Weapon of mass disruption: What is a ‘dirty bomb’?

A dirty bomb is both easier to make, and less destructive, than a nuclear bomb.

Its effect would contaminate a specific area, and the people there, either by direct radiation or inhalation or ingestion of contaminated substances.

Its main purpose could well be to create panic in a population rather than outright mass killing.

“A dirty bomb is not a weapon of mass destruction but a ‘weapon of mass disruption’, where contamination and anxiety are the major objectives,” said the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent agency, in a background article on dirty bombs.

This means only people in the immediate proximity of the explosion site would be exposed to the kind of radiation levels that would immediately cause a severe illness.

Over a wider radius, health risks would come from contaminated dust, food or water.

The small quantities of radioactive material needed to achieve such an effect in a bomb can be found in hospitals, research bodies, industrial sites or military installations.

Although no dirty bomb has ever been detonated, the perpetrators behind two terrorist attacks in Brussels in March 2016 were believed to be planning to build one.