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Battelle Helps Homeland Security Prep For "Dirty Bomb" Attack

A Battelle scientist works with hazordous materials.

Columbus-based Battelle is helping federal officials prepare for a potential radiological, or “dirty bomb” terrorist attack in a U.S. city.

For more than a decade, federal safety and environmental agencies have planned responses for such an attack.  Battelle research scientist Ryan James says in the event of a 'dirty bomb' explosion the initial damage would be limited.

“Generally speaking there is an explosion or a blast zone that is a very localized area maybe whether it would be in downtown area or wherever it would explode and that impacts the destruction of property there in the most immediate few square feet,” James says.

But, James says a device that mixes radioactive elements with conventional explosives would endanger residents in a much wider area.

"The more extensive impact can be with a plume as the radio nucleotides ride on the wind or air currents and can impact and then fall out of the air miles or many miles away.”

In city environments, clean-up from "dirty bombs" would require decontamination of buildings in the so-called 'hot zone' where fallout occurred. This week, Battelle demonstrated effectiveness of some of the decontamination products at its King Avenue headquarters, including a foam sprayed on buildings that would remove nuclear residue.

"We get to see in real world environments whether these approaches are effective, whether they work,” says the Department of Homeland Security’s Ben Davidson, who was on hand for a demonstration.

“We cannot afford to find out the answer to that question in the midst of an event."

Stevenson says some decontamination approaches and technologies have been oversold. The claims some vendors have made have not been as effective as advertised. He says preparation among U.S. cities for a 'dirty bomb' attack is a work in progress.

“Obviously, larger cities than Columbus have put resources into place. I can't speak to every city in the U.S., every community in the U.S., but the ones I've engaged with and been able to interact with, they've invested and gone a long way to make sure their communties are prepared to deal with these events."

Stevenson says while in Columbus, he's also looking for less expensive and innovative ways to decontaminate buildings and public structures in the event of a radiological attack.