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Top Indian nuke scientist busts myths surrounding ‘dirty bomb’

Mumbai: More than a Hiroshima or Nagasaki- type atom bomb today, security agencies worry about the use of a ‘dirty bomb’, especially by terrorists. So how dangerous is a ‘dirty bomb’ or an explosive-laced with radioactive material? On the eve of the anniversary of the Pokhran explosions, K S Pradeepkumar, head of emergency preparedness for India’s main nuclear laboratory Bhabha Atomic Research Center here, busts some of the commonly held myths about dirty bombs and says India is well prepared to detect such devices thanks to a countrywide network.Excerpts from an interview

Q: These days there is a lot of fear of something called a ‘dirty-bomb’. What is a dirty bomb?
A: Dirty means it is dirty, that is it will not really harm you but it makes you uncomfortable. See it is like getting dirt on your dress that does not mean you are going to die or that your health is in trouble but definitely, you have to go and change your dress. Same way, a dirty bomb, which normally like any other explosive has some effect, but since it is integrated with radioactive material and after an explosion that radioactivity could spread out.Therefore, there is a chance of contamination on your body, even contamination on your dress, so definitely it calls for a decontamination of the people who are nearby. It also calls for a decontamination of the area. Therefore, it is not in terms of a casualty or a serious injury we are worried about a dirty bomb, or what is called a radiological dispersal device. The concern is about the fear it may inject into the people because very large number of people will believe that they are all affected because they are all contaminated. It causes disruption.

It has never been used in India. What is feared is that since the use of radioactive sources and radioisotopes is increasing in a very significant way world over. Moreover, in some places the security of sources is not fully ensured. Hence, there are cases of lost sources, misplaced sources etc. These orphan sources can get into the hands of the bad-boys. It is believed that they can integrate these with explosives, and they can use it. However, it has never been used.