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Radiological Dispersal Device - RDD

By Jon Christian Ryter
Copyright 2001 - All Rights Reserved
To distribute this article, please post this web address or hyperlink

Osama bin Laden’s terrorists are preparing to conduct a RAD War in the United States. U.S. intelligence agency learns that bin Laden purchased nuclear waste that will allow him to build and detonate a “dirty bomb.” US Intelligence believes the material has been “delivered.”

Foreign Policy magazine observed that “...if a simple radiological device had been used in conjunction with the World Trade Center explosion, large areas of lower Manhattan would still be uninhabitable.” The article underscored the relative ease of those attempting to secure radioactive material from medical laboratories, construction sites, cancer treatment centers, or hospitals. Those attempting to get rid of toxic hazardous nuclear waste pay a pretty penny to do so. And, the companies who contract with these legitimate users of radioactive material have to dispose of the radioactive garbage as well. Nobody ever thought there was a black-market demand for radioactive debris, but one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.

But they should have. When the United States began experimenting with the use of radioactive materials as a weapon prior to the commencement of World War II, the National Academy of Science, which was experimenting with using radioactive material to generate atomic energy realized, and proposed to the War Department the use of uranium for radiological weapons. In its first report on the subject in 1941, the Academy recommended producing violently radioactive materials...[which would then be]...carried by airplanes to be scattered as bombs over enemy territory.” It was not until the British demonstrated the technical feasibility of creating atomic bombs that the United States gave up on the idea of creating Radiological Dispersal Devices (RDDs) as they became known and focused their attention on developing an atomic bomb in a joint project with the British.

American Intelligence Learned That Bin Laden
Had Purchased Hazardous Waste Material

Probably within a day or two of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and perhaps even at the same time that the CIA received the “vague” warning that a catastrophe was going to happen in the United States, it appears that the United States intelligence community received two additional warnings concerning plans that Islamic terrorists had in store for the people of the United States. First, the US intelligence community learned that bin Laden had purchased radioactive waste in Argentina and that the “dirty bomb” making material had been covertly shipped to Mexico where based on NAFTA standards (and what the Teamsters had previously called a Clinton Administration policy) that encouraged California, New Mexico and Texas D.O.T. inspectors to close one eye when they checked the trucks of Mexican carriers. If Department of Transportation officers in the States which border Mexico had been encouraged to ignore “slight” infractions throughout the Clinton years as the Teamsters suggested at the time, it would make sense for terrorists trying to smuggle radioactive waste into the United States to use those routes in which scrutiny would most likely be tempered with compassion for that carrier’s lack of knowledge about DOT or regulations or the paperwork that is required to transport consumer goods or raw materials across the United States.

Liquid radiation poisoning

Second, the American intelligence crowd learned, or at least suspected, that bin Laden’s pilots also had secured what may have been a substantial amount of iodine 131 (a radioactive substance) and xenon. Iodine 131 and xenon are hazardous liquids. Combined, the two apparently become a very lethal radioactive mixture that can potentially contaminate a large area. It appears that the Justice Department believed it was the intent of Mohammed Atta—who actually managed to rent a crop duster in Florida but stalled it on the runway in the flight path of an oncoming plane—to contaminate an area of Florida before the September 11 event. Atta deserted the plane on the runway. If Atta had access to contaminants like iodine 131 and xenon, and had managed to spray it with a crop duster over a population center like Miami Beach, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, St. Petersburg, Tampa or Tallahassee, the potential existed for thousands of Americans to be exposed to airborne radiation poisoning. If the terrorist chose a city in Florida with a high senior population, it is likely that the death toll would, or could, have been staggering.

It is very likely (although not confirmed by anyone I know inside the beltway) that it was this type of threat which caused the FAA to ground all crop-dusting airplanes in the United States until they were convinced they had eliminated that threat—which may or may not have materialized as a reality.

Road Checks

When the intelligence community learned that bin Laden’s radioactive garbage had theoretically entered the United States through Mexico, law enforcement agencies all over the country took the warning seriously and road checks went up all over the United States. It is likely that 80% to 90% of the tractor-trailers raveling on the Interstate system of the United States were checked. Clearly for a period of a week or two, a tractor-trailer driver could not drive through any city or town in the United States and avoid being checked by State troopers, sheriff’s officers, local police or DOT officials. Yet, clearly—as the Bush Administration knows—it is likely that terrorists with a truckload of spent nuclear fuel rods, or a tractor-trailer carrying a couple tons of radioactive medical waste that they had managed to get all the way from Argentina to the United States would have learned how to move that material surreptitiously enough to avoid detection by the authorities. And, it is possible that if nuclear waste material did get into the United States that it got bottled up somewhere in California or Texas, and is still there. If that was the case, then we can assume that the recent threat that a “major event” would take place sometime between Wednesday and Friday, October 31 through November 2 would, out of necessity, be confined to a metropolitan area, or multiple metropolitan areas, west of the Mississippi River.

If, however, the nuclear garbage is medical waste such as Cobalt 60, it could be transported all over the United States in quantities small enough to be concealed in a pickup truck or the back trunk of a car. That being the case, and with a sufficient quantity of this debris ending up at the target sites, terrorists could construct a Radiological Dispersal Device.

Types of Dirty Bombs

According to the Institute for National Strategic Studies, if the terrorists constructed a man-pack RDD containing 5,000 curies of Cobalt-60 (Co-60) and detonated it with 100 lbs. of explosives, the Dirty Bomb would produce a maximum dosage (at the point of detonation) of 12 REM (Roentgen Man Equivalent), but would result in no radiation-related deaths.

Most scientists in the national laboratories of the United States believe that the construction and use of a physically-effective RDD is more difficult than popularly assumed. To be effective, the RDD would have to contain a massive amount of high yield nuclear waste. In 1946, the United States conducted what was called Operation Crossroads in the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The atomic bomb used was a dirty bomb. The widespread contamination of ships used in these tests gave dramatic evidence of the potential of radiological warfare. In 1947 the Department of Defense created a panel to study the offensive and defensive aspects of what was termed a “Rad War.” The military realized that RDDs would never be effective as battlefield weapons, but that they would be very effective as psychological weapons because of the significant demoralizing impact such weapons would have on any population upon which they were used.

Scientists discounted RDDs as a viable weapon because a RDD carrying 10,000 curies (enough radioactivity to contaminate 250 thousand square feet of open fields, or approximately 5.7 acres) would require 310 lbs. of lead to protect those handling the device. But the scientists making those estimates never contemplated the idea that terrorist cell groups might willingly contaminate themselves in order to kill their enemies.

If the terrorists got their hands on 50-kilograms of bundled (not ground), one-year old spent fuel rods, the spent reactor fuel would result in a maximum dosage at the point of detonation of 3,064 REM (six times the lethal dose). If the fuel rods were detonated with 100-lbs of explosives, the detonation could produce a lethal radius of about one kilometer. If the target was the Washington Monument, the lethal range would extend from the Washington Tidal Basin on one side to the White House on the other. (It is not likely that the terrorists got their hands on bundled spent fuel rods since it would require a shielded tractor-trailer to transport the fuel rods. If the terrorists were exposed to 50-kilograms of nuclear waste from spent fuel rods, they would likely be dead before they got too far into the United States.)

Perception v. Realty

For years the perception was that only the more advanced nations could build and detonate a RDD. That perception has changed. The Department of Defense now realizes that just about any State and non-State actor (like Osama bin Laden) can build and detonate a RDD. However, because RDDs can now be constructed from medical waste, the government has altered its perception that all RDDs will have a major physical affect, and that deploying a RDD that will cause mass casualties and deny an area’s use for long periods of time after detonation. Building lethal RDDs is not easy unless the non-State actor can secure a sufficient amount of high radioactive material (such as a spent fuel rod). It is the belief of the State Department, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense, that it would be extremely difficult for a non-State actor to get spent fuel rods. That being the case, the intelligence community believes that non-State actors would not be able to construct a RDD that would produce mass casualties or be radioactive enough to deny area usage after the detonation. Yet, each readily admits that such a detonation on American soil would produce a psychological victory for that enemy. It would be another battle “won.”

Iraqi Production of RDDs

In February, 1991 the Defense Intelligence Agency learned that Iraq possessed the ability to deliver radioactive material in a SCUD warhead (a RDD). Even knowing this, the Agency discounted the importance of their discovery as “militarily insignificant.” George H.W. Bush warned Iraq that if Saddam Hussein attempted to use biological, chemical or radioactive weapons, the United States would respond in kind and nuke Iraq. Saddam apparently believed Bush because the RDDs remained buried in the desert. In addition, the US military issued NBC gear to the troops on the ground and increased radiation monitoring to make certain that Iraq did not detonate a RDD around American troops. The DIA, like the DoD, knew that almost any radioactive material could be used to construct a RDD including medical, industrial and research waste. Weapons grade nuclear material (i.e., highly enriched uranium or plutonium are not needed). A RDD is designed to scatter radioactive debris over a wide area in order to create radiation sickness. It is likely that bin Laden hopes that by introducing the use of RDDs into his conflict with the United States he will trigger what, in war, is known as “Clausewitzian Friction,” a psychological factor that will generally demoralize the enemy and sap their fighting spirit, thus reducing their effectiveness. In the case of the United States, bin Laden may feel that using one or more RDDs will give him a tremendous political advantage since those who are impacted psychologically—particularly those in Congress who control the ability of the President of the United States to wage war—will likely pressure the White House to end the conflict against bin Laden without resolution. This, of course, is tantamount to the United States of America—the world’s only remaining super power—losing a war to a ragtail group of poorly armed but dedicated religious zealots.

Iraqi Radiological Sites During the Gulf War

During the Gulf War, American military intelligence discovered that Saddam Hussein was holding radioactive materials at several sites. This material ranged from spent nuclear reactor fuel rods to medical and industrial waste as well as a half kilogram of low grade weapons-grade uranium-235. Radiological material was found in 14 sites: Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center • Tarmiya Uranium Enrichment Facility • Al Qaim Superphosphate Fertilizer Plant • Akashat Phosphate Mine • Al Furat Centrifuge Development Plant • Al Amir • Dawra • Al Dadwan • Badr • Salladine • Nassar Works • Tikrit • Al Qa QA High Explosive Test Site • Al Hadre High Explosive Test Site • Ash Shaykhili Storage Facility • Al Musayyib High Explosive Test Facility • Spent Fuel Storage Site, Tuwaitha Area • Yellowcake Storage Site, Tuwaitha Area. Several sites where low grade radiological materials were known to be stored were deliberately damaged either by the Iraqis to spread contamination, or by the US military to destroy the depots were these agents were stored.

Damaged by the United States were the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center which was located just south and east of Baghdad; and the Tarmiya Uranium Enrichment Facility which was located just north of Baghdad that utilized electromagnetic isotope separation (Calutron) technology. It was in this facility that Saddam was able to produce the half kilogram of uranium-235. The United Nations sent several international inspectors to Tuwaitha. Contamination in May, 1991 was considered serious. However, additional tests revealed that the contamination never spread beyond the immediate compound area. According to the IAEA, all of the reactor fuel rods from Tuwaitha were accounted for, and all were removed from Iraq. Both Tuwaitha and Tarmiya were visited by international inspectors until December, 1998.

The other radiological sites which were destroyed in Iraq were the Al Qaim Fertilizer Plant, the Mosel Feed Materials Production Facility (not mentioned above), the Ramadi Radiological Weapons Test Site, the Ash Sharqat Uranium Enrichment Plant, Al QA QA High Explosive Test Site, Al Hadre High Explosive Test Site, Al Musayyib High Explosive Test Facility, Al Amir, Al Radwan, Badr, Nassar Works and Salldine.

At the time of the Gulf War, Iraq possessed a wide variety of fissionable material and nuclear waste products for RDDs, a technology they were exploring for use against Israel. Iraq had hundreds of tons of natural uranium ore and uranium oxides as well as comparatively small amounts of natural uranium metal and uranium hexafluoride. Baghdad had several isotopes produced for medical and gamma sources. Among the isotopes being sought by Iraq, but found there only in gram amounts, were plutonium and polorium.

National Preparedness

On August 25, 1999 the newly formed Office of National Domestic Preparedness issued a bulletin placing the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission on an alert concerning the possibility of rogue nations or non-State agents (i.e., bin Laden) using radiological devices that could endanger the public health and safety of American citizens. At that time the Justice Department began to format plans to deal with a Radiological emergency. There was a major change in the thinking in Washington. Previously, the intelligence community in America was convinced that it was not likely that lethal RDDs would become a genuine threat in the United States since those who attempted to deliver it would likely die from radiation poisoning. Now, as it became more and more apparent that Islamic fundamentalists would not hesitate to put themselves in lethal harm’s way in order to kill both Jews and Americans, the threat became real.

Creating Dirty Bombs

In Russia, security for nuclear waste is pathetic. The potential for Islamic radicals to get their hands on nuclear debris, whether medical or industrial waste or spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors is very real. In 1996, Islamic rebels from the breakaway province of Chechnya planted, but did not detonate, such a devise in Moscow’s Izmailovo Park in order to demonstrate Russia’s vulnerability to RDDS. America, unfortunately, is just as vulnerable—if not more so. The Chechnyian dirty bomb consisted of a deadly brew of dynamite and Cesium 137. According to the Center for Defense Information, if the terrorists had placed a RDD utilizing 50-kilograms of bundled fuel rods in the two 757s that hit the Twin Towers, they would have created a virtual graveyard out of lower Manhattan.

The United States government issued an order on October 30, 2001 that no private planes may fly within a certain radius of any nuclear energy facility in the United States. It is a safe bet that for the alert period that US fighter planes will be protecting those installations since if a small aircraft crashed into a nuclear power plant and damaged the reactor, that facility would become a “dirty bomb” that would contaminate one, two, three or more neighboring counties, killing hundreds if not thousands of Americans over a period of weeks or months by radiation contamination.

When George W. Bush met with Vladimir Putin recently, Putin discussed assigning Russia’s crack nuclear counter-terrorist commando unit, “Vympel,” to work with US Special Forces to respond to emergencies requiring the securing and disposing of dirty bombs. According to the Center for Defense Information, tactical operational cooperation between Russia and the United States would likely result in intelligence sharing in areas dealing with terrorism and terrorists. Russia, you will recall, spent the past decade fighting Islamic terrorists in both Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Waging a Psychological War Against Politicians and the Media

Osama bin Laden, a general who has very carefully studied the idiosyncrasies of his enemy—the United States—before launching his terrorist war against capitalist democracy, clearly understands that the President of the United States can wage war against the Taliban and against his al Qaeda network only as long as he maintains congressional unity. Once public opinion turns against him, Congress will turn against him as well even if the majority of the American people—the hawkish conservatives—remain steadfastly behind him. Bin Laden knows that when Bush finishes in Afghanistan (after bin Laden is captured or killed), he will turn his attention on Iraq which masterminded the plan to train pilots in the United States, and specifically on Saddam Hussein, who has spent much of the past decade learning how to create radiological dispersal devices. Bin Laden knows that every Islamic nation in the world—including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, America’s closest Muslim allies in the Mideast—contributed handsomely to his effort to destroy America. In fact, while the Bush Administration seems oblivious to that fact, a large percentage of the Muslim population in the United States has contributed to Islam’s war against Israel and America and it appears that an Islamic cell group in Trenton, New Jersey functioned as the control group of the September 11 air attack on the Twin Towers. This cell group, comprised of both American citizens and “Islamic tourists” met in Trenton from September 4 or September 5 until September 10 to finalize their plans.

The Islamic cell groups within the United States are determined to wage psychological warfare on the United States until our spirit is broken and we no longer have the will to resist—or until we no longer have the will or determination to protect the only true ally America has in the Mideast: Israel. Even if the Islamic terrorist groups operating in this country are not able to generate a “thermonuclear event”(or even a dirty little minor nuclear event); or even if they are not able to detonate one or more RDDs in a heavily populated area in which they merely contaminate hundreds or thousands of Americans with radiation sickness if not killing them outright, they will merely put that plan on a back burner and let is simmer until we stop watching. If Osama bin Laden has learned anything at all about Americans it is that we have very short attention spans. We can’t remember the lies our politicians tell us from one election to the next. And, we try hard to forget those things which are distasteful to us since those things which interrupt our carefree, affluent lifestyles. But, if we forget this, it is likely that as we are sitting watching TV one night in the not too distant future, we will find our regular programming interrupted with a message scrolling across our TV screens that says: “Terrorists have attacked Los Angeles (or some other metropolitan city) tonight with radiological weapons that were planted at several strategic locations and detonated simultaneously. While the loss of life due to the military-grade C-4 that detonated the Radiological Dispersal Devices [RDDs] was initially minimal, the radiation contamination levels are believed to be more severe than the government thought possible, and it is likely that thousands of Californians will be affected.”

When Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Meuller addressed the nation on October 28 and announced that a heightened threat from terrorists existed for the last week of October, they knew the threat they faced was from one or more radiological devices. They knew, at that time, that Osama bin Laden had purchased nuclear debris in Argentina. They knew, at that time, that bin Laden’s people had managed to successfully smuggle their nuclear waste into the United States; and they knew from intercepted messages that the Islamic terrorists planned to detonate at least one RDD in the United States before Friday night, November 2.

Winter is coming to the mountains of Afghanistan. The United States should give the Pakistani people a nice Christmas gift for helping the United States ferret out bin Laden: a flat, sea-level, ice skating rink about the size of Afghanistan. And, it is about time that George W. Bush took the words of his father to heart, and made it clear to those nations that sponsor terrorism that the moment another intelligence agent so much as mentions RDDs in connection with any Islamic nation or terrorist group, not only will the country most often associated with that terrorist group be converted into a parking lot, so will every Islamic nation in the world that harbors or supports terrorists.


Just Say No
Copyright 2009 Jon Christian Ryter.
All rights reserved