This past summer, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) reportedly stole uranium compounds from Mosul University in Iraq. Writing to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on July 8, Iraqi UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said that 88 pounds of uranium used for scientific research at Mosul University had been looted. Now, some militants associated with the group are claiming they have built a “dirty bomb” and are targeting London. Is this cause for serious concern?
Not really. Here’s why.
Since the advent of the Atomic Age in the 1940s, catastrophic nuclear events— Hiroshima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl—have caused the general public to develop a deep-rooted fear of radiation. The new threats brought about by the specter of terrorism, particularly the concept of the radiological dispersion bomb (aka “dirty bomb”), have only increased this “radiophobia.”
Such terror threats are indeed real and we must constantly take precautions to prevent such attacks as we would any bombing. But we also have a moral and civic duty to prepare ourselves, both physically and—even more importantly—psychologically, should such an attack take place on our homeland.
When it comes to dirty bombs, the true power of such a device lies not in its ability to spread radiation but in its ability to spread panic and fear. As we’ve seen in the ear can lead to citizens and their governments to restrict freedoms in a ways that far exceed the threats imposed by actual terrorist attacks.
In order to defuse this anxiety we therefore need to develop an awareness of the myths and realities about radiation exposure: