The attack has been in the planning stages for nearly two years. Surveillance of potential targets determined a downtown area near you as a prime location. Two years of gathering necessary materials have yielded a 3,000 pound improvised explosive device containing the high explosive PETN and a mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. Also contained in the device is a significant amount cesium 137, a highly radioactive substance which will be dispersed throughout the downtown area by the explosion. At 11:15 a.m., just about a minute ago, an enormous explosion destroyed the downtown area, collapsing a building, heavily damaging many other structures and killing or maiming dozens on the sidewalks or in cars. You heard the nearby boom and felt the floor shake under your feet. Moments later your radio crackles to life. What are you going to do? Such is the case presented in National Planning Scenario #11 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
It is no secret terrorists have desired to attack targets using radiological dispersal devices (RDD), otherwise known as dirty bombs. In 2006, police in London foiled an attempt by Dhiren Barot, an al-Qa’eda sympathizer, to detonate a dirty bomb in the heart of London as a precursor to future attacks in Britain and the United States. Police uncovered files by Barot where he hoped an RDD would “produce general panic, health consequences including immediate fatalities and long-term increases in cancer incidence, long-term denial of property use, disruption of services and property and facility decontamination needs.”
Barot’s wishes reflect the desires of many would-be terrorists whose method of attack is an RDD. But how effective would such a device be? In order to know, it is important to learn a little about them. Let’s start with some basics about these devices. In simple terms, an RDD is an explosive device containing radioactive material meant to be spread over the target area by the blast. According to the Counter-Terrorism Operations Support Center for Radiological Nuclear Testing (CTOSCRNT) in Nevada, the most immediate and serious consequences would occur as a result of the blast. As with any other bomb the size of the one in our opening scenario, the blast zone (see my companion piece, Blast Zone Awareness on Medium.com) would contain heavy damage and numerous casualties. Different from other blast zones would be the presence of radioactive material.
Read the Remainder at Medium