UK Liberty

Don’t panic

Posted in politicians on liberty by ukliberty on November 30, 2007

Britain faces the serious threat of a “dirty bomb” terror attack, the Home Secretary has warned.The news comes as police in Slovakia question three people caught trying to sell enriched uranium for possible use in a radiological device [see the news – ed]. (Sky News)

Don’t panic, because the devil is in the details.

The three men, who were arrested Wednesday in eastern Slovakia and Hungary, were trying to sell about a pound of uranium in powder form, First Police Vice President Michal Kopcik said. “It was possible to use it in various ways for terrorist attacks,” Kopcik said.

Kopcik said investigators believed the uranium was suitable for a radiological “dirty bomb.” He said the uranium had been stashed in unspecified containers, and that investigators determined it contained 98.6 percent uranium-235. Uranium is considered weapons-grade if it contains at least 85 percent uranium-235. But nuclear experts who were shown police photographs of radioactivity readings contended the material was probably not as dangerous as authorities believe.

Experts suggested the police confused a scientific reading of the material as dealing with its “concentration” of uranium-235, when in fact it was just a “confidence” level of the machine to give an accurate reading.

Uranium is not very radiotoxic,” said David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector who is now president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

“The net effect of dispersing half a kilo (about a pound) of uranium — who cares? Each person would get so little it would have no effect,” Albright said.

Alexander Glaser, a researcher at Princeton University’s Program in Science and Global Security, said any discussion of dirty bombs in this case was “off topic.”

Even naturally occurring uranium would be more effective than this in making a dirty bomb,” he said.

Convenient for burying the dodgy donors and missing discs though. Well done Jacqui.

Silly to say uranium (or indeed any other radioactive material) is useless for making dirty bombs: dirty bombs are effective in that they cause fear; it’s just that they are ineffective in causing physical harm.

People do not have a good understanding of the risks involved in radioactivity and tend to be more scared of it than they should be.

A great paper about risks can be downloaded from this page (Catalog of risks (17 Mb PDF)Wikipedia seems to have some useful information about dirty bombs.

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