AMERICAN PLANNERS CONSIDERED USING DIRTY BOMB IN WORLD WAR II
By Peter Duveen
PETER'S NEW YORK, December 30, 2007: The creation of a so-called
"dirty bomb," one which would spread dangerous radioactive material
over an area but do little physical damage, was considered around the
time the atomic bomb was in its first stages of development.
The source material for such a bomb would be the byproducts
of a radioactive pile in which the fission of uranium nuclei occurs
under controlled circumstances. These byproducts would
themselves consist of various highly radioactive elements formed from
the fission of the nuclei of the element uranium.
The possibility and feasibility of such a bomb was first proposed only
a few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, by Eugene Wigner and Henry
Smyth, both physicists who played a prominent role in the development
Because the radioactive fission products differed chemically from
uranium, the plan would have been to extract these and "use them like a
particularly vicious form of poison gas," according to a report issued
after the war had ended. The report indicated that the fission
products produced from only one day of a nuclear reactor's operation
"might be sufficient to make a large area uninhabitable."
Apparently the United States government considered but chose not to
pursue this avenue of weapons development. It did, however, create some
safeguards in the event the Germans decided to use such a weapon
against America and its European allies.
These days dirty bombs are often mentioned in the press in connection
with supposed terrorist plots to bomb various destinations. Much of
this sort of thing is really no more than the fertile imagination of
the CIA, FBI or other government agencies. No dirty bomb has ever been
found, and the construction of such a bomb would be as insurmountably
difficult as the construction of a complete A-bomb. Both, in the end,
require access to nuclear fission products. Fission itself can only be
triggered using technology so expensive and elaborate that only major
corporations and governments have access to it. It is not likely that
terrorists of the type portrayed by intelligence agencies would ever be
able to get their hands on such materials, if indeed they wanted to use
it for destructive purposes. Conventional explosives are far more
easily accessible, and can be used to much effect, as they already have
been, probably more often by intelligence agencies posing as terrorists
than by two-bit "terrorists" themselves.
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