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Dirty Bomb

Program Overview


In this program, NOVA explores the potential impact of "dirty bombs." When detonated, a dirty bomb's radioactive core spreads out on the wind, distributing potentially dangerous fallout for miles—contaminating buildings, land, water, cars, skin, and clothing with invisible particles—causing destruction and disruption. The program tackles such questions as: How easy is it to make a dirty bomb and how does it differ from a conventional nuclear bomb? How dangerous is the fallout from a dirty bomb? What are the long-term effects of a dirty bomb? And how can lives be saved if one explodes?

Unlike a nuclear bomb, which can destroy an entire city, a dirty bomb does most of its work psychologically. Simple to make, the device is comprised of nothing more than conventional explosives wrapped around some unrefined radioactive material, such as strontium, cobalt, or cesium—all obtainable from thousands of poorly regulated sources.

To test the consequences of a projected attack, the program dramatizes two scenarios based on sophisticated models developed by a team of radiation experts. One of these scenarios looks at the consequences of a dirty bomb detonation in the Washington, D.C., subway system, and the other at a detonation's aftermath in Trafalgar Square, London.

Teacher's Guide
Dirty Bomb
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