Monday, May 26, 2008

A “Dirty Bomb’s” Primary Component is Fear

Words like “Nuclear” and “radiation” are frightening to most Americans and yet, we’re bombarded by both ionizing (alpha and beta particles and Gamma wave radiation) AND non-ionizing radiation (ie. Sunlight) on a daily basis.

In fact, the average background radiation in the northeast United States is appx. 1 mR/day that’s ONE mili-Rem per day! That means that we get a “total dose” of about 1 Rem every 1,000 days (a little under three years), that’s 10 Rem over thirty years and about 25 Rem over a 75 year lifespan.

The FDNY’s “Action Level” for radiation or “Rad Events” is 1 mR/hour and our hot zone is set up at 2mR/hour. For life saving purposes and in extreme emergencies only, one can take a one time dose of 25R (25 Rem). That’s a lifetime’s worth of radiation in one dose!

But adverse health effects in humans don’t show up until we reach a dose of appx. 100 Rems. At 100 Rems, we witness white blood cell numbers decrease. Later on that person may get flu-like symptoms or a headache, but generally nothing observable immediately.

The LD50 (“Lethal Dose 50” = the dose at which 50% of the people will die within 60 days, even with medical assistance) is between 500 Rem and 750 Rem.

Huge doses like that are rare outside of nuclear events, a nuclear weapon detonation, or a Chernobyl-like industrial accident.

Since the West does NOT use the primitive kind of nuclear reactor used at Chernobyl, nuclear accidents in the West are exceedingly rare!

With terrorism being a far more likely scenario than nuclear war between nuclear nations, the “Suitcase Nuke” is the most likely sort of thermonuclear event.

While military analysts say that as many as eighteen former-Soviet “Suitcase Nukes” (pictured above left) are “unaccounted for, getting a Suitcase Nuke into a harbor city and set up without detection would be extremely difficult, and would be considered a long-shot.

The most likely type of nuclear scenario is a “Dirty Bomb” (one possible example pictured above right) in which low grade medical or industrial nuclear waste is combined with conventional explosives to scatter ionizing radiation all over a target area.

The Dirty Bomb’s radiation is generally NOT deadly, in fact, it’s often of very low dosage, though the conventional explosives could still kill, main or injure people within its blast radius.

A Dirty Bomb is really a “Weapon of Mass Disruption,” instead of a “Weapon of Mass Destruction!” Dirty Bombs are designed to disrupt commerce and government, to panic people to such an extent that they become afraid to enter that area again, afraid to use the subway, etc.

The impact of a Dirty Bomb is dependent upon the ignorance of the population targeted. It’s also dependent upon many people’s tendency to believe conspiratorial accounts or merely discount government’s assurances.

For instance, if a Dirty Bomb were to go off in New York City’s subway system, and the government told people that the radiation levels were checked and are so low that they pose no danger, the bomber’s would count on many people discounting that very accurate information!

The Dirty Bomb’s primary danger is from the conventional explosives themselves. Low grade medical or industrial rad sources generally don’t yield high levels of radiation, although some basic precautions must be taken around ANY rad source.

Alpha particles generally travel only a few inches and are easily stopped by something as flimsy as a sheet of paper, while Beta particles travel up to 10 feet and are stopped by heavier clothing – an overcoat, etc. The PRIMARY danger of particle radiation is ingestion/inhalation. At minimum a dust mask should be worn to keep you from breathing in radioactive particles. Ironically enough, while Alpha particle radiation is the least hazardous type of radiation and Gamma radiation is the most hazardous type of radiation, the most dangerous Rad emitter to ingest/inhale is an Alpha emitter, as an Alpha emitter will do more damage once inside the body, delivering its full energy only a few inches to nearby vital organs.

While Gamma (wave) radiation is the most severe radiation hazard, a Gamma emitter is the least hazardous type of emitter to ingest/inhale as that does far less damage when leaving the body.

Ignorance is the most effective and destructive component of the “Dirty Bomb.” There are still too many people who confuse a Dirty Bomb (conventional explosives coupled with a usually low grade radiation source) and a thermonuclear device (like a “suitcase nuke”).

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