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Posted by on Jan 3, 2007 in Science & Technology, War | 11 comments

Canadian Spy Agency Warns Of Dirty Bomb Production Ease

Lest we forget amid partisan jockeying, domestic demonization, and heated foreign policy debates, here’s a report that serves as a reminder of a lingering threat — and the ease with which they could be carried out — in the early 21st century:

Canada’s spy agency says it is “quite surprisingâ€? that terrorists have not detonated a crude radioactive bomb, given the availability of materials and ease with which they could be made into a weapon.A newly released Canadian Security Intelligence Service study concludes a so-called dirty bomb is the most likely means of deliberately spreading deadly radiation.

But the CSIS study cautions that “a determined and resourceful terrorist group� could execute more elaborate forms of nuclear or radiological attack.

It says extremists could conceivably acquire an existing nuclear explosive device, fashion an improvised weapon from black-market material or sabotage a nuclear facility with the aim of triggering a radioactive release.

A copy of the October study was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

CSIS relies mainly on previously published research and analysis in assessing the threats, though brief passages were deemed too sensitive to disclose.

A dirty bomb is a real threat. At present it’s perceived by the general public in nearly the same manner as the pre-911 warnings that terrorists might one day hijack airplanes and fly them into planes as guided missiles: as a scary warning out there, but it hasn’t happened so there’s a good chance it never will. It did.

And, with info on the Internet, general information, and shadowy geopolitical alliances lurking in the corners of the world, it’s likely one day this will happen, too. The questions are: (a) where, (b) when and (c) how will the government respond and how will the public respond this time?


What If A Dirty Bomb Hit London (BBC)

NOVA: Preparing For Terrorism (Key quote:“The first-ever dirty bomb attack would be a dramatic event, I suspect, because people wouldn’t know quite what to make of it.â€?)

Terrorism Project

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • superdestroyer

    Radioactive (dirty bombs) have to be one of the most overreated threats to the United States. The U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency ran numerous computer models on spreadng iridium, Cesium, or Cobalt around the Washington, DC area that could not come up with more than a few deaths.

    The most interesting aspect of a dirty bomb is how the United Stated environmental rules will make cleanup very expensive, difficult, and slow.

    The biggest impact of a dirty bomb is not loss of life or health of anyone but the economic loss of whatever area is contaminated due to the expensive and slow cleanup.

  • Soev

    More money is needed for the resources to make sure this doesn’t happen.

  • grognard

    Considering the technical problems in making [or buying] a nuclear weapon and getting it to a target city a dirty bomb makes far more tactical/practical sense. Superdestroyer is right, the casualties would be low but large sections of the target city will be barricaded for months for cleanup and there would be concerns about cancer rates etc. for the people that returned to work or lived in the contaminated sections of the city. The hospitals would also be swamped by people thinking they have developed the symptoms of exposure, and demanding treatment. I don’t consider that type of threat “overrated� , closing off the downtown section of a city for months plays havoc with the economy and gets the point across that the terrorists can still strike at the US, and it would be a news story that played nightly for weeks. I think the reason that Osama has not tried radiation bombs is that it this not his style, he likes a flashy show with explosions and bodies.

  • Actually, it is only immediate casualties that are low. As we learned from Chernobyl, inhalation of small amounts of radioactive materials kill by inducing cancer. A single airborne particle of cesium could cause a lung cancer. While GOP Hawks funneled millions into harebrained schemes like “Star Wars”, the real threat is radioactive materials, poorly guarded, that already exist in the United States. In fact, no bomb is necessary. A terrorist could simply steal waste cesium from a hospital, and drop it into the wind in Manhattan. The financial devastation it would cause is incalculable. Similarly, as pointed out by the PBS program “Dirty Bomb,” a small bag of the powder placed on the tracks in a busy metro station would be enough to contaminate the entire subway system, with the wind from the trains doing the dispersion. That’s one of the powerful reasons why diplomacy, conflict resolution and peacemaking are far better options than war. In these modern times, it doesn’t take an army to bring a city to its knees.

  • superdestroyer


    If you want to talk about the risks from radiation you are going to have to read up on toxicology because the dose is the toxin. In the models used for a dirty bomb very few people would get over 10 rem ( o.1 Gy) for a 1000 curie Cesium-137 dirty bomb set off with several pounds of explosives. 10 rem is only twice the allowable occupational dose in the United States. It would increase the risk of develop a cancer but only on the scale of 1 in a thousand.

    I doubt if dropping a sealed in 36 millicuries metal cesium-137 brachytherapy implant seed into the wind is going to cause any great dose to anyone since it would immediately fall to the ground. Anything coming from a hospital that is cesium is a sealed source that would not disperse.

    The financial impact and the public health scare would not be based in reality but would be based on the public’s fear of radiation. In other words, our own regulations such as MARSSIM would aid the terrorist in creating more fear.

  • Kevin H

    Maybe a bomb hasn’t been set off because it really does the terrorists no good. They know of the worldwide reaction of disgust after the only two nuclear bombs were ever dropped by the US. A dirty bomb carries a certain stigma that a suicide bombing does not. It might very well turn many ‘on the fence’ regions against terrorist organizations, and produce a worldwide sudden interest in clamping down on nuclear proliferation, which Iran would not be happy with. So I bet Iran is using their influence to suppress any nuclear tainted plans.

    If I were a terrorist, I would be quite happy with the status quo. 9-11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan demonstrated that the US is quite capable of locating and disrupting terrorist networks when there is a concrete attack that generates public backing. If there were any to honestly believed that a small set of tribes in a mountainous area could hope to take on the US directly, I think they would re-evaluate now.

    I think the terrorist’s goals now are much more local. They see the instability caused by our invasion of Iraq and envision a Middle East united under a fundamentalist, anti-American Alliance that has the potential to posses nuclear weapons. That unified Arabia has been a dream of certain groups for a long time, and some might believe that such a coalition would have the might to take on the US directly. It seems to me the only logical reason why there hasn’t been an attack on the US when we know there are still many holes in our national security (ammonium nitrate and port security come to mind) and we are almost certain that there are sleeper cells within the US.

  • Rudi

    The ‘dirty bomb’ has scared the sheep. The wolf will not attack with a Polonium bomb. More people die from bad Tacobell and spinach. More people will become sick from poor handling of raw meats and fish. The lead shielding of a trully effective dirty bomb makes the DB impractical. It’s a good story like ‘liquid explosives’, good copy very little factual trurths.

  • Not true superdestroyer.

    Cesium-137 in the form of powdered cesium chloride is the most likely substance for a dirty bomb, and it is commonly found in hospitals and industrial facilities. Other radioactive isotopes are commonly found. Hospitals and research universities have cesium, strontium, cobalt, and americium, and traces of americium are also in smoke detectors. Food processing plants, oil monitoring facilities, and other industries also have devices that use cobalt. In addition, the U.S. is one of the world’s worst offenders regarding nuclear waste. There are currently about 45,000 tons of nuclear waste stored in 131 sites across the country, and by 2035, that amount is expected to grow to more than 115,000 tons.

    And you’re arguing for “a little bit of cancer?” It doesn’t matter if you and the federal government say the risk is minor. The damage would be done, people would avoid the subway, contaminated property values would plummet, and the cleanup costs would be staggering. And Rudy, “terrorists” exploit terror. No one is very afraid of tacos. There is plenty of reason to fear radioactive dust, even if it’s just a .1% increase in cancer risk. If the contaminant is detectable, people will avoid the contaminated areas. It’s pointless to call them sheep, or tell them it’s ok. On the bright side, you and superdestroyer could pick up some cheap real estate and hope “the sheep” forget.

  • superdestroyer


    Any Cesium-137 or Cobalt-60 source that a hospital source that a hospital or an industrial facilty would own would be a sealed source, double encapsulated, special form in accordance with Title 10 Code of Federal Regulations. A terrorist would need an explosive to spread it around that the bomb decrease the risk.

    A blood irradiator that a hospital would own would be installed in a 3,000 pound machine. A Cobalt-source would be installed in a gamma knife and would make a lousy source.

    I find it odd that an activist would think it a good thing that the terrorist could use our own environmental to enhanced their ability to create terror.

    Oh, Since I assume you are older than 18, your chance of developing cancer some time in your life is about 1 in 3. Also, if you are male and you live long enough you will eventually die of prostate cancer.

  • Sam

    I’m assuming the raioactive elements they are talking about would be a bit more lethal, but obtainable in smaller doses. Say the kind of uranium enriched to nuclear plant quality material. This is obtainable to dedicated and rich people. That bomb would be pretty bad.

    Also, you can’t stop everyone who wants to blow things up. Its simply too easy to do. We just have to try out best to prevent it, and deal with the damage when it comes.

  • Doobs

    Umm CSIS is on this. I wonder which CSIS Director General wants more funding. We’re spending close to 4 billion a year on CSIS and “security”, yet we haven’t yet been attacked by the Taliban, Al-Queda or even ETA in the last 100 years.

    Lets be honest. It would be very easy to blow up a greyhound bus or a VIA rail train. Think about that paranoia thought the next you vote!

    When you live in fear, you forget to live.

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