Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Hoax Or Scoop - ABC News Rolls The Dice

The ABC Radio affiliate, WLS-AM has been reporting what they acknowledge is a very iffy story that there is a threat of a dirty bomb going off in Boston. The host, Roe Conn, is quite surprised that the network is going with such a poorly documented story. [A cynic might suggest that the network (i.e. George Stephanopoulos is trying to undermine the Republican wave building in advance of the Inauguration]. The report is that a Mexican informant notified the San Diego FBI office that he had smuggled two Iraqis and four Chinese across the border with some suspicious material. They were bound for Boston via New York. The Governor of Massachusetts and police are alleged to have been meeting in a “bunker”. So far there has been no input from Homeland Security or the other major networks.

But what is the threat from a “dirty bomb”. Such a bomb has two components, the conventional explosive used to distribute the radioactive material and the radio-isotopes themselves. Let’s look at the explosive first. The bigger the bomb, the farther it will throw the radio-isotopes. A bomb that can be smuggled by foot across the border can’t be very big . Therefore, its effective throw weight is quite low. The radius that will be exposed is minor. The principal threat will be fear borne of ignorance, not radioactivity. As to the cleanup, most isotopes have extremely high atomic weights (e.g. Uranium or Plutonium). This will further reduce the throw distance (a golf ball flies farther than a baseball). The larger size will make it easier to vacuum with a HEPA filter vacuum. Most of these have extremely long half-lives. So the chance of a specific atom fissioning is remote. Most medical isotopes, have very short half-lives. They would lose most of their radioactivity during the trip from Iraq, through Mexico, New York and on to Boston. So the remaining threat is stuff like Strontium 90 (remember that from the 50’s? - a threat to children through milk?). So a quick cleanup and disposal would neutralize the threat. Meanwhile, I don’t expect too many cows to eat the sidewalk of downtown Boston.
Just added - Conn says that the Governor was in Washington (i.e. not in a bunker) and has flown back home!


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