ISIS and Dirty Bombs

By Gregory S. Jones

Gregory S. Jones is an adjunct senior defense policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and a member of the Pardee RAND Graduate School faculty. 

In February, a radiological source went missing in Iraq. There was concern that ISIS might have gained control of the radioactive material and planned to create a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD, commonly referred to as a “dirty bomb”) by using explosives to scatter the material over some target area. Fortunately, the radiological source was recovered, abandoned in Iraq, a few days later.

Thousands of radiological sources are used in the United States for various medical and industrial purposes. Many more are used overseas. In the past, a number of these sources have been misplaced, and in a small number of the foreign cases, this has led to serious contamination, including a few deaths. Efforts have been made to better control these radiological sources, but since at least 2001, there has been increased concern that terrorists might use them to create an RDD. 

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