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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
US calls for 'dirty bombs' conference
Plutonium
Dirty bombs spread radioactive material over a wide area
The United States has called for an international conference aimed at combating the threat of terrorists building so-called "dirty bombs".

US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham told the annual conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency that the devices, which scatter deadly radioactive material using conventional explosive devices are less deadly than conventional nuclear weapons, but far easier to make.


None of us should underestimate the implications of the use of any kind of radiological device, be it a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb

US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham
"And while the physical destruction they would cause is comparable to conventional explosives, the disruption caused by widespread contamination is far greater... it is disruption that terrorists seek," he said.

Dirty bombs, while not as immediately destructive as traditional explosive devices, could ultimately prove far more devastating in terms of the loss of human life, due to nuclear fallout causing cancer and radiation poisoning.

Mr Abraham cited evidence found in Afghanistan that the al-Qaeda terror network had investigated the possibility of building a dirty bomb as proof that the threat of such an attack was being explored by terror groups.

Alleged dirty bomber Jose Padilla
Padilla: The US says he attempted to build a dirty bomb
He also said that some regimes were actively seeking to acquire the materials used in such a weapon, in an apparent reference to Iraq.

"My president laid out the case against one such regime before the UN last week," he said.

"No-one of us should underestimate the implications of the use of any kind of radiological device, be it a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb."

Safeguards

The US still holds a man in custody it says planned to build such a device to use on US soil.

American-born Jose Padilla, also known as Abdullah al-Muhajir, remains in US custody after being detained in May this year, despite human rights groups claiming the evidence against him is weak at best.

IAEA Director General Mohammed al-Baradei said that the difficulties of preventing a dirty bomb attack are compounded by the fact that the materials used in the bomb can be acquired through industry or the medical profession.

However he told French news agency AFP that it was possible to put safeguards in place.

"We can do a lot of things by having security standards, by having appropriate physical protection and by having restricted access to these materials," he said.


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