Sunday, September 05, 2004


What are you doing at the computer? It's Labor Day weekend. No work tomorrow! The family and friends have already fired up the barbecue and at this very moment they're roasting a wholesome all-beef wienie that has your name on it. (Best not to speculate on how it got there.)

So take a break. Enjoy yourself. And by all means kill a few more beers before you read this:
A flood of radioactive sources, from discarded cancer treatment machines advertised on the Internet to misplaced industrial gadgets that turn up in junkyards, have yet to be corralled by U.S. authorities three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, experts say -- and could easily be exploited by terrorists seeking to make a dirty bomb.

The material is so abundant and easy to obtain, the experts say, that it is almost inevitable that a U.S. city will be the target of a bomb salted with radioactive waste . . . .

The list of woe includes:

-- "There are more than 2 million radioactive sources in the U.S. (that are) used for medical procedures, research and industrial processes," noted Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., in a statement late last year. "In the past five years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported that nearly 1,500 radioactive sources have been reported lost or stolen in the U.S., but less than half of them have been found."

-- The Internet provides a potential route for the irresponsible to obtain deadly radioactive sources, Markey warned in mid-August. As an example of what he called the "atomic EBay," he cited a recent online offer by a hospital in Beirut to give away -- for free -- a used cancer therapy machine, containing a highly radioactive cobalt-60 source, to anyone who would pay to remove it.

-- Because radioactive grains can "chemically bind to asphalt, concrete and glass," in the words of Jaime M. Yassif of the Federation of American Scientists, some cleanups might require the use of exotic new tools such as concrete-eating bacteria. Just locating all contaminants could be nearly impossible, given the ease with which they're absorbed by soil and disappear into cracks in wood and pavement.
American insurance companies, by the way, refuse to provide coverage for dirty bomb attacks, because the potential property loss far outstrips what the industry would be able to pay. (Even Lloyd's of London won't bite.) As a result, some defense analysts are now urging the government to provide federally-subsidized insurance against radiological terrorism, on the order of existing flood- and hurricane-relief programs.

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us