NEW YORK – The “dirty bomb” allegedly planned by terror suspect Jose Padilla would have been a dud, not the radiological threat portrayed last week by federal authorities, scientists say.
At a June 1 news conference, the Justice Department said the alleged al-Qaida associate hoped to attack Americans by detonating “uranium wrapped with explosives” in order to spread radioactivity.
But uranium’s extremely low radioactivity is harmless compared with high-radiation materials “” such as cesium and cobalt isotopes used in medicine and industry that experts see as potential dirty bomb fuels.
“I used a 20-pound brick of uranium as a doorstop in my office,” American nuclear physicist Peter D. Zimmerman, of King’s College in London, said to illustrate the point.
Zimmerman, co-author of an expert analysis of dirty bombs for the U.S. National Defense University, said last week’s government announcement was “extremely disturbing “” because you cannot make a radiological dispersal device with uranium. There is just no significant radiation hazard.”
Other specialists agreed. “It’s the equivalent of blowing up lead,” said physicist Ivan Oelrich of the Federation of American Scientists. …
“Granted, it (uranium) could have a psychological effect” because of unfounded fears, said physicist Ferguson. But he said a government information campaign should quell any panic if such a weapon appeared.