Itâ€™s one of those things that always lingers in the back of your head when youâ€™re at the city park, or grabbing a falafel from the hot dog stand, or waiting in line for the underground train. Or stuck at the travel agentâ€™s office trying to secure some ultra-lame seats at the back of the aircraft with the screaming kids to… anywhere, since you forgot to book your tickets far in advance enough to decide where you wanted to go.Yes, may is the perfect time to discuss that most frightening of terrorist acts: no, more frightening than endless punditry on whatever wars the USA happens to be involved in. Yes, Iâ€™m talking about those dreaded Dirty Bombs or Suitcase Nukes (Patent Pending).Ironically named since fission really needs a fair bout of cleanliness to work properly; but what weâ€™re looking at is a suitcase nuke, or something to that effect. Your mindâ€™s drifting, the poor girl at the mallâ€™s travel agency needs to go talk to your manager, and you pull out your calculator. Endless questions pop into your head: how big would be blast radius be? How much fallout would there be? Would lots of people die? Will my mascara hold against those really high radiation winds?
Itâ€™s quite comforting to know that the USA has provided plenty of valuable information for their local citizens to measure how far they need to be from the blast radius: Over at the National Terror Alert Resouce & Information Center (nationalterroralert.com), we can find some decent equations to help us figure out if weâ€™ll be the ones that Geraldo gets to interview once the bombs go off â€“ this is where that nuclear-proof mascara comes in handy for your girlfriend. (Or you, if youâ€™re one of those kind of guys).
Unfortunately the numbers are only hard numbers when it comes to the one megaton and over crowd, meaning that suitcase nukes and dirty bombs arenâ€™t really that measurable. This is unfortunate; say youâ€™re out buying real estate, a new condo downtown, and now you not only need to count the steps to the nearest Starbucks but you also want to measure if youâ€™ll be in some sort of terror bomb blast radius. Not enough information. So with the help of the National Terror Alert people, Iâ€™m going to walk you through a few math problems we can do to measure how far out you should be.
Suitcase nukes as we know them, also known as â€˜dirty bombsâ€™ are simple devices of mostly dynamite and some sort of radioactive isotope intended, or hoped to, ignite the radiation into a larger and meaner cloud than would otherwise be unleashed upon the unsuspecting public. The poor shoppers these days across Western Europe and America barely blink at big explosions, hey, maybe it was just one of those fat guys over at the Chili-O-Rama who added a bit too much of the â€œspecial sauceâ€ and therefore itâ€™s no reason to close the stores. Thatâ€™s why Dirty Bombs are such a huge problem in America: they could actually shut down a whole mall for the entire afternoon, sending dozens of minimum wage denizens back to their basement suites to play X-Box while the cleanup crews do their duty.
There isnâ€™t a whole lot more that needs to be done to a conventional bomb to make it â€œdirtyâ€, per se: it just needs some radioactive material, something thatâ€™s rather difficult to find in large quantities, in a form that would be useful to the dirty bomber. Generally, any truly devastating radioactive ingredient would not be readily available to a terrorist; even those mythical far-off countries of Whatever-Stan in the middle of whatever continent that is will more than likely have some very secure nuclear facilities at this point.
The USA, since 9/11, has done a fine job of expanding their network of military bases across several former Soviet states in Central Asia where many pundits have posited that the next Al-Qaedan Idol will find his (probably not hers, but who knows) path to those desireable 72 virgins in the Sky with Diamonds: all of these nuclear facilities, under the careful auspice of the USA and pressure from the Russian big daddy, have no doubt bumped up their security beyond any reasonable measures. Everyoneâ€™s scared of a random nuclear attack â€“ after all, the Homeland Security Advisory does a pretty good job of explaining nuclear dirty bombs, surely someone with access to Newsgroups and Telnet could get even more detailed information on how to make one! We had better be careful, vigilant, proud and certainly fierce, to eliminate the Dirty Bomb scourge. And thus, gathering nuclear material ainâ€™t what it used to be.
Perhaps if the Orion Project had taken off into the stars, literally, weâ€™d all be a nuclear society. Weâ€™d be zipping around in Fordâ€™s nuclear powered-trucks and zapping stuff in nuclear ovens(well, we do that anyways) and it would be much easier to get oneâ€™s hands on some potent nuclear items. However, the future of the fifties has not passed and thus we are left with the only possible ingredient for dirty bombs being available only at various highly secure nuclear plants. Yes, we may hypothesize that the least secure are those in Central Asia â€“ but this cannot be the case. The last thing Grand Master Turkmenbashi wants is a very angry eagle looking his way. Heâ€™s hired a few night shifters to make sure the gates only open and close to the right people. Itâ€™s unlikely, to say the least, that Pimpy McTowelhead is jumping over the barbed wire chain-link fence in those flip flops and robe of his.
But letâ€™s smoke the peace pipe a bit further down the wick and assume that Hassen-Bin-Sober has managed to make a Dirty Bomb with his buddies in Kandahar, FedExed it over on a Canadian Forces aircraft and shipped it down via DHL to New York; what would you need to know to survive it? Well, number one is that the radiation fallout from a dirty bomb is not nearly as devastating as it would be from a proper nuclear explosion: assume it is far less than that old Hiroshima stuff, probably much less, and if youâ€™re within the radius of a kilometre seek help immediately. Beyond that, vigilance should take over and if you feel any further symptoms seek a doctor. Those caught within the blast are probably dead already; clouds of radiation are unlikely since this would be a small-scale blast, and more than likely a one time thing. Yes, after a suitcase nuke or dirty bomb attack get ready for luggage-less travel in the USA. Perhaps that isnâ€™t a bad thing. Going nude, though, definitely would be â€“ I just hope they donâ€™t offer sausage breakfasts after this point because I might get a little confused.
The likelihood of all this happening is surely low, but paranoia should never be a reason to nag that â€œI was rightâ€ to the burned and dead in the vicinity of a dirty bomb. These things are heavy, mind you: if someone is in an obviously weird place with an inordinately bulky suitcase, offer to help them. Then, steal it and hand it over to the cops.
Whatâ€™s worse, thievery or a small nuclear explosion? Choose the lesser of two evils, and aid your country. The Children Of Tomorrow will thank you once theyâ€™re born.