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Brussels Bombers Filmed Nuclear Researchers, Hoped To Build A "Dirty Bomb," Expert Says (nbcnews.com) 230

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: The brothers behind this week's Brussels bombings also spied on a top nuclear researcher and hoped to build a so-called "dirty bomb," an expert involved in a probe into ISIS threats told NBC News on Thursday. Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui were responsible for planting a hidden camera outside the Belgian researcher's house, according to Claude Moniquet, a French former intelligence official who was hired to investigate potential plots targeting Europe's nuclear sector. This camera produced more than 10 hours of film showing the comings and goings of senior researcher at a Belgian nuclear center and his family. "The terrorist cell ... naively believed they could use him to penetrate a lab to obtain nuclear material to make a dirty bomb," Moniquet, CEO of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center privacy consultancy said. The researcher worked at a center which stored a "significant portion of the world's supply of radioisotopes," according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C. These isotopes are used in hospitals and factories around the world but can also be used to make a so-called "dirty bomb" -- a device that could spread radioactive material across a wide area.
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Brussels Bombers Filmed Nuclear Researchers, Hoped To Build A "Dirty Bomb," Expert Says

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  • Naively? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mveloso ( 325617 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @07:43PM (#51773069)

    I'm not sure that's very naive at all. In fact, "help us your we'll kill your family" is a very powerful motivator.

    • Re:Naively? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Thursday March 24, 2016 @07:55PM (#51773119)

      The naive part is the interest in a "dirty bomb" in the first place.

      Why take on the significant additional risk of discovery for something that won't inflict much more damage?

      A "dirty bomb" only spreads radioactive material in the area where it explodes. So it is easier to just rely upon shrapnel and the explosion. Any radioactive material they could get probably wouldn't do more damage than that. Most of it just isn't that damaging. Except in large quantities over many years.

      It's the news shows that have played up the "threat" of a "dirty bomb".

      • Re:Naively? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by matbury ( 3458347 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @08:11PM (#51773181) Homepage

        If you believe that that primary intention of acts of terror is to cause harm, then yes, that sounds reasonable. However, as far as I understand it, the main point of acts of terror is usually to make people irrationally afraid (cars, dogs, and swimming pools are more dangerous). For that purpose, dirty bombs and the way they've been hyped in movies and the media, as you've stated, are perfect for terror attacks.

        • by khasim ( 1285 )

          For that purpose, dirty bombs and the way they've been hyped in movies and the media, as you've stated, are perfect for terror attacks.

          That is where it is wrong.

          It is the FICTIONAL accounts that are scary to the uneducated masses.

          If you had enough radioactive material to make a "dirty bomb" there are, literally, HUNDREDS of ways to terrorize more people for longer periods of time with it.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_of_Alexander_Litvinenko [wikipedia.org]

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          If you believe that that primary intention of acts of terror is to cause harm, then yes, that sounds reasonable. However, as far as I understand it, the main point of acts of terror is usually to make people irrationally afraid (cars, dogs, and swimming pools are more dangerous). For that purpose, dirty bombs and the way they've been hyped in movies and the media, as you've stated, are perfect for terror attacks.

          Afraid and uncertain, if they were able to give a large number of people an increased cancer risk that could be a nagging fear for years. Not to mention leaving permanent scars, what do you think a warded off area with nuclear hazard signs will do, even if it won't harm anyone? And there's a reason the Geneva convention banned arms that are specifically designed to maim rather than kill, which terrorists obviously won't follow. It's about making it so messy and ugly as possible.

          • Why would you think that the area would be permanently warded off, rather than simply having the topsoil and rubble removed until a geiger counter shows an acceptable level of background radiation?

            Oh no, someone covered a few blocks of a city with a material that is barely dangerous when it's spread out over a few blocks of a city. We'd better abandon that forever, or we could clean it up and laugh at how stupid a 'dirty bomb' really is.

            There's a reason nobody has ever bothered with a 'dirty bomb' and it's

        • When the real life equivalent of a dirty bomb fell out of orbit and spread itself thinly over a chunk of Cananda (Kosmos satellite) panic didn't happen.
          The cleanup showed that if anything was active enough to cause immediate problems it was very easy to detect.
          Even "Readers Digest" had a very good story on the incident.
      • Terrorism (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Etherwalk ( 681268 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @08:17PM (#51773201)

        The naive part is the interest in a "dirty bomb" in the first place.

        Why take on the significant additional risk of discovery for something that won't inflict much more damage?

        You're thinking like an engineer, not a terrorist. The objective of a terrorist is to create fear and mass panic, and in this case overreaction that ultimately leads to an invasion which they can claim is a holy war against Islam.

        A bomb the press can call "nuclear" will get more press coverage and a LOT more concern and reaction than an IED. Not necessarily because of a worse effect, but because laypeople are afraid of and do not understand science. That's why MRI's are called MRI's today instead of nMRI's. That's why a movies and television shows can warn against reactors exploding, when nuclear reactors do NOT explode. A dirty bomb can scare people more, and that helps terrorists.

        You've also got the possibility of a propaganda radiation murder like when Putin had that guy in the UK murdered with... I think soup? That gets a lot of coverage.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Let's be honest if terrorists started blowing up the luxury hidey holes of the rich and greedy along with those rich and greedy in attendance, things would change real fast. Where as blowing up the rest of us, just locks the status quo more firmly in place. Genuine terrorist would not target the 99%, genuine terrorists would zero in on the 1% as the decision makers. The more this bullshit drags on, the more blatantly, glaring suspicious it becomes. So somehow beyond all logic those really smart terrorists

          • Bin Laden was one of those "1%", an oil millionaire from a family that are still oil millionaires. The people in Saudi Arabia who were found to be funding ISIS were also part of that "1%" - more accurate to say 0.01% or far less though.
            Bin Laden did not want to blow up the people in the middle east who made the decisions he disagreed with by inviting the west in, he wanted to kill some of us "worthless" westerners to scare us into actions that would force the people in the middle east to kick westerners ou
        • Re:Terrorism (Score:4, Insightful)

          by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @09:30PM (#51773515)

          when nuclear reactors do NOT explode

          One did. It may have been a steam explosion but bits did go everywhere at high speed. Going off like an atomic bomb is of course a different story.

        • They are supposed to inform and they dropped the ball, then stampeded on it to finally set it on fire. Fucking news media is now an entertainment industry. They should be teaching/showing people WHY a dirt bomb is a stupid idea in practice but no.... "omgz nukluar !!!! dirtz bombz !". Whose fault it is ? The media for not informing. I don't expect everybody to learn that stuff on their own, but the news media should not pour gasoline on it and dance around the fire.
        • by Alumoi ( 1321661 )

          The objective of a terrorist is to create fear and mass panic

          What? Are you saying western governments are terrorists? They are doing their best to create fear and mass panic that the honest terrorists are thinking of letting them join the fight.

      • We don't know how naive the terrorists are. So while a dirty bomb is unlikely it is not so unlikely that terrorists attempt to get materials for it. Keep in mind: they could use it completely different.

      • A bomb is probably the worst way to deliver this type of attack, because it immediately alerts everyone that an attack has taken place. The longer the contamination is allowed to spread without anyone knowing an "attack" is going on, the greater the damage and cleanup cost. In that respect I'm thankful for Hollywood and the news media's ignorance because they're sending potential terrorists barking up the wrong tree.

        Everyone is getting all in a tizzy about protecting our nuclear reactors. It's our hos
      • by fnj ( 64210 )

        The naive part is the interest in a "dirty bomb" in the first place.

        Why take on the significant additional risk of discovery for something that won't inflict much more damage?

        A "dirty bomb" only spreads radioactive material in the area where it explodes. So it is easier to just rely upon shrapnel and the explosion. Any radioactive material they could get probably wouldn't do more damage than that. Most of it just isn't that damaging. Except in large quantities over many years.

        Get a clue. The damage of a dir

      • by necro81 ( 917438 )

        A "dirty bomb" only spreads radioactive material in the area where it explodes. So it is easier to just rely upon shrapnel and the explosion. Any radioactive material they could get probably wouldn't do more damage than that. Most of it just isn't that damaging. Except in large quantities over many years.

        The article is unclear what material they were seeking, specifically. It hints at radioisotopes that are used in medical diagnostics. These are unsuitable for use in a dirty bomb, because they tend to b

      • The damage done by a dirty bomb is not counted in terms of death toll but in the measures that have to be taken in order to avoid fatalities. If you have to evacuate a part of a city for a long period, the cost of that can be huge.

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      And what does getting one man on their side achieve? It's not like researchers can just take home radioactive samples.

    • I'm not sure that's very naive at all. In fact, "help us your we'll kill your family" is a very powerful motivator.

      I could rephrase that question into something much less convincing, "Be an accessory to murder and we might let you and your family live long enough to get blown up by the bomb you helped us make, or we kill you, still kill many people, but you die without blood on your hands." Certainly they won't explain it as I just did but someone that cares about others just as much as themselves might not be so willing to help.

      I'd think that if you want to be more convincing then you'd get your radioactive material a

    • There was two aspects to their naivete:

      1) Thinking that someone could just walk out of the building with a sack of nuclear material, if only sufficient threats were made.
      2) Thinking that someone being threatened with "help us [or] we'll kill your family" would not be able to figure out that he and his family will be dead anyway.

      • I wish I could add a third,

        3) [Naively] thinking that the small residue of radiation resulting from any kind of dirty-bomb dispersal would result in more fear than anger.

        Imagine a world without irrational fear of radioactivity, where the word 'nuclear' would not ring a bell that makes the press salivate with anticipation. I'm afraid I'll have to toss in mdsolar too since 'e posts more nuke fud then solar crud these days. TEPCO has done a fine job gathering water and filtering worse contaminants to leave Tri [asahi.com]

    • It is naive because intelligent people know that once the job was done they and their family would be killed anyway so as to not leave anyone who could raise the alarm before the bomb was used. i.e. You are going to die anyway so you may as well fight them anyway you can because that is that only option that has a greater than zero chance of survival, even if it is a small chance it is better than certain death.
      • It is not true you have zero chance of survival after a dirty bomb event. In fact, you have pretty good chance to survive without any effect such an event. A dirty bomb has nothing to do with a nuclear bomb. The whole problem, if we take for granted they have the appropriate radioactive isotope in quantity in hand, is the delivery of such a bomb in order to create a large enough area with a large enough radiation intensity to be destructive. Given the means they have so far, I doubt they can do any harm gre
    • What is naive is to believe you can build an efficient dirty bomb with the grade of explosive they are using and the delivery means they have. How do you spread significant radioactive material over a large area? By large area, I mean something much more larger than the area damaged by the bombs they detonated in Brussels. Which isotope are they able to handle and how to do that? Being exposed to radiations doesn't kill or give cancer automagically. You need a large dose or a delivery mean that imply you wi
    • I think it's not conceivable that you can make a person steal radioactive material from one of the should-be most guarded structures in the world, and bring it outside under his jacket or in his bag, especially in these post-9/11 times. This could have worked in a 70s movie maybe.
  • It's probable that we've avoided a larger impact terrorist hit because of their consistent incompetence.

    But, realistically, if relations between the West and the world's radicalized Muslim population stay the same, it is likely a given a major western city will reap a dirty bomb, or worse, far too near in the future.

    • That troubling part is that as incompetent as they may be, they're still quite highly effective. Worse it's what we'll do to ourselves in response. The U.S. is still suffering from the security theater thrown together in the wake of the September 11 attacks which have done little to make us more safe and have only hampered our liberties.

      They don't need to set off a dirty bomb. The fear and paranoia that they might is more than enough for us to destroy ourselves.
      • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Thursday March 24, 2016 @08:10PM (#51773179)

        That troubling part is that as incompetent as they may be, they're still quite highly effective.

        But they aren't. In the USofA, you are more likely to be killed while moving furniture than by a terrorist.

        If someone kills you tomorrow, it will probably be someone you know (friend or family) or a traffic accident.

        I used to work for an insurance company. You could get a "terrorism" rider on your policy at additional cost. That cost? $1. And it was pure profit for the company.

        The problem is that our news agencies and politicians are SELLING the idea of a terrorism threat for their own benefit.

        • That troubling part is that as incompetent as they may be, they're still quite highly effective.

          But they aren't.

          You think the aim of a terrorist attack is to kill people, and to the extent that they do they're not terribly good at it (thankfully). The aim of a terrorist attack is to instill fear. The 9/11 attacks killed 3000 people - about 3 days worth of tobacco deaths in America - but it paved the way for unconstitutional laws that supposedly will help government keep that from happening again. It led us to spend a trillion dollars trying to clean up part of the middle east. Etc. These attacks tend to be quite

  • That's it for SMRs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @07:58PM (#51773131) Homepage Journal
    If you need heavy security at each plant, the idea of small plants comes to an end.
    • Not So Fast... (Score:5, Informative)

      by IBitOBear ( 410965 ) on Friday March 25, 2016 @02:35AM (#51774483) Homepage Journal

      Nuclear Material in/near Reactors Secure's Itself.

      Dry fuel pellets are harmless.

      Fuel rods are made by welding dry pellets into steel I-Beams or similar big, heavy, structures.

      Used (wet) fuel pellets are _fantastically_ _dangerous_ to handle, so much so that they have to kept wet at all times to keep them from roasting everything while they cool.

      Back in the seventies my father (nuclear engineer) said he'd love to stage, and televise, a "raid" on a nuclear power facility... The _months_ necessary to get the stuff off the premises (let alone ground up into nuclear dust) would have probably lost its audience. But the "Fast As Possible" "Smallest Crew" version of the raid that the anti-nuke people were putting in movies and scare politics would be thoroughly disproved.

      Even if I installed a pebble-bed reactor in your garage (and one _would_ fit), any attempt to turn it into a "dirty bomb" would fatal to the person attempting it. Someone could blow up the pebble-bed itself, but that would move a few of the "pebbles", if any, a short distance. Someone with a radiation counter and a radiation suit could then just go pick them up with tongs.

      So the terrorists "want{ed} to build a dirty bomb" is about as likely to lead to that end as my personal desire to own all of Google _and_ Tesla Motors outright as a pure proprietorship.

  • by Dorianny ( 1847922 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @08:07PM (#51773163) Journal
    Just what we needed. More fuel for the AntiNuclearPower campaigners just as the risk from Climate Change is fast aproaching critical thresholds
    • But lots of nukes are being built in the Mid-East. http://time.com/3751676/iran-t... [time.com]
    • Currently nuclear power seems to be incompatible with capitalism due to the huge initial outlay and low rate of return. Blame bankers not protesters, and if you are actually serious then push for funding enough R&D into civilian nuclear to develop something commercially viable without a government handout (or push for government handouts).
      Why kick the cat? As the Iraq war protests showed the protesters really have almost zero power. Economic and political donor factors (yet another downside of lettin

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