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How could a terrorist acquire radiological materials needed for a dirty bomb?

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Of many possible terrorist threats, dirty bombs may be among the most frightening, although they are less dangerous in reality than they might appear in movies and popular media. Technically known as radiological dispersal devices (RDD), dirty bombs use conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials across wide areas. Although such devices would be unlikely to cause many deaths from radiation poisoning, they would cause mass panic and disruption.

Radioactive materials are used in many different technologies. While military nuclear weapons are well guarded, there are several sources of radioactive materials used in civilian applications. The radioactive isotopes most suitable for use in dirty bombs include americium-241, californium-252, caesium-137, cobalt-60, iridium-192, plutonium-238, and strontium-90.

The first place that terrorists could acquire these materials is on the "dark web." There is evidence for a limited illicit trade in radioactive materials. More direct sources include nuclear waste and disused medical devices containing radioactive materials. Strontium-90 and plutoniumare used in radioisotope thermoelectric generators. Americium-241 can be found in ionization-type smoke detectors. Cobalt-60 is widely used in medical radiotherapy, industrial radiography, food irradiation, and other industrial applications. Caesium-137 is also used in medical and industrial applications.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the government lost track of many radioactive materials and Russia still remains a major source for illegal radioactive substances.

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