What Is A Dirty Bomb? And Is It Actually Something to Worry About?

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On August 12, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security released a joint bulletin to law enforcement agencies about increased threats following the raid on Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago residence. While the bulletin is supposed to be for official use only, Project Veritas found a copy of it, and you can view the bulletin hereFBI and DHS released the joint bulletin after a man entered the FBI building in Cincinnati and started firing at people with a nail gun on August 11. The FBI/DHS bulletin also states that a variety of threats have been made online, including the threat to place a dirty bomb in front of FBI headquarters.

What should you know about a dirty bomb?

Most of us don’t work for the FBI, but how concerned should we be about “dirty bombs”? How easy are they to make? How destructive are they?

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission defines dirty bombs as “a type of ‘radiological dispersal device’ that combines a conventional explosive, such as dynamite, with radioactive material.” Dirty bombs do not have the same ability to spread radiation for thousands of square miles that nuclear bombs do; in the event of a dirty bomb exploding, most people would likely be injured by the explosive device itself, not the actual radiation.

The NRC also says that the dirty bomb is not a “weapon of mass destruction” but a “weapon of mass disruption.” This has to do with the public fear factor regarding radiation and the very expensive cleanup involved.  

For example, back in 2019, radioactive Cesium 137 leaked at Seattle’s Harborview Research and Training Building This leak was due to actions on the part of contractors who were not obeying standard safety procedures. The contractor started sawing through pipes containing the Cesium and did not notice when it started to leak. He was not wearing any of the radiation detecting equipment (rings and/or badges) that have been standard in that field of work for quite a while, and that would have alerted him that something was wrong.

And while no one suffered long-term injuries from this incident, the cleanup took two years and cost $156 million. This $156 million price tag was just for a leak; radioactive material sprayed by an explosive device would be that much more expensive to clean up. Even if no injuries were involved, cleaning up after a dirty bomb would be a logistical and financial nightmare.

And as bad as the financial aftermath of a dirty bomb would be, the psychological impact on the community would probably be worse. The public is terrified of radiation. We’ve all heard horror stories about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island. Photos of animals near Chernobyl with grotesque mutations are all over the internet. 

dirty bomb

If you’re into fear porn, boy, does radiation have a lot to offer!

But what if you want a sober assessment of what might happen if you, say, worked next to a building in which a dirty bomb went off?

Well, according to the NRC, it would depend on the amount of radiation absorbed by the body, the type of radiation, the distance of the source of radiation to your body, type of exposure (absorbed by skin, inhaled, or ingested,) and the length of time of exposure. And, of course, the strength of the explosive device.  

If you don’t remember the different types of radiation and genuinely want a better understanding of possible scenarios, you can always revisit your favorite middle-school science book. My personal favorite is The Usborne Science Encyclopedia, but I’m sure there are plenty of other good ones out there.

There are three types of radiation: alpha, beta, and gamma. Alpha particles are absorbed by thick pieces of paper and travel less than 4 inches through air. While they are heavy and very harmful if swallowed or inhaled, they are too big to be absorbed through skin unless it is cut.

Beta particles can travel up to three feet in the air and are absorbed by thin sheets of copper. Your clothes will protect you from beta particles, though some types of beta particles can cause radiation burns on bare skin. Like alpha particles, they do the most damage if swallowed or inhaled.

Gamma rays are the most penetrating. They have no mass; they are pure energy. X-rays are not identical to gamma rays, though both are commonly used in medicine. 

X-rays are lower in intensity and so are not as damaging. Gamma rays are more high energy; it takes several inches of lead to completely stop gamma rays. They can pass through not only clothes but your entire body, causing damaging ionization on the way.  

But don’t panic.

This sounds scary, but people are exposed to all kinds of radiation in everyday activities. Many smoke detectors contain alpha particles. Beta particles have a variety of medical applications, like in positron emission tomography (PET). Do you only eat organic home grown, home processed food? Including all your spices? No? 

Then you probably have irradiated food in your regular diet.  Almost all spices on the market have been exposed to gamma rays to kill pathogens, and it’s permissible in other foods, too. Gamma rays are also used to sterilize medical equipment.

And radioactive substances are ubiquitous in the environment. We’re all exposed to some forms of radiation. Do you like bananas? They’re radioactive. Do you like traveling by plane? You’re being exposed to cosmic radiation, then, too. Humans have evolved to deal with certain amounts of radioactive substances in the environment.  

Yes, in the past hundred years, we have been working with larger quantities of synthetically produced radioactive material than ever before. This absolutely warrants additional safety protocols. But today, people have been working in various industries, handling radioactive substances on a daily basis for decades. We should be cautious and attentive toward radioactive substances; people that work in those industries need to be attentive to their own physical well-being to make sure they are not being negatively affected. 

(Looking for information on emergency evacuations? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide.)

The public should not be stupidly terrified about the possibility of a dirty bomb. 

And it is worth repeating that most of the actual damage done by a dirty bomb would be done by the explosive itself. And the more powerful the explosion was, the less damage would be done by the radioactive material because it would be more widely dispersed. The dose makes the poison we’ve known for a long time; a powerful blast that dispersed radioactive material over a wide radius would also highly dilute the radioactive material, rendering it far less dangerous.  

Radioactive material is widely used in medicine and industry, but purchasing is highly regulated. 

Each state has its own rules regarding purchasing radioactive materials, but in none of them can anyone off the street just call a distributor and buy whatever they want. However, other countries also use radioactive material, and many don’t regulate it as well as we do in the States. It’s theoretically possible that a bad actor could get hold of radioactive material in a country like Mexico and then sneak it across the border into the U.S. Also, there have been cases of cars transporting radioactive material being stolen. 

Having said that, a dirty bomb is something to be aware of, not something to lose sleep over.        

Journalists love making people terrified of radiation, but the truth is that 36 years after Chernobyl, we know now much more about the long-term effects of radiation exposure, and they are not as bad as we feared 50 years ago. Yes, Chernobyl was horrible, wasteful, and tragic. Many people lost their lives, and many more lost quality of life. However, fears that mutations observed as a result of the blast would be passed down from generation to generation turned out to be misplaced. People who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl blast were able to have healthy children.

The fear-mongering surrounding dirty bombs may do more damage, and I can’t help but wonder a little bit at some of the timing. About a month ago, NBC did a news report on how easy it is to get radioactive material. 

The whole 2 minutes were basically fear porn about radioactive substances we’ve been using in medicine for years. Their reporters were able to order some radioactive substances using a fake license and used this as a pretext for pushing stricter controls on the part of medical physicists and sellers.  

They also use the incident to incite fear; they say that a dirty bomb made with the improperly purchased amount of radioactive material stolen could “cause hundreds of deaths from evacuations and billions of dollars of socioeconomic effects.”  (Go to 1:10 in this video to see.)

This report did not offer many specific details. NBC didn’t say what kind of radioactive materials were improperly purchased; they didn’t say what kind of explosive device it would take to spread the materials around that would cause hundreds of people to die in an evacuation. 

Notice that the reporter did not say that hundreds of people would die from radiation poisoning because that would be a blatant lie. But saying that hundreds could possibly die in an evacuation scenario is much vaguer and, therefore, much harder to dispute definitively.  

This report was designed to spread fear regarding dirty bombs.  

But why? Why do mainstream media and government officials want to keep us in a permanent state of being terrified of something, whether it’s Covid, or the Russians, or monkeypox, or now dirty bombs?

Without going into a huge amount of detail, I think it has to do with Mattias Desmet’s idea of mass formation. There are a variety of reasons that powerful people want the public terrified right now. 

Dirty bombs are just another layer on the fear cake.  

If the thought of a dirty bomb genuinely scares you, I would recommend taking a look at the OP’s very reasonable, not-fear-mongering article on How to Prepare for a Nuclear Attack. And then bear in mind that dirty bombs are far, far less damaging. For even more information, check out The Organic Prepper Nuclear Survival Anthology. As always, I think the best antidote to fear is knowledge and then preparedness. Don’t let the thought of a dirty bomb terrify you. Learn about what you’re most likely to encounter in your particular environment, prepare accordingly, and then go about your life.

Are you concerned about the possibility of a dirty bomb? How likely do you think it is that someone would get these materials and create a terrorist disaster? Do you have any particular knowledge about dirty bombs that you’d like to share with us? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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About Marie Hawthorne

A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.

Picture of Marie Hawthorne

Marie Hawthorne

A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.

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  • A dirty bomb is the biggest threat to the Government and Businesses. Most incidents would require the area to be evacuated and isolated for many years, before it was totally safe to inhabit or work there. So the Economic losses would be staggering. Usually the problem is in long term exposure and or clean up costs.
    The assumption is that mainly a business district or mixed use area would be attacked with such a device. Using it in a residential area is possible, but would not make as much of a long term economic impact.
    Though a dirty bomb is considered a terror device, many military planners have looked at using similar devices. Such as Neutron bombs, that would kill all life in an area, but would leave the infrastructure intact. It differs from dirty bombs in that the radiation is short lived, rather than the lingering kind preferred by dirty bomb advocates.
    The world’s military’s also considers attacking Nuclear power plants to release radiation. This has been a potential threat posed by Nuclear facilities in the Russia – Ukraine conflict. The bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities is another example.
    So although the government and media would pretend only terrorists would consider something like this, it is not the case. Remember that fact.

    Whether it is Dirty bombs or any other conflict; Civilians are always just considered as “collateral damage” in any conflict.
    No one really cares about you or your safety, only in what damage they can cause to their opponent or what damage/costs would be done to their side.
    So don’t expect anyone to look out for you, except yourself or your family.

  • I’m not losing a moment’s sleep over this. Here’s why. Suppose some dingus was able to smuggle in some radioactive materials and also had access to some dynamite. Okay.

    Your best result would be in a densely used commercial area, like New York City’s financial district. The actual destruction would be minimal (you need a lot of TNT even to take down a building), most the radiation would disperse in days, but the ignorant would panic.

    And no, a neutron bomb is NOT the same as a dirty bomb.

  • Well, the White House has to get rid of Joe McSniffy’s dirty Depends some how. All kidding aside, Bruce’s analysis is correct. The level of danger is dependent upon the the isotope used, its dispersion, and where it’s placed, say near a city water supply or similar public utility where it would increase the number of victims far beyond the radius of initial dispersion.

    Growing up and living most of my adult life in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain (NORAD), and realizing early on what a prime target you live by, has made me a bit blasé about a Nuclear Attack. We understood we most likely would be incinerated in the initial missile strikes, and learned to accept it, because survival after that much exposure is downright frightening. Severe Radiation Sickness is one of the most awful ways to go in my mind, and as a Paramedic and Trauma RN, I’ve witnessed more than most of an awful lot of ways to die.

    Should we be worried about a Dirty Bomb? I’d say it’s a definite possibility that it could happen, and that wherever they strike it will be placed to cause the maximum amount of disruption and long term damage they can find.

    The big question is will it be an outside adversary who performs the heinous act, or members of our own government? I’m not normally a conspiratorial minded person, but frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past our current regime.

  • I worked in Radiation Protection for many years. Your article sums up dirty bombs pretty well. I would make a few changes but it isn’t worth it. I would sum it all up by saying that enough radioactive material to make a significant dirty bomb would be difficult for the perpetrator to handle and he would be placing himself at risk while he was constructing and moving the bomb. The radiation won’t wait until it explodes to affect those around it. The other thing is that much more damage could be done more easily by wrecking a tank truck full of toxic chemicals. Even a stupid terrorist could figure that out. The whole dirty bomb idea is just a government scare tactic.

  • WHERE is someone going to get the radioactive material to begin with? Not like it’s just laying around really, unbless the FBI provides it to them like they have been providing the materials for most of these attacks you see lately.

    Ever notice when the FBI sets up a false flag on civillian targets they give the perps real guns to kill real people? But when they set up a false flag against themselves, to make it look REALLY evil, they give the whack job a nail gun, so he can’t actually HURT them too badly? Kind of interesting.

    Even if someone stole some medical radioactive stuff, it’s generally small quantities and a lot of it has short half lives so it’s usefulness for a ‘dirty bomb’ is severely limited.

    Quick PANIC>>> F E A R !!!!!!! Give us more of your freedoms so we can ‘protect you’.

    BTW, speaking of terror acts and bombs and stuff, remember that ‘bomb’ or missile strike’ that hit the ATT was it?? switching center that had voting machines in it or something? Amazing how quickly THAT fell off the radar, when even a simple bombing at an olympic game lasted in the news cycle for months.

    Your own government is who is going to attack you and try to make it look like someone else did it. Know who your real enemies are when the time comes.

  • If, and it’s a big if, there was a dirty bomb detonated somwhere, I would bet dollars to donuts (figuratively) that it would be a false flag.
    Just another attempt to take the eyes of the sheep away from what’s really going on.

  • The Gestapo/FBI/DHS is creating fear in the public for a dirty bomb attack to justify the imposition of a state of emergency in this country when they stage their false flag dirty bomb attack. The republican patriots which they along with the msm are demonizing as white supremacist domestic terrorists will be blamed. Their dirty bomb attack will serve the same purpose the 1933 Reichstag Fire in Germany did for the Nazis rise to power.

    A dirty bomb is not something some thing that just anyone no matter how dedicated can put together. The requirements for building one of any significance would require the resources of a state actor. But the IQ of the general public is so low now they will convince the public that anyone with access to a hardware store and the internet can do it. The globalists are desperate and this looks like their latest move to keep their democrat party puppets in power.

    • Radioactive materials are hard to come by, and even harder to work with. You could do much more damage with just one freight train toting chemicals. I am actually quite surprised it has not happened, several times over actually already. I see trains all the time and when you look at some of the stuff they carry ON those trains, and the cars with these chemicals are right next to each other, I just cringe, I mean, god forbid that thing derails or some jackass in a semi were to plow into one and those two cars were to let loose (nevermind the other 100 cars of stuff along with those two) You can go on youtube and see videos of train cars suffering a bleve. Absolutely NOT a good day. There is something else someone could easily do, be very hard to get caught, so I am not going to mention it here, that could also wreak havok on a city. No it’s not the power grid, though that is yet another vulnerability we have too.

      Before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, terrorists are NOT stupid either, they already know all this stuff. So does the FBI, which you can rest assured is going to be the ones behind the next ‘event’ that happens. Remember, they don’t have to kill 100k people to be terrorists, just kill 100 and turn on the msm fear machine and paralysis will take out the rest of the population along with the brand new restrictions, martial law etc that they are just looking for a reason to enact. Can’t vote if you can’t leave the house now can you?

    • To be totally honest. At this point, Id not be surprised if the Uranium / Plutonium is not already in the hands of the ‘state actors’ via lil slim kim the norky dork or iran / iraq. the FBI will give them the Beryllium and nanosecond detonators to make it work right and viola. I don’t think a dirty bomb is the objective, if a ‘real’ person is looking to do us, they are going to DO us, not kk around with dirty bombs.

      Even a Timothy McVeigh type bomb and some nuke material is not a genuine dirty bomb to be honest, it just does not have the reach to spread or loft for the ‘dirt’ to spread. It’d really take a small nuke to get the dispersion and if you got a nuke, why dirty, you already did the deed, go all the way. The only way a genuine dirty bomb goes off IMO, that is not an FBI / CIA assisted ‘event’ is a failed full primary det from a full nuke attempt.

      The people would never know though, they will take 5 grams of spent medical material, strap a fire cracker to it, point a geiger counter at it, it goes click, and the media will be screaming 24/7 LOOK dirty bomb, and the sheeple will be none the wiser as they scream Oh SAAAAVVVEEE us UNCA SAMMY SAAAAVVVVEEEE US, … 9/11 all over again. Another New agency formed, freedom gone forever.

      Honestly, at this point, as stupid as society has gotten, they won’t even have to set one off, just ‘find’ one as mentioned above.

      People are too stupid and lazy anymore, they are begging for a ‘savior’ to ‘save them’ from the ‘unseen evil’. There are plenty of saviors already preparing their acceptance speeches.

  • Maybe it was my reading, but I thought that the article indicated that using gamma rays on food products would make them radioactive, similar to a dirty bomb.

    That is not the case. Exposure to gamma rays does not make something radioactive. But the gamma radiation will do damage to organic tissue, both bacteria and the food product.

    • I think the author was just trying to make the point that many items we encounter on a daily basis have been exposed to gamma radiation. I mean, if gamma radiation made things radioactive, then we wouldn’t be using it to sterilize medical equipment.

    • Ray. The purpose of the gamma is to essentially sterilize any bacteria that is growing on the stuff so that it can not re produce and eventually dies out. It damages the DNA so much, it essentially becomes non viable. Its a very common practice in produce. If you buy something that has a cute little green circle with a plant in the middle of it, that symbol means it was irradiated. Gamma is a ray, just like sunlight, just like what comes out of your flashlight, X-rays fall right under gamma, the main distinction really, is energy level at that point. Generally once you cross 50kev they can start calling it ‘gamma’ and a Geiger counter looking for gamma will pick it up as such.

      Gamma can make something radioactive, but the levels you need, is like heart of a reactor levels, cooling water levels and the initial radiation would have left you long dead to begin with.

      Interestingly enough you really do not need a physical radioactive material to create radiation. DC electricity over 10kv when you, for lack of a better term, disrupt it’s flow will throw off X rays, called braking radiation. The old Mercury rectifiers in the HV transmission stations were a good source of x rays. They can create X rays with diodes nowadays, ie a handheld XRF as an example.

      Of course radiation is not good, but it’s not the evil boogeyman they want everyone to believe it is, and one of the biggest problems with the gen pop is people do NOT know the difference between Ionizing and Non Ionizing radiation, which lets them further spread the fear juice.

      This whole 5G crap you hear is a good example of that, oh they are RADIATING YOU !!!! … well, yes, but no, not in the way you think it’s happening.

  • A good read is “The Good News About Nuclear Destruction” Its about nuclear bombs and radiation in general. Not just dirty bombs. Excellent article and video with it. Its been around for years.

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