I always wonder about the possibility of Iran taking Mitt Romney’s advice and detonating a “super-dirty” radioactive bomb in a densely-populated urban region. For specifics, let's take Orange County, Ca. as an example. To help me analyze the possibility of Iran detonating a "super dirty" radioactive bomb inside America, I consulted Dr. Gregory Moore, Director of the Center for Intelligence Studies at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio.
On May 17, 2012 Mitt Romney said during a fundraiser at the home of private-equity executive Marc Leder that if he were Iran, he would give fissile material to Hezbollah and if the US doesn’t stand down, he’d “let off a dirty bomb in Chicago or some other place.”
What if their “some other place” pick was Orange County? It would be a top choice location due to an extremely high human population density- the sixth most populated county in the U.S., with over 3 million residents, all confined in the smallest area-wise county in southern California. I discussed the possibility of Iran detonating a “super-dirty” radioactive bomb, in general, somewhere inside the U.S. and not specifically in this affluent and mostly-suburban Ca. county with Dr. Gregory Moore, an intelligence expert and his feedback was both comforting and unsettling.
The unsettling news is that an Iranian highly-enriched radioactive dirty bomb would be vastly more dangerous than a cruder variety. It would contain plutonium-239, the most carcinogenic substance known, be surrounded by an incendiary material (thermite) which would vaporize the radioactive material, and be detonated by conventional high explosives, such as semtex, dynamite or TNT.
Although civilian nuclear reactors produce tens of tons of weapons-grade plutonium yearly, terrorists know the risks are high if they attempt to steal it from such highly-secured facilities or buy it from arms dealers or suppliers, who may be CIA undercover operatives. So, they go after readily-available but less lethal radioactive material found in clinical radiotherapy centers, research labs, hospitals, construction sites, food irradiation plants, and smoke detectors.
However, Iran’s nuclear reactors will soon be running and producing significant amounts of plutonium-239 residue waste inside the reactor cores and in the spent nuclear fuel rods. The rods could be chopped up and dissolved in nitric acid to extract pure plutonium, and their terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, would gladly seek martyrdom by grinding the radioactive rubble into a dispersible powder form.
If they fulfill Romney’s suggestion, Orange County will be turned upside down. A large super-dirty, radioactive bomb, coupled with ideal winds, detonated in Buena Park or Anaheim would immediately kill and maim hundreds and create mass panic. Weapons-grade plutonium-239 inhalation toxicity is beyond human experience and a mere sniff could beget lung cancer. The inherent public horror created by the westward-moving radiation cloud would overwhelm safety forces from Coto de Caza to the densely-populated North Tustin, as they respond to stress-induced heart attacks and traffic accidents by people fleeing the immediate vicinity and from miles away, downwind.
A dead zone would result where people couldn’t live or work in for possibly years. Remember, it took six months to clean up Capitol Hill after a mere 5 grams of anthrax was mailed there. Restoring the detonation and downwind vicinity would be painstakingly slow as de-contamination teams donned in protective suits steam spray, vacuum, sandblast, and bulldoze tainted buildings, pavement, earth and vegetation. Annually, over 7 million tourists visit Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park alone, so thousands of locals and visitors alike would be quarantined in decontamination centers and not be allowed to return home.
The comforting news is that Dr. Gregory Moore told me the chances of such a super-dirty bomb attack somewhere within America's heartland by Iran is “not all that likely” at the present time, because the U.S. remains a lucrative funding source for its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah. Also, nuclear forensics is evolving and if the plutonium residue had Iran’s signature, they realize a U.S. retaliation would be swift and strong.
A teacher of terrorism, counterterrorism and geopolitics, Moore offered stipulations. Although he said such a super-dirty radioactive bomb attack was unlikely, the possibility cannot be entirely dismissed. He believes that U.S. efforts to pressure Iran about its nuclear program, coupled with America’s support for the rebellion in Syria could lead to a decision to act. Moore told me, “A significant event, such as an air strike on Iran‘s nuclear facilities could bring Iran to detonate one in the U.S. They would be responding to an attack against them and would feel justified.”
For the sake of all Orange County residents, I hope Iran forever disregards Mitt Romney’s advice.
Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. is a member of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and writes the online spy series Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster in the Caribbean. The views expressed are his own and do not represent those of any organization he is a member of.