According to the Department of Home;and Security, a radiological attack is the spreading of radioactive material with the intent to do harm. Radioactive materials are used every day in laboratories, medical centers, food irradiation plants, and for industrial uses. If stolen or otherwise acquired, many of these materials could be used in a "radiological dispersal device" (RDD).

Radiological Dispersal Devices, a.k.a. Dirty Bombs

"dirty bomb" is one type of RDD that uses a conventional explosion to disperse radioactive material over a targeted area. The term dirty bomb and RDD are often used interchangeably in technical literature. However, RDDs could also include other means of dispersal such as placing a container of radioactive material in a public place, or using an airplane to disperse powdered or aerosolized forms of radioactive material.

A Dirty Bomb Is Not a Nuclear Bomb

A nuclear bomb creates an explosion that is thousands to millions of times more powerful than any conventional explosive that might be used in a dirty bomb. The resulting mushroom cloud from a nuclear detonation contains fine particles of radioactive dust and other debris that can blanket large areas (tens to hundreds of square miles) with "fallout". By contrast, most of the radioactive particles dispersed by a dirty bomb would likely fall to the ground within a few city blocks or miles of the explosion.

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