“Dirty Bomb” – Radiological Dispersal Device A dirty bomb is a radiological dispersal device (RDD) that combines a conventional explosive, such as dynamite, with radioactive materials. The intent is to spread the radioactive material throughout the area around the explosion. It is likely that the radioactive materials in an RDD will not contain enough radiation to kill people or cause serious illness due to the radiation. In general, an RDD will cause more damage from the explosion itself and from panic than from the radioactive materials themselves.
Another type of RDD is a powerful radioactive source hidden in a public place in order to expose people passing close to the source.
A radiological dispersal device is NOT a nuclear weapon, which is designed to destroy large areas with its explosive power.
An RDD can take many shapes and sizes. Awareness of your surroundings is the best defense. Be alert for the presence of abandoned bags, and suspicious trailers or vehicles. If you see suspicious activities call 1-800-tell-CHP or dial 911 if there is an immediate threat or if medical assistance is needed.
Health Risks of an RDD If explosives are used, the immediate health risks might result from the blast itself. Wind or other weather conditions could spread radioactive contamination over a wide area. Long-term health risks depend on the quantity and type of radioactive contamination and how close people are to the explosion and drift of materials. Exposure to or being near a radioactive source for a short time or getting a small amount of radioactive dust on your skin does not mean you will get sick or get cancer. Doctors will be able to suggest ways to reduce the effects of radiation.
Further Information: For further information about Radiological Terrorism, RDDs, and what to do in the event of a radiation emergency see:
Centers for Disease Control:
Nuclear Regulatory Commission:
The Useful Links section of this web page also will lead you to additional useful information.