Congressional red team discovers that it's trivial to acquire all the materials for a dirty nuke

Originally published at:


While I think the NSA and CIA etc should actually be on top of this, I’d rather not make an issue of this publicly. The fact is something like this is still very unlikely. (Has it ever happened ever?) And the backlash of people worrying about this sort of thing is only going to lead to worse problems.

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Okay, this is taking the right to bear arms too far.


On the positive side, dirty nukes aren’t particularly lethal.

That’s a “go” on day drinking today.


I thought a “nuke” was an atomic or hydrogen bomb. A “dirty nuke,” AKA a neutron bomb, would be an H bomb jacketed in something that makes lots of nasty fallout when the bomb goes off.

The word for what Cory is talking about, unless someone radically revised the terminology when I wasn’t paying attention, is a “dirty bomb,” AKA some dynamite inside a bucket of dangerous radioisotopes.

Eta: neutron bombs are completely different, my mistake.


Came to say the same thing. The linked article uses “dirty bomb.” The isotopes in question cannot be used to make a nuclear weapon.


A neutron bomb was intended to produce a lot of “prompt radiation” (neutrons, xrays, gamma rays) while minimizing fallout and blast. (Though some papers have alleged that the neutrons do tend to react with nitrogen to produce a lot of carbon 14.) The use case was to kill tank crews invading Germany while minimizing long term effects that would have rendered it uninhabitable. Sort of the opposite effect of a dirty bomb.


The problem here, and for once I’m not blaming Congress for failing to solve it, is that we live in a universe where radioactivity happens. It’s absolutely inconceivable that you could have a free society in which it wasn’t possible to accumulate and concentrate stuff that would make a Geiger counter needle move in ways that would look scary on TV.

The health threat to humans might be virtually nil from the sort of dirty bomb a non-state actor could cook up (except for the part where the dynamite blows up) but as an economic nuisance weapon, yeah, it’d be pretty bad–and the immediate effect of blaring TERRORIST NUCLEAR ATTACK chyrons would be just about as effective as terrorism gets in the short term, in the sense of poking the bear.

Sorry, I don’t really have an upside. In the fullness of time people would calm down, but meanwhile there’s an enormous amount of anxiety packed within the word “nuclear” and eventually somebody’s going to weaponize it.


Wasn’t there a brief period when EMP weapons were the big bad bogeyman? That didn’t seem to last – I guess because it doesn’t sound nearly as catchy.

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I know what you mean.



You’re right, my mistake. Have edited the post.

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the knowledge about dirty bombs is not exactly rocket surgery, and while one need to invest time to read and parse the rulings around buying permits for radioactive materials this is also not exactly arcane lore.

security by obscurity as only barrier simply does not work, and more eyeballs (and brains) on a given problem gives normally a faster and better solution.


Lobbyists for the nuclear industry repeatedly succeeding in easing controls on the movement of this kind of material is sort of the poster child for Late Stage Capitalism…


This all seems kind of quaint given that Daesh, with little effort and no investment, can radicalize someone over the internet and have them go out and buy an arsenal of guns. Hell, they don’t even have to radicalize them, every Muslim spree-killer will just be assumed to have been radicalized anyway, so you can always posthumously claim them for free. (And frankly it’s only a matter of time before spree-killers with Christian backgrounds will start claiming allegiance to ISIS just to get the extra attention and muddy the waters.)

And because they’re actually quite difficult to make.


Mister44 isn’t saying security by obscurity works… She/he/it is saying s/h/i would rather it worked.


I understood this differently, to paraphrase: It is a good idea if NSA and CIA take a look at the issue, but it’s not for the general public.

hey @Mister44, you’re the only expert on Mister44 I know: what did he mean?

I think it’s good to make an issue of, but not so we can panic about national security and terrorists. Exactly the reverse, this news should help us relax.

This is proof that nobody really wants to dirty bomb us. Or at least, nobody wants to do it enough to actually make the effort. This is the best kind of security, based not in an elaborate state security apparatus, but in nobody wanting to take the trouble to harm you.

We should do everything we can to preserve this kind of security, because it’s actually the only thing keeping us safe. Unfortunately, our current foreign policy seems bent on doing all it can to convince people to harm us.


Since it’s been mentioned twice now, this isn’t NSAs purview. FBI sure, CIA perhaps, DoE yes, and congressional panels as well. DHS will likely be involved too, since they have to get their fingers in everyone’s pie.

I was only quoting Mr44, sorry that I forced you to correct me : P

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Heh. I was hovering over my pedant button with the original. Clearly I need better self control. :wink:

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