Sunday, April 10, 2016

Dirty Bombs

We have been led to believe - on the basis of the LNT theory and collective dose - that terrorists could mount an effective attack by the use of "dirty bombs," i.e., bombs that spread radioactive materials by use of conventional explosives. At present, such bombs would be an effective weapon, since the fear of radiation, as in Goia and Three Mile Island, would doubtlessly cause panic and result in deaths from heart attacks, auto accidents and the like. But if we understand the actual effects of radiation, we can respect it without allowing it to overcome our rational thought. Let's look at the worst case.

Terrorists park a car bomb filled with strontium 90, which has a long half-life (twenty-nine years) and the propensity for replacing calcium in bones. At noon, with the maximum numbers of people walking down Wall Street on the way to lunch, the bomb is exploded, and strontium 90 is blasted into the air. Radioactive debris is scattered by the wind over an area of many blocks.

Let's look at this scenario as graduates of Hormesis U. First, where are the terrorists going to get a carload of strontium 90? It is a product of nuclear explosions and found in reactor "wastes." Like so many other "waste" radionuclides, it is a valuable commodity being used in medical and agricultural tracers as well as in RTGs (radio thermo-electric generators) for navigational beacons and weather stations. Medically, it is used for treatment of eye diseases and bone cancer. It is a valuable commodity and certainly not widely available in quantities like the ammonium nitrate and fuel oil used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

The EPA's Radiation Information website [www.epa.gov/radiation/radionuclides/strontium.htm] tells us that "swallowing Sr-90 with food or water is the primary pathway of intake."

The same source tells us that strontium 90 is a beta emitter. Graduates of Hormesis U. know that beta radiation can travel only a few feet through air and causes minor burns (beta burns) to exposed skin. Knowing this, what action would be required after a terrorist went to the trouble and expense to disburse this most dreaded of radioactive materials in the canyons of Manhattan? I would suggest a warning to the local inhabitants not to lick the pavement or buildings. After that, I would wait for a rain that would wash the dust down the sewers leading to the Atlantic Ocean, where there are already quadrillions of curies (septillions of becquerels) that will still be there long after the vestiges of strontium 90 have disappeared. A potential problem: the sewer rats might be affected bio-positively and take charge of the large metropolitan cities.

So much for dirty bombs.