Dirty bombs are conventional explosives combined with radioactive material. The Times says that "[s]ecurity experts fear that terrorists could pack conventional bombs with radioactive material which would contaminate wide areas of cities"; however, a US Nuclear Regulatory Commission fact sheet on dirty bombs states that
[i]n most instances, the conventional explosive itself would have more immediate lethality than the radioactive material. At the levels created by most probable sources, not enough radiation would be present in a dirty bomb to kill people or cause severe illness.Because of the relatively low levels of radiation usually associated with dirty bombs, the NRC classifies them as weapons of mass disruption rather than weapons of mass destruction.
In an effort to serve the public interest, I now present the NRC's list of what people should do following the explosion of a dirty bomb:
- Move away from the immediate area--at least several blocks from the explosion--and go inside. This will reduce exposure to any radioactive airborne dust.
- Turn on local radio or TV channels for advisories from emergency response and health authorities.
- If facilities are available, remove clothes and place them in a sealed plastic bag. Saving contaminated clothing will allow testing for radiation exposure.
- Take a shower to wash off dust and dirt. This will reduce total radiation exposure, if the explosive device contained radioactive material.
- If radioactive material was released, local news broadcasts will advise people where to report for radiation monitoring and blood and other tests to determine whether they were in fact exposed and what steps to take to protect their health.