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No sign 'dirty bomb' has ever been used

(CNN) -- Experts said Monday they don't believe a radiological "dirty bomb" has ever been used as a weapon, but they said several incidents may shed light on the weapon's potential threat.

"There have been several radiological accidents that really provide the base line on trying to understand what could happen in such an attack," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a nuclear proliferation watchdog organization.

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Albright cites a 1987 incident in Goiania, Brazil, in which highly radioactive cesium was removed from an abandoned clinic.

"The material got out, and in the end four people died, mostly children," he said. "And they spread the material by foot and hand."

In 1995, Chechen separatists put a canister in a Moscow, Russia, park containing a highly radioactive byproduct of nuclear fission.

It was a stunt apparently designed to show how vulnerable Moscow and, in effect, other locations would be to a "dirty bomb."

But according to a U.N. report, Iraq tested a one-ton radiological bomb in 1987 but gave up on the idea because the radiation levels it generated were not deadly enough.

A "dirty bomb" uses nuclear material, such as spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors, to spread deadly radioactivity. Experts said they worry that determined terrorists could acquire the necessary supplies, which are poorly guarded or subject to few controls in some regions, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

It said the International Atomic Energy Agency, a division of the United Nations, has documented almost 400 cases of trafficking in nuclear or radiological materials since 1993.

While weapons-grade plutonium or uranium or freshly spent nuclear fuel would be the most deadly, they also would be the toughest to obtain, the Council on Foreign Relations said.

More accessible medical supplies used in cancer treatments and X-ray machines are thought to be less dangerous.




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