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Terrorist use of an radiological dispersion device (RDD), often called dirty nuke or dirty bomb is considered far more likely than use of a nuclear explosive device. An RDD combines a conventional explosive device such as a bomb with radioactive material. It is designed to scatter dangerous and sub lethal amounts of radioactive material over a general area. Such RDDs appeal to terrorists because they require limited technical knowledge to build and deploy compared to a nuclear device. Also, the radioactive materials in RDDs are widely used in medicine, agriculture, industry and research, and are easier to obtain than weapons grade uranium or plutonium.

The primary purpose of terrorist use of an RDD is to cause psychological fear and economic disruption. Some devices could cause fatalities from exposure to radioactive materials. Depending on the speed at which the area of the RDD detonation was evacuated or how successful people were at sheltering in place, the number of deaths and injuries from an RDD might not be substantially greater than from a conventional bomb explosion.

The size of the affected area and the level of destruction caused by an RDD would depend on the sophistication and size of the conventional bomb, the type of radioactive material used, the quality and quantity of the radioactive material, and the local meteorological conditions: primarily wind and precipitation. The area affected could be placed off limits to the public for several months during cleanup efforts.

Page Updated: 2015-06-14 15:30:23