the human body differently, and this is expressed by a factor called the Relative Biological Effectiveness RBE.
For example, if ingested or inhaled a material emitting alpha radiation is more potent. Written By: Erik Gregersen. See Article History. Alternative Titles: RDD, radiological dispersion device. Start Your Free Trial Today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:.
Explosive , any substance or device that can be made to produce a volume of rapidly expanding gas in an extremely brief period. There are three fundamental types: mechanical, nuclear, and chemical. A mechanical explosive is one that depends on a physical reaction, such as overloading a container with compressed air. Radioactivity , property exhibited by certain types of matter of emitting energy and subatomic particles spontaneously. It is, in essence, an attribute of individual atomic nuclei. An unstable nucleus will decompose spontaneously, or decay, into a more stable configuration but will do so only in a few specific ways by emitting certain….
Atomic bomb , weapon with great explosive power that results from the sudden release of energy upon the splitting, or fission, of the nuclei of a heavy element such as plutonium or uranium. History at your fingertips. Sign up here to see what happened On This Day , every day in your inbox!