Keep ‘Dirty’ Drone Threat in Perspective

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During the recent Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC, British Prime Minister David Cameron made the ominous assessment that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is seeking to use drones to detonate “dirty” bombs over Western cities. While Cameron and other world leaders are right to be concerned about the prospect of more ISIS attacks on metropolitan targets, this particular scenario said much more about the evolving threat of the drone as an effective terrorist weapon than that of a dirty bomb or radiological dispersion device.

A dirty bomb explosion would not be exponentially more catastrophic than a conventional one. As with any bomb, people within the immediate vicinity of the explosion would likely be killed or wounded by the force of the explosion. Those within a slightly greater radius would absorb high doses of radiation that could increase the risk of dying from radiation poisoning – perhaps greater than 50 percent – if left untreated. While it’s possible a dirty bomb could be designed to disperse radioactive material over several blocks, depending on the force of the explosion, the effects of that dispersion must be kept in perspective.


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