Preventing the preventable: Strengthening international controls to thwart radiological terrorism

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In 1995, Chechen insurgents buried a cesium 137 “dirty bomb” under the entrance to a well-trod park in Moscow. Though the package was discovered and removed without incident, the rebel leader responsible for planting it threatened that he had more radioactive material in his arsenal and wasn’t afraid to use it.

Although no dirty bomb—more properly called a radiological dispersal device—has ever been detonated, history proves that the threat is real. While global radiological security arrangements have improved since 2001, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and national regulators still report regular incidents of highly radioactive materials that are stolen, lost, or missing. Creating a dirty bomb would require little more than combining these materials with conventional explosives.

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