Dirty bomb

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A dirty bomb is a speculative radiological weapon that combines radioactive material with conventional explosives. The purpose of the weapon is to contaminate the area around the explosion with radioactive material, hence the attribute "dirty".

Though a radiological dispersal device (RDD) would be designed to disperse radioactive material over a large area, a bomb that uses conventional explosives would likely have more immediate lethal effect than the radioactive material. At levels created from most probable sources, not enough radiation would be present to cause severe illness or death. A test explosion and subsequent calculations done by the United States Department of Energy found that assuming nothing is done to clean up the affected area and everyone stays in the affected area for one year, the radiation exposure would be "fairly high", but not fatal.[1] Recent analysis of the nuclear fallout from the Chernobyl disaster confirms this, showing that the effect on many people in the surrounding area, although not those in close proximity, was almost negligible.[2]

Since a dirty bomb is unlikely to cause many deaths, many do not consider this to be a weapon of mass destruction.[3] Its purpose would presumably be to create psychological, not physical, harm through ignorance, mass panic, and terror. For this reason dirty bombs are sometimes called "weapons of mass disruption". Additionally, containment and decontamination of thousands of victims, as well as decontamination of the affected area might require considerable time and expense, rendering areas partly unusable and causing economic damage.


Other uses of the term

The term has also been used historically to refer to certain types of nuclear weapons. Due to the inefficiency of early nuclear weapons, only a small amount of the nuclear material would be consumed during the explosion. Little Boy had an efficiency of only 1.4%. Fat Man, which used a different design and a different fissile material, had an efficiency of 14%. Thus, they tended to disperse large amounts of unused fissile material, and the fission products, which are on average much more dangerous, in the form of nuclear fallout. During the 1950s, there was considerable debate over whether "clean" bombs could be produced and these were often contrasted with "dirty" bombs. "Clean" bombs were often a stated goal and scientists and administrators said that high-efficiency nuclear weapon design could create explosions which generated almost all of their energy in the form of nuclear fusion, which does not create harmful fission products.

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