Forgive the shameless self-promotion, but I have a short opinion piece on dirty bombs up at the “Power & Policy” blog. Basically, it argues that there has been too much focus on preventing a dirty bomb attack through detection efforts.
While useful as part of an overarching strategy, detectors are likely to fail as the primary means in preventing a dirty bomb attack. Sensors at the border are useless against radioactive materials acquired inside the U.S. Detectors deployed along highways and other transportation routes are similarly ineffective against radiation sources stolen within the target city. Technology currently deployed will register false alarms caused by shipments of bananas, kitty litter, and other naturally radioactive substances. In recent years, both a retired police officer in New Hampshire and a cat in Washington State caused radiation detectors to alarm on highways due to medical treatments they received. Needless to say, neither “radioactive” patient was a terrorist.
So what is a viable alternative strategy?
If a dirty bomb cannot be prevented, what should be done about the threat? First, the worst radioactive ingredients should be secured. Second, to avoid the fear that will cause the real damage of a dirty bomb, steps should be taken to prepare for an attack. Third, decontamination plans should be developed now.
The Departments of Homeland Security and Energy have been working toward this goal. However, stricter regulations for using radioactive sources must be enacted to support this effort.
An educated and prepared public will be less likely to panic in the aftermath of a dirty bomb attack, and this will be reinforced by a well-managed reaction by first responders and elected officials.
Weeks and months after an attack, the long-term effects of radiation will need to be addressed. Advanced decontamination techniques and technologies that can reduce the radiation levels in city neighborhoods must be developed.
It’s a strategy of deterrence where if terrorists do not achieve the desired effects by using a dirty bomb, why bother?
Taken together, these steps will prevent widespread panic and significant economic damage. After the first dirty bomb attack fails, terrorists are unlikely to try again.
You can read the whole thing here: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/power/2011/03/04/a-better-way-to-deal-with-dirty-bomb-threats/