Research, Technology

What is a dirty nuclear bomb and why is it dangerous

Recently, you can often hear in the mediasuch a term as "dirty bomb". This type of weapon belongs to the radiological. It is often confused with nuclear weapons, but in fact they have little in common. Unlike nuclear weapons, a "dirty bomb" does not cause a powerful destructive shock wave; in general, the explosion itself plays a secondary role. However, its danger is that it is the simplest in terms of manufacturing radiological weapons. As a result, theoretically, it may well end up in the hands of terrorists. It must be said that nuclear terrorism was discussed at the highest political level in 2009, after the speech of US President Barack Obama in Prague, but they began to fight it even earlier. But how high is the likelihood of a "dirty bomb" being used, and what is it all about?

"Dirty bomb" - a dangerous radiological weapon


  • 1 Features of a dirty bomb and the difference from a nuclear weapon
  • 2 Most Famous Dirty Bomb
  • 3 Why there are no dirty bombs in service in any army
  • 4 How high is the threat of a dirty bomb?

Features of a dirty bomb and the difference from nuclear weapons

As you know, among the damaging factors of nuclearweapons not only destructive ability, but also a large number of unstable isotopes, resulting in radioactive contamination of the area. However, as we said earlier, the radiation background after the explosion decreases quite quickly.

The most dangerous period after a nuclear explosionYou can stay in a bomb shelter. After a few years, the infected area becomes suitable even for long-term habitation. A vivid example of this are the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which began to recover a few years after the unfortunate events.

The task of a dirty bomb is to infect the territory with radiation for a long time

A dirty bomb works very differently.Its task is to pollute the territory as much as possible. It contains isotopes that have a half-life of tens or even hundreds of years. Therefore, a radiological weapon can be made not even in the form of a bomb. For example, radioactive substances can be sprayed over a certain area from an aircraft.

Dangerous period after the explosion of a dirty bombis several decades. Accordingly, it will not be possible to sit it out in the bomb shelter. The contaminated area, like the Chernobyl zone, will be uninhabitable for a long time.

The most dangerous isotopes:strontium-90, cesium-137, and strontium-89, zinc-64, tantalum-181, iodine-131, etc. I must say that different isotopes have different effects on the body. For example, strontium accumulates in bones, cesium affects muscle tissue, and iodine-131 affects the thyroid gland.

Theoretically, one cobalt bomb is capable of destroying all life on Earth

The most famous dirty bomb

The scientist Leo came up with the first dirty bomb idea.Szilard in 1952. Recall that earlier it was he who discovered the nuclear chain reaction. Szilard's idea was to use a hydrogen bomb with a cobalt-59 shell. During the explosion, cobalt will become the unstable isotope cobalt-60. It is a powerful source of gamma radiation with a half-life of over 5 years.

The cobalt bomb is so scarya weapon that doesn't even need delivery vehicles. That is, it does not matter in which territory it explodes, as it is capable of destroying all life on the entire Earth. True, this will happen only if such a bomb is of sufficient size. According to the calculations of scientists, it is quite possible to make a bomb of such power, since only 510 tons of cobalt-60 will be required to infect the entire Earth with a lethal dose of radiation.

Fortunately, the cobalt bomb has not yet been country in the world. Yes, and Leo Szilard himself expressed such an idea not with the aim of creating a superweapon, but to show the absurdity and senselessness of the race for a superweapon.

Special services regularly stop illegal circulation of radioactive materials

Why there are no dirty bombs in service in any army

Yes, there are no dirty bombs in servicecountries of the world, at least officially, despite the ease of their manufacture. The fact is that from the point of view of achieving military goals, it is completely ineffective. Such weapons do not destroy the enemy and its population instantly. Radiation causes radiation sickness, the intensity of which depends on the dose of radiation, but, in any case, it develops gradually. In addition, the territory becomes unsuitable for capture and occupation for many years. And as a deterrent weapon, it is not at all suitable.

However, the threat of using such a bomb is even higher,than the threat of nuclear war. The fact is that radiological weapons are quite suitable for unconventional methods of warfare. In particular, it is the best suited for terrorist purposes. It is capable of hitting a huge number of civilians, which means it is an effective element of intimidation.

How high is the threat of a dirty bomb?

Radioactive materials are under tightcontrol of the countries that possess them. However, this does not mean that there are no cases of illegal sale and movement of such substances around the world. All known cases are recorded in the Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB), which was created by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1995 after several serious cases of smuggling were identified.

An explosion at a nuclear power plant is one of the scenarios for the use of an atomic bomb

For 20 years, 2734 were recorded in the ITDB databasecases of illicit trafficking in radioactive materials. One of the most high-profile over the past decade occurred in 2011, when Islamists tried to buy large quantities of cesium and uranium. It can hardly be said with certainty that the smuggling of nuclear materials has now been completely eradicated.

In addition, it should be noted that radioactiveisotopes are widely used in industry and energy, as well as science, medicine, and even in everyday life. For example, smoke detectors often contain americium-241. That is, theoretically, a “dirty bomb” can be made “on the knee”. Another very likely scenario for the use of radiological weapons is an explosion at a nuclear power plant. True, it is not so easy to organize such a terrorist attack, as we have already talked about earlier.

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Fortunately, the "dirty bomb" remains to this dayhypothetical weapon, and yet there have been no cases of its use. It remains to be hoped that, through the efforts of the IAEA and the governments of countries, it will be possible to exclude them in the future.