The frightening ease with which ingredients for a dirty bomb can be assembled has been dramatically illustrated in New Delhi, where cobalt-60 turned up in a scrap metal market, injuring five people, one seriously. According to DNA India:
"The experts have identified the material as Cobalt-60. They have identified six sources of Cobalt-60 from the scrap shop," BB Bhattacharya, member of National Disaster Management Authority and former director of BARC, told PTI. [Press Trust of India]
Cobalt-60 is a radioactive isotope of cobalt, which is a hard, lustrous, grey metal. Cobalt-based colours and pigments have been used since ancient times for jewellery and paints, and miners have long used the name kobold ore for some minerals.
Bhattacharjee said Cobalt-60 is used in fabrication work, specially for welding steel. It is also used in radiotherapy for treating cancer.
Scrap metal dealers are highly secretive, and when an expensive piece of machinery is scrapped it may contain multiple valuable metals, of varying toxicity. Without proper regulation, unscrupulous operators may cut corners or worse. Policing this industry everywhere in the world, in order to contain terrorism, will be a big challenge. I studied and wrote about metals trading in decades past, and know that secret maneuvering is very common.
debkafile's sources report that German chancellor Angela Merkel has asked to talk with Obama about the dirty bomb terrorist threat when they meet Tuesday.
Cobalt-60 is used in radiotherapy for treating cancer and welding steel. A US report last year recommended monitoring this material along with Caesium-137, Strontium-90 and Plutonium to effectively counter nuclear terrorism. Unlike a nuclear bomb, a dirty bomb does not involve nuclear fission and can be used like a conventional weapon.
Ahead of the Washington conference, US president Barack Obama called nuclear terror "the single biggest threat to US security, short term, medium and long-term."
The day before the conference, the Indian prime minister met Obama and tackled him about Pakistan's inaction against Muslim terrorists and exhorted him to jointly combat terror emanating from Pakistan as the most dangerous source of potential nuclear terror. According to debkafile's military and intelligence sources, the Indian and US leaders failed to agree on whether Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was sufficiently secure. Indian leaders as well as their military and intelligence advisers have repeatedly warned Washington that al Qaeda and Taliban were moving in on Pakistan's nuclear facilities through their deep penetration of Pakistan's intelligence service and may soon be in position to take over.
The great worry is that if cobalt-60 leaks unto scrap metal markets in India, it, and other radioactive materials probably do elsewhere. Add in scary data about Pakistan's nuclear security, and the specter of a terrorist dirty bomb exploding in New York, DC, or elsewhere is no longer a remote possibility.
Hat tip: Michael Savage