Keeping Up With The Preppers

Simple and easy to understand prepping ideas that just may save your life.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Truth About Dirty Bombs And Decontamination



What The Heck Is A Dirty Bomb?

Source: U.S.N.R.C. (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

A "dirty bomb" is one type of a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) that combines conventional explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive material. The terms dirty bomb and RDD are often used interchangeably in the media. Most RDDs would not release enough radiation to kill people or cause severe illness - the conventional explosive itself would be more harmful to individuals than the radioactive material. However, depending on the situation, an RDD explosion could create fear and panic, contaminate property, and require potentially costly cleanup. Making prompt, accurate information available to the public may prevent the panic sought by terrorists.

A dirty bomb is in no way similar to a nuclear weapon or nuclear bomb. A nuclear bomb creates an explosion that is millions of times more powerful than that of a dirty bomb. The cloud of radiation from a nuclear bomb could spread tens to hundreds of square miles, whereas a dirty bomb’s radiation could be dispersed within a few blocks or miles of the explosion. A dirty bomb is not a “Weapon of Mass Destruction” but a “Weapon of Mass Disruption,” where contamination and anxiety are the terrorists’ major objectives.

Sources of Radioactive Material

Radioactive materials are routinely used at hospitals, research facilities, industrial activities, and construction sites. These radioactive materials are used for such purposes as diagnosing and treating illnesses, sterilizing equipment, and inspecting welding seams. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission together with 37 “Agreement” States, which also regulate radioactive material, administers more than 22,000 licenses of such materials. The vast majority of these materials are not useful as an RDD.

Are Terrorists Interested In Radioactive Materials?

Yes, terrorists have been interested in acquiring radioactive and nuclear material for use in attacks. For example, in 1995, Chechen extremists threatened to bundle radioactive material with explosives to use against Russia in order to force the Russian military to withdraw from Chechnya. While no explosives were used, officials later retrieved a package of cesium-137 the rebels had buried in a Moscow park.

Since September 11, 2001, terrorist arrests and prosecutions overseas have revealed that individuals associated with al-Qaeda planned to acquire materials for a RDD. In 2004, British authorities arrested a British national, Dhiren Barot, and several associates on various charges, including conspiring to commit public nuisance by the use of radioactive materials. 

In 2006, Barot was found guilty and sentenced to life. British authorities disclosed that Barot developed a document known as the "Final Presentation." The document outlined his research on the production of "dirty bombs," which he characterized as designed to “cause injury, fear, terror and chaos” rather than to kill. U.S. federal prosecutors indicted Barot and two associates for conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against persons within the United States, in conjunction with the alleged surveillance of several landmarks and office complexes in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Newark, N.J. 

In a separate British police operation in 2004, authorities arrested British national, Salahuddin Amin, and six others on terrorism-related charges. Amin is accused of making inquiries about buying a "radioisotope bomb" from the Russian mafia in Belgium; and the group is alleged to have linkages to al-Qaeda. Nothing appeared to have come from his inquiries, according to British prosecutors. 

While neither Barot nor Amin had the opportunity to carry their plans forward to an operational stage, these arrests demonstrate the continued interest of terrorists in acquiring and using radioactive material for malicious purposes.

How can I protect myself in a radiation emergency?

If an explosion occurs, it may not be known immediately that radioactive material is involved. If you are made aware that you are near the site of an RDD or potential release of radioactive material, you should:
  • Stay away from any obvious plume or dust cloud;
  • Walk inside a building with closed doors and windows as quickly as possible and listen for information from emergency responders and authorities;
  • If there is dust in the air, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, filter, clothing or damp cloth to avoid inhaling or ingesting radioactive material;
  • Remove contaminated clothing as soon as possible and place them in a sealed plastic bag. The clothing could be used later to estimate a person's exposure; and
  • Gently wash skin to remove any possible contamination, making sure that no radioactive material enters the mouth or is transferred to areas of the face where it could be easily moved to the mouth and swallowed. More on decontamination later.
If you are advised to take shelter, whether it is at home or in an office, you should:
  • Close all the doors and windows.
  • Turn off ventilation, air conditioners, and forced air heating units that bring in fresh air from the outside. Only use units to re-circulate air that is already in the building.
  • Close fireplace dampers.
  • Move to an inner room.
  • Keep your radio tuned to the emergency response network.

Impact Of A Dirty Bomb

The extent of local contamination would depend on a number of factors, including the size of the explosive, the amount and type of radioactive material used, the means of dispersal, and weather conditions. Those closest to the RDD would be the most likely to sustain injuries due to the explosion.

Will I Glow In The Dark?

Not really.  A dirty bomb is mostly a weapon to instill fear.  If you ever do find yourself in the vicinity of a dirty bomb explosion. First, DO NOT PANIC. 

Simple Steps Anyone Can Take To Protect Yourself and Your Family

Most citizens will not know the size of the explosion or amount of radioactive material used in the device, but there are things you can do just to be on the safe side.

Check the wind direction. After the initial blast, the radioactive material will most likely be carried by the wind and will create what's called an "ellipse."  

Source: Nuclear Secrecy Blog

If you are well upwind from the blast, you will most likely be fine.  But if you do find yourself downwind from the blast, there's still no reason to panic.  As radioactive material spreads, it becomes less concentrated and less harmful. 

Prompt detection of the type of radioactive material used will greatly assist local authorities in advising the community on protective measures, such as sheltering in place, or quickly leaving the immediate area. Radiation can be readily detected with equipment already carried by many emergency responders. Subsequent decontamination of the affected area may involve considerable time and expense.

Immediate health effects from exposure to the low radiation levels expected from an RDD would likely be minimal. The effects of radiation exposure would be determined by:

  • The amount of radiation absorbed by the body;
  • The type of radiation (gamma, beta, or alpha);
  • The distance from the radiation to an individual;
  • The means of exposure-external or internal (absorbed by the skin, inhaled, or ingested); and the length of time exposed.

The health effects of radiation tend to be directly proportional to radiation dose. In other words, the higher the radiation dose, the higher the risk of injury.

Protective Actions

In general, protection from radiation is afforded by:
  • Minimizing the time exposed to radioactive materials.
  • Maximizing the distance from the source of radiation.
  • Shielding from external exposure and inhaling radioactive material.
  • Deploy your gas mask if you have one. Radiation inhaled or digested is MUCH more dangerous that radiation on your clothing and skin.

Just To Be On The Safe Side - Down And Dirty Decontamination Procedure

Once in a safe area, decontamination can be as simple as stripping down (beginning from head to toe) and washing with soap and water.  Gas masks and clothing should be pealed off in a way they are turned inside out as removed.  Your gloves should be removed last to protect your hands from the rest of your contaminated clothing.  Removal of shoes and clothing can reduce contamination by as much as 90%.

Anything you were wearing should be treated as contaminated and should be placed in plastic bags or container that you can seal.  Once the event calms down, contaminated items can be disposed of by professionals.  Don't forget to used soap and water to decontaminate your gas mask as well.

Check out the REMM link above for more information. 

The complete instructions on decontamination procedures from Radiation Emergency Medical Management (REMM) 

Perform two decontamination cycles if feasible, with a whole body radiation survey after each cycle.

Use tepid decontamination water.

Avoid cold water which tends to close skin pores, trapping radioactive contamination. Cold water may also cause hypothermia.

Avoid hot water which tends to enhance absorption of radioactive material through vasodilation and increased skin blood flow. Hot water may also cause thermal burns.

Add mild soap (neutral pH) to water to emulsify and dissolve contamination.

Direct contaminated waste water away from patient, rather than over the rest of the body.

Stop whole body external decontamination efforts after 2 decontamination cycles and handle patient with standard precautions if the second whole body radiation survey shows:
External contamination in excess of 2 times background radiation level

Additional whole body external decontamination efforts do not further reduce contamination levels by more than 10%.

Consider that attempts to remove all contamination from skin may not be feasible or desirable.
Some radioactivity may be trapped in outermost layer of skin (stratum corneum) and will remain until normal sloughing occurs (12-15 days).

Attempts at vigorous decontamination may result in loss of normal intact skin barrier and an increased risk of internal contamination.

Cover areas of residual radiation contamination with waterproof dressings/drapes in order to limit spread of contamination to other body sites, immediate environment, and others.

Persistently elevated levels of external contamination after adequate decontamination efforts may also be due to internal contamination, retained radioactive foreign bodies (shrapnel), contaminated wounds, or contaminated body orifices.

Move Along, Nothing To See Here

The sight of emergency workers wearing protective gear while you are not will most likely be the most frightening aspect after the initial blast.  If you are close enough to see them, you're probably too close to the event.

Should I purchase potassium iodide tablets for protection against radiation?

According to the U.S.N.R.C. (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission).  Potassium iodide (KI), which is available over the counter, protects people from thyroid cancer caused by radioactive iodine, a type of radioactive material that can be released in nuclear explosions, and depending on the amount released, can later cause thyroid cancer. KI should only be taken in a radiation emergency that involves the release of radioactive iodine. Since the use or release of radioactive iodine from an RDD is highly unlikely, KI pills would not be useful.

This is obviously controversial. My feeling is it would not hurt to have  potassium iodide tablets on hand.

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