Other Types of Weapons of Mass Destruction


Other Types of Weapons of Mass Destruction


Radiological weapons are weapons containing radioactive material, for example low-enriched or depleted uranium (toxic, radioactive heavy metal) and are designed to spread the materials by using conventional explosives. No nuclear explosion occurs. A radiological weapon is not a nuclear bomb, but is often called the “poor man’s atomic bomb,” a “crude nuclear device,” or a “dirty bomb.” Depleted uranium is found in large quantities in many countries in the form of stocks of waste from the production of nuclear weapons and from spent nuclear fuel that has been used in civil nuclear power plants. Many of the storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel are not adequately guarded against theft or sabotage. Other radioactive substances are stored and used in large quantities in laboratories in the health sector and in industrial processes, for example in factories for food irradiation. These radioactive materials may be used to manufacture radiological weapons. The material for producing a radiological weapon is much easier to obtain, and manufacturing a radiological bomb far less technically complicated, and much cheaper, than building an atomic bomb.

Unlike nuclear weapons, the detonation of radiological weapons does not cause widespread material destruction. But the radioactive fallout may cause significant loss of life, can have large-scale psychological effects, and may create long-term pollution, which may expose many people to harmful radiation. Depending on the weather and wind conditions, a radiological bomb blast could create panic and fear in the population and economic chaos in the affected community. In the longer term, a radiological bomb blast could cause many deaths as a result of the carcinogenic dispersion and radiation of radioactive uranium particles. Radiological weapons are therefore effective psychological weapons, primarily causing fear and economic chaos. There is a potential risk and growing fear that terrorist organizations might try to obtain and use radiological weapons. Many scientists and military leaders assess the threat from radiological terrorism as real and increasing. In the past ten years, the IAEA has registered 175 cases of terrorists and criminals smuggling and attempting to illegally acquire radioactive nuclear materials.

In November 1995, Chechen terrorists tried to detonate a radiological bomb in a Moscow park. The attempt failed when the bomb did not detonate.

The same terror effect as the detonation of a radiological bomb could be obtained by committing an act of sabotage against a nuclear reactor in a civilian nuclear power plant, whereby large amounts of radioactive materials could be spread in the air. The most serious radiation accidents at nuclear power plants – the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania, in March 1979, the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in April 1986, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011 – have shown the disastrous effects of radioactive leaks.