Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Guest Post: Dirty Bombs – Future Survival Test

Dirty Bombs – Future Survival Test
By Isabella Woods

With terrorism at the forefront of everyone’s mind it is not surprising that questions about surviving a dirty bomb attack are coming out high on the list of most searched topics. The old Cold War advice on building shelters, or having a three minute warning don’t apply in this scenario of course, since terrorists don’t have any compunction about issuing warnings or minimising civilian casualties. Their aim is to kill and maim as many people as possible, and to spread as much fear as possible. Anything that disrupts the infrastructure or even the home luxuries of a country will serve their purpose, and a dirty bomb has exactly this effect. Two or three suitcase bombs set off around the city of New York for example, could render the stock exchange, and key installations unusable for months if not years.

Rising concern
Whilst it is not at all easy to make a nuclear device, it is theoretically possible to make a basic dirty bomb very simply indeed. An actual nuclear bomb needs highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium as a primary material. Since it does not occur in nature and cannot be manufactured by terrorists, their only recourse is to buy or steal it from current supplies. It’s a dangerous business, fraught with difficulties. A superb book on the subject is The Atomic Bazaar - Dispatches from the Underground World of Nuclear Trafficking, by Vanity Fair journalist William Langewiesche. He highlights how the trade in illegal material is underway right now, but also how tricky it would be to achieve a nuclear explosion.

Dirty Bombs, in contrast, are relatively simple to manufacture. All a terrorist needs is radioactive material, which is widely available in manufacturing and medical devices, such as X Ray machines, a conventional bomb to disperse it, and a suitcase. The danger to the public is far less than with a conventional bomb, of course, but it would be a devastating blow to any country to have a dirty bomb detonated on their home soil. The repercussions would be extensive, both in terms of public feeling, and in economic and military terms. Terrorists know this, and that is why they are actively seeking to materials.

How To Survive A Dirty Bomb Attack
There is no place for timewasting in your family or office survival kit. Read up on this site and others about the best survival kit to have around the home or office in case of an emergency. After any terrorist bomb in a US City it might be sensible not to wait to have it confirmed as a dirty device. Assume there is a possibility and act defensively and proactively. Once the initial blast has occurred, and if you are able to do so, move out of the immediate vicinity and into some form of shelter as quickly as possible. A shelter does not mean a nuclear shelter, any building will do. The immediate danger after a dirty bomb is nuclear fallout. Imagine it as a fine powder that has been blown into the wind and will cover everything it comes in contact with. Your best chance of survival is to get out of the path of this fine powder, by sheltering as quickly as possible. Don’t run away, as you will find out are out in the open for longer than if you stay and shelter. The Department of Homeland Security have issued new guidelines recently, after extensive modelling. They advise citizens to:
  • Go into the nearest building, such as a multi-storey car park, or office block.
  • Stay in your car, if there is no other protection. Cars do offer some protection, but buildings are better. If you can drive, find the nearest multi-storey car park and drive to the lowest level.
  • If you are in a multi-story office block, go to the centre of the building, or to the basement.
  • The more distance you can put between yourself and the radiation the better. Bricks, earth and concrete all provide additional protection, so basements are by far the safest places to shelter.
Just think of it as shielding yourself from that invisible fine powder and act accordingly.

Tips For Dealing with Nuclear Fallout
Stay inside for as long as possible, or until you are given permission to leave your location by the emergency services. If you are at home, make sure anyone entering the house undresses at the door, since their clothes will be carrying a lot of radioactive material.  Get a bin bag and place the contaminated clothing inside it. Throw it as far away from the house as possible, outside, in the street if possible. To decontaminate yourself wash with lots of soap and water, but do not use conditioner in your hair and do not scrub too vigorously at the skin as this may allow radiation to enter the body through abrasions. Using clean tissue each time, blow your nose gently, wipe your eyes, and clean out your ears. Take as long as possible cleaning yourself, and be thorough. When you have finished, repeat the whole process again to make sure you are free from fallout.

Doomsday Scenario
A nuclear strike does not have to be a doomsday scenario. If you follow these simple instructions, then in the unlikely event of a nuclear attack, you will improve your chances of survival considerably. 

Further interesting reading

 Thank you Izzy for taking the time to write this post.


  1. Another good way to decon yourself or others is liquid laundry detergents. Smooth them on and coat the surfaces that need cleaned off and then rinse them off if possible which takes away any radioactive debris you may have come in contact with. Running a HEPA filter in the room or shelter you are occupying after a dirty bomb blast also helps to keep particals contained and pulls them out of the air you need to breath. Good post since this is a very real threat, even according to our own government.

  2. Number 1 should be don't live in NY City or Washington DC or a handful of other prime targets.