It’s a day ending in y, so it’s a good day to hype dirty bombs.
But first, let’s look at some facts.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) keeps a database of incidents of radioactive material outside of regulatory control. It is mostly confidential to the countries contributing information to it. That has a good side and a bad side. The bad side is that most of the information is not available to the public, only a fact sheet which, however, does provide some helpful information. The good side of confidentiality is that it makes countries more likely to report incidents, because they won’t be embarassed by media that are looking for clickbait.
The IAEA categorizes the incidents into three groups. Group 1 involves illegal possession or movement of radioactive material. Between 2008 and 2014, ten to twenty such incidents have been reported each year. Most are of gram quantities of material; the fact sheet doesn’t break that down further. Group 2 involves loss or theft of radioactive sources. The numbers of these incidents are higher: slightly over forty for 2013 and 2014, fewer in 2007 through 2012, and a sharp peak of over 100 in 2006. The third category is “other,” and seems to have increased in 2004 to over 100 a year.
The fact sheet mentions attempts to sell these materials, but no indications of buyers. Of course, if there were successful sales, we wouldn’t know about them. However, the fact that there have been no attempted dirty bomb attacks suggests that there are few builders of such devices. Further, many of the sources, like the iridium-192 oilfield sources recently stolen in Iraq and Mexico, are unsuitable for use in a dirty bomb; they are very small, about the size of a pencil eraser. Thefts of sources may be incidental to thefts of vehicles containing them or are in a mistaken belief that the source is valuable. When the thieves realize that the source is not valuable and an active danger to them, they dump it, as in the Iraq case.
Additionally, sources are misplaced or lost. Companies should be held to higher standards of accounting for them.
Hospital sources are probably the most dangerous. They are being replaced by accelerators, which use electricity instead of radioisotopes to provide high-energy irradiation for cancer and other patients. The increase in “other” incidents may reflect poor disposal practices for hospital sources, resulting in their being incorporated into steel. Once that is done, however, the sources are no longer suitable for dirty bombs.
Today’s panic is that another iridium-192 source has been stolen in Mexico, probably because it was in a truck that the thieves had their eyes on. Look for it to be found, dumped, in a few days.
Much more of a stretch is today’s hysteria from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI). Their exaggerations are irresponsible. They have had several articles lately that have been so inaccurate that I’ve felt it necessary to respond (here and here). Today’s is no better. Its particular problem is overextended inference.
“Could.” “Authorities speculate.” “Eventual.” “Might.” “Potential.” “We can imagine.” And more conditionality in a 700-word article.
The basic story is that a man with ISIS connections seems to have been surveilling a researcher who could have had access to radioactive materials that could be used in a dirty bomb. The evidence is a video tape of the researcher. There are no documents, no comments from the man, to indicate his purposes. The imagined outcome would be that ISIS-connected people kidnap the researcher and force him to acquire the radioactive materials for a dirty bomb.
If, indeed, this is in the surveiller’s mind, for which no evidence is presented, it’s a very elaborate means to an end. Terrorists usually aren’t interested in such complexity.
The possibility is something the police should look into, which they are doing. There are other possibilities, like a love triangle or kidnaping for ransom. CPI chooses to ignore that, in line with their other nuclear sensationalism.
I hate to see an organization with a good reputation like CPI’s descend into sensationalism. I am almost ready to put their reporting on nuclear matters into the same category as Global Research, or maybe Chemtrail Central.