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article imageOp-Ed: Exposing Flaws in US Radiation Testing Spells Trouble

By Nathalie Caron     Oct 25, 2007 in Politics
A congressional report released today finds that the United States would not be able to expediently conduct radiation tests following the explosion of dirty bomb in a major city. And that spells trouble.
The report prepared for the House Committee on Science and Technology has found a number of flaws in mechanisms to conduct radiation tests, in the event a dirty bomb went off in a major city, reports the Associated Press.
If 100,000 people were affected, it could take up to four years to complete radiation tests. As well, available tests focus only on six of the 13 radiological isotopes that would likely be used in a dirty bomb.
This report basically shows that facilities are too few to handle the repercussions of a dirty bomb, a device that containing radioactive material that could contaminate a limited area without causing actual nuclear explosions.
What does this mean for the average American? You are not safe.
"We have some significant shortfalls when it comes to the radiological area," said John Vitko Jr., director of the chemical and biological division at the Homeland Security Department's science and technology directorate, quotes the Associated Press. "Clearly we need to improve in that area."
While it is important to recognize potential flaws in the system, I believe this report constitutes a threat to public safety. By exposing these flaws, they are effectively revealing sensitive information to those who may want to use it. Terrorists, foreign or home-grown, may be tempted to use run with it and kick US cities while they are down.
The report claims that a situation such as the one imagined above would probably not cause massive casualties. Operative word here: probably. The truth is no one agrees on the potential consequences of this type of attack.
"We are likely headed for a radiological Katrina if terrorists do succeed in detonating a dirty bomb in an American city," said Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., chairman of the subcommittee holding a hearing on the issue.
But think about it. You potentially have 100,000 individuals exposed to radiation following an explosion. They each need to be tested, not only them, but a large number of areas that were also within a certain radius of the explosion.
But let’s say we only care about testing individuals. A recent experiment – the testing of 160 US residents who stayed at the same hotel as Russian former-spy victim of polonium poisoning in London last year - has shown that it can take up to seven days to test a single sample. The Centre for Disease Control was only able to find a single laboratory in the entire country, able to conduct this type of analysis.
So, back to our scenario. After waiting an entire week to get find out if you have been radioactively contaminated, how many other individuals would you have come in contact with? Dozens, hundreds? And contamination spreads on
What does this come to show? That under current circumstances, a dirty bomb attack could in fact induce complete chaos. Not only in with its immediate destructive potential, but with its fallout as well, causing a domino effect.
The Congress’ report only points out what we should already know: a dirty bomb attack would cause intensive damage, and will be extremely hard to contain. But can we seriously expect better circumstances? How many more labs would be required to make America safe?
I doubt that a single nation is truly prepared to deal with a dirty bomb. I’m certain that a report in Canadian cities would come to the same conclusions. Discussing these weaknesses will see citizens demanding improvement, these better, but likely unattainable circumstances. And the government may well tell them things are improving.
But what will happen in a couple of years, should one of these attacks seriously occur? I predict a rude awakening.
More about Dirty bomb, Radiation tests, Public safety
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