February 2, 2011
From the Editorsâ€¨â€¨
With the WIKILEAKS induced speculation regarding whether or not Al Qaeda is preparing “weapons of mass destruction,” let’s get straight what we’re talking about.â€¨
â€¨A “dirty bomb” that spreads radioactive material is not a “nuclear bomb.”
Anthony Martin, a columnist for the Washington-based Examiner, got off on the wrong foot this morning with the headline, “Wikileaks document shows Al Qaeda has nuclear bomb.” That shows what happens when reporters play “telephone.” Martin is reading off a story in The Telegraph of London, which contains a misleading diagnosis: “A leading atomic regulator has privately warned that the world stands on the brink of a `nuclear 9/11’".
â€¨â€¨The Telegraph story, reprinted in the Vancouver Sun and now rapidly making the rounds, goes on as follows:
â€¨â€¨“Security briefings suggest that jihadi groups are also close to producing `workable and efficient’ biological and chemical weapons that could kill thousands if unleashed in attacks on the West. . . . At a NATO meeting in January 2009, security chiefs briefed member states that al-Qaeda was plotting a programme of `dirty radioactive IEDs,’ makeshift nuclear roadside bombs that could be used against British troops in Afghanistan.”â€¨â€¨
Here we go – stolen plutonium, rogue nuclear scientists, why did we ever get into this nuclear power stuff in the first place, right?â€¨â€¨
Wrong. Here’s how the story goes on: Security briefings suggest that jihadi groups are also close to producing "workable and efficient" biological and chemical weapons that could kill thousands if unleashed in attacks on the West. . . . At a NATO meeting in January 2009, security chiefs briefed member states that al-Qaeda was plotting a programme of `dirty radioactive IEDs,’ makeshift nuclear roadside bombs that could be used against British troops in Afghanistan.”
â€¨â€¨What happened to the “nuclear 9/11? As you can see, there’s a huge confusion of terms here.
â€¨â€¨A “dirty bomb” can involve radioactive material. It is not a nuclear explosion. It simply means scattering highly radioactive material with a conventional explosion. There are all kinds of dirty bombs. They can involve chemicals, biological agents or radioactive substances. Of the three, the radioactive materials are the least dangerous because its affects can be shielded by simple devices and occur over a long period of time. Toxic chemicals such as chlorine, cyanide or the botulin toxin are more immediately lethal. Biological agents such as anthrax, Japanese encephalitis or the Yellow Fever virus are probably the worst, since they can multiply. â€¨â€¨
The consensus among scientists is that the dangers of a radioactive dirty bomb have been wildly exaggerated. Under “dirty bomb,” Wikipedia contains the following evaluation:
â€¨â€¨“The fear of radiation is not always logical. . . . Dealing with public fear may prove the greatest challenge in case of an RDD event. Policy, science and media may inform the public about the real danger and thus reduce the possible psychological and economic effects.”
â€¨Defining the difference between “dirty bombs” and “nuclear weapons” will be a start.
Read more about it at the Daily Telegraph