back to article MI5, EPA clean up dirty bomb dirt

The UK government has been running a £7m programme aimed at ridding the UK of surplus "radioactive sources" which could be used in a dirty bomb terror attack, according to reports. According to the Environment Agency, running the disposal programme in cooperation with the police and domestic spook service MI5, there were …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sleep easier?!

    "According to the Environment Agency, running the disposal programme in cooperation with the police and domestic spook service MI5, there were believed to be 11,000 surplus radioactive items at large initially. Since the initiative began in 2005, 9,000 sources have been processed.

    "People in the UK should sleep easier, just that bit easier, knowing that there aren't these sources out there," the Agency's Chris Williams told the BBC."

    ... so, I didn't know that all these sources were out there, and was sleeping just fine. Now, I know that there's 2,000 radioactive sources suitable for making a dirty bomb, and they're out there. Just how am I expected to sleep easier again?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who cares?

    Why didn't they spend it on road-safety or someone statistically likely to actually affect a few people?

    And what did they do with it, anyway? Ship it to China?

  3. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Lies, tales and damned spooky stories

    Nuclear is so yesterday nowadays but as the article says/implies, it does pay some dinosaurs their wages.

    The Theatre of Operations has moved on ..... .... and it is nice to see El Reg featuring as credible source. ....<<< [“If the takedown were to include the international funds transfer networks CHIPS and SWIFT then the entire global economy could be thrown into chaos.” George Butters, “Expect Terrorist Attacks on Global Financial System,” October 10, 2003 at []. >>> ..... Page23.

  4. Ash
    Thumb Down

    sleep easier

    Totally agreed Chris... 'just that bit easier' has the subtext 'but still be very very afraid people, sleep with one eye open'.

    I'm sick of this culture of fear... its bloody ridiculous. I know BAE etc have to find people to sell their weapons to, and lots of deathboffins at Qinetiq need to be kept busy inventing interesting ways to dismember people, but leave my sleep out of this!

  5. regadpellagru

    Scary been article

    quote from the beeb article:

    ""I wouldn't say these are weapons of destruction, so much as disruption," Mr Williams said."

    Well, hopefully, he judged wiser to drop the "mass" word but that's obsolutely frightening tone, while of course this stuff (particularly the stuff found in university) is mostly measuring sources, that would only make anyone vague after 20 years sleeping on it, and would require more work to purify and compile billions of them into a bomb than starting afresh.

    Good spot on El Reg to correct a bit Burnie on this ...

  6. Tawakalna
    Black Helicopters

    the most undangerous weapon?

    *dirty* bomb - thriller writers' favourite and the supposed No.1 *Al-Quaeda* desired weapon; but in every serious study (including by the US Army and the Iraqis) the *dirty* bomb fails in every respect as a credible weapon - does hardly any physical damage except that which would be caused by the conventional explosives anyway, and other than the people in the immediate vicinity, fails to cause any long-term radiological damage. Normal decontamination procedures would restore an affected area even in a city centre to acceptable levels in a relatively short space of time.

    In fact, US analysis of prospective *dirty* bombs assumed that all those who were affected did not move location for a year.

    The only way that a *dirty* bomb could ever have any impact is as a pure weapon of terror; something that the fear-mongering media have created themselves. The mass panic that a *dirty* bomb attack, real or imagined, would engender would kill far more people and cause far more disruption than the actual weapon itself - if indeed such a weapon did manage to kill anyone.

    So, if we accept that a dirty bomb is not a realistic weapon and couldn't actually work, why are the security services removing radiological materials.

    (as an aside, seeing as dirty bombs are a figment of thriller writer and security *experts* imaginations, and that *Al-Quaeda* don't actually exist either, being a legal fiction manufactured by the FBI for organised crime trials, we have the incredible prospect of being "protected" from non-existent weapons being acquired by a non-existent organisation, and losing our civikl liberties in the process. Ever get the feeling that we're being lied to?)

    but just as my attention was turning to Paris Hilton, I hear a whup-whup-whup outside...)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Has the government rounded up all the tritium-powered Trimphones that are out there?

    If al-Qaeda manage to get hold of a Trimphone, all that stands between the West and certain thermonuclear destruction are several kilos of plutonium, a few hundred kilos of U238, a supercomputer and a multibillion Pound budget.

  8. laird cummings
    Thumb Up

    Eh... Tempest in a teapot

    Much ado about nothing, mucho ruido y poco on and so forth.


    It didn't cost much, relatively speaking, did clean up some obnoxious trash, and didn't throw anyone in jail. I can support that kind of government work. If they need to make barmy pronouncements to make them selves feel happy about the work, what harm? After all, this task *did* keep several hundred civil servants and spooks too busy to harrass the average citizen, so let them have their alarmist presss releases.

  9. TeeCee Gold badge

    Luminous watches.

    Many, many moons ago I was watching a demo of some radioactive sources being sniffed at gingerly with a geiger counter by a nervous lecturer. On completion of said demo he carefully put all the bits back in their respective lead cases and visibly relaxed. He then asked if anyone in the audience had an old luminous watch. Somebody did. Sent the geiger counter waaay off scale on the same setting as used for the little things in big lead boxes. The lad wearing it didn't look at all dead either.

    The big problem here for the extreme anti-nuclear types (the sort who reckon that discarded lab coats previously worn at Sellafield are a threat to civilisation) is it's very hard to look like you know what you're talking about when you're trying to instil the fear of small, wearable timepieces into your audience.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Lewis you're normally an authority on most things, but i didn't get the bit about reprocessing = safe? i thought thinking these days was moving to maximum life of the reactor rods, and no subssequent reprocessing, its dirty hence dangerous, and we don't need the plutonium that it generates any more. all it was ever for was the A-bomb stockpile, it has no place in peaceful power generation. - sure you can make fast breeders, but we've tons of plutonium anyway, and no-one's quite cracked the fast breeder, all that liquid sodium and water, the superphenix has been shut down for years now.

    i think if you can make reactors designed for 20-year fuel rod cycles, and the old ones you just entomb, then maybe you can make clean power.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Realism, danger and the usefulness or otherwise of small sources.

    Well, you might think that small amounts of medical sources, glow-in-the-dark watchdials, etc. etc., are pretty harmless and innocuous, and for the main part I agree with you, but you don't want to underestimate this stuff either: after all, it *is* possible to build a fast-breeder plutonium reactor with nothing more than the gunk scraped out of a few hundred smoke detectors and camping-gas lamp mantles....

  12. Rick Brasche

    wow, so the government does some clean up

    and still the leftists find a way to whinge about it. Why not put on your algorean Green Hat and celebrate the fact there's less toxic crap out and about leaking into the precious water tables and biospheres of Gaia?

    As the article clearly stated, dirty bombs are about *disruption*. Which means, the Media and left wing anti Westerners will scream bloody murder when even a few roentgen worth of radiation from a handful of dust around a firecracker "contaminates" an area. You all will scream about "millions of years" of contamination and "drastically increased cancer risk!" and do everything to assist the terrorists in their goals of spreading fear.

    Hippies and their ilk have turned "nuclear" into a boogieman, training over a generation to fear it's evil radioactive malevolence. All a "dirty bomb" has to do is tap into that field of fear. And that fear is dangerous enough. It causes economic damage, as well as physical harm when people panic. Law Enforcement gets overwhelmed and makes it a field day for all sorts of crooks. Panic in an urban environment is a very bad thing.

    Many scream of an "artificial atmosphere" of fear being created (by the Government, not by the guys who actually send the press releases and blow up kids in busses, but that's a different psychosis to address) but when Government does something to alleviate that (as the "elite" wish to believe) artificial fear, the same people do their best to eliminate it's effectiveness. Hmm-looks like it's not just Government who gets off on maintaining fear, eh?

  13. Jason Clery


    Reminds me of first year physics.

    We have all seen movies with liquid nitrogen, where things freeze on contact, people lose limbs, locks shatter after 3 seconds of spraying etc.

    Well, start by putting something cellulose in the liquid nitrogen, lecture for a bit, pull it out and shatter it on the desk. Then stick your hand in the stuff and throw it over the students who panic. Always good for a laugh.

    Your lecturer was "playing the game" in the same way with his students.

    Wheich reminds me, does anyone remember the program with the yank who managed to build a reactor in his back yard, with smoker detectors and clocks?

  14. Luther Blissett

    We should care

    Why should the spooks have for themselves the capacity for a radiological weapon?

    The technological imperative says that if you can do X, you should do X. And spooks get paid to conceive of Xs that you and I would not entertain for one moment except at the movies.

    As amanfromMars might ask, Hoo will spoOK the sPOOks xxx?

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. Gareth Lowe

    re: Trimphones

    Actually they have been rounding up Trimphones and disposing of the tritium. AEA do it at their Winfrith site.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Spooks hired a spin doctor?

    Is it just me, or are there an awful lot of stories coming out of MI5 these days. It sounds to me like they have got themselves a spin doctor to rev up their profile a bit.

    There was a story in the Times written by some hack who spent a day with MI5 riding around in a van with blacked out windows.

    Then we have the former head of MI5 has criticising the hit TV series Spooks saying it was damaging the reputation of the security services. I thought they did that well enough themselves, but hey Spooks is just a TV program, it's not REAL!

  18. grokker
    Black Helicopters

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

    I genuinely sometimes can't figure out when we slipped into this surreal fantasy land of being afraid of things that aren't there, although I can see how it makes sense to a government needing ever more alarming things to frighten people with to invent a threat and then save us from it rather than to actually tackle any of a number of real problems :)

    It all reminds me of a Roger Cook program in the early 90s when he mocked up the effect of the IRA (the terrorists du jour) planting a bomb on a train, and then ramped it up at the end by getting several 'experts' to proclaim how easily the IRA could get nuclear material from the former soviet union and detonate a portable nuclear bomb in the middle of London :o It was all suitably scary and doom laden and failed to ask the simple question 'if it's so easy, why haven't they already done it?'

  19. Anonymous Coward

    "Hippies ... turned "nuclear" into a boogieman"

    I think any reasonable person would find the nuclear industry has been turned into a dirty dangerous boogieman because of its own actions. Taking just the UK and ignoring TMI and Chernobyl and... there's the mostly-hushed-up-till-now Windscale fire, the Windscale/Sellafield sea discharges and inaccurate accounting, the unusable beaches round Dounreay due to radioactive particles, and many many more. I happen to have a little inside knowledge about software development processes in the industry; if they haven't improved, then it's a miracle nothing's gone disastrously out of control.

    Remember the post-Chernobyl radiation on the ground in Snowdonia, enough radiation to cause a ban in 1986 on the sale of Welsh hill lamb, a ban which was still in place almost two decades later (and may still apply, I haven't checked lately)? How many people with a clue really believe that the radiation leading to that ban was actually down to Chernobyl and not due to something closer to home, radiation which had simply been ignored till Chernobyl meant the men with Geiger counters had to be called in AND THE RESULTS PUBLISHED?

    Boogieman? Go to Wylfa nuclear power station visitor centre and watch the video intro like I did. If you have a clue about the relevant science, and if you can watch for more than two minutes without its lies and misrepresentations making you walk out (as I did), you're misunderstanding something.

    The nuclear industry's own people are the liars and boogiemen who were promising electricity so cheap that it wouldn't need electricity meters. We now know that was a lie, and we now know that the cleanup costs in the UK alone will be billions of pounds. The unforeseen (?) cleanup costs were enough to bankrupt the nuclear industry in the UK and the UK taxpayer will be paying for the clean up for decades if not centuries. And the industry's lies continue today.

    Boogieman? Check out the industry's record on unplanned downtime. They will tell you that wind power is unpredictable and unreliable, which is true. But is the nuclear industry's record of availability that much better?

    Boogieman? If the nuclear industry is safe, why will no commercial insurer touch it with a bargepole, insurers are experts on the economics of risk, so why does the taxpayer have to carry that burden?

    Atomkraft? Nein danke.

  20. peter

    Joined up thinking

    Why are the MOD selling portable X-ray machines (at 5 times real retail price btw) in their surplus auctions ?

    " Golden Inspector Model 200 & XR-150 WORKING CONDITION

    Babcock Disposal Services have available this Golden Inspector Model 200 & XR-150 Portable Xrays. This item is in working condition as we have had this checked out at our calibration Centre. These items are lightweight, completley portable and have the ability to penetrate 1/2 inch of steel. A large number of government agencies and private corporations are purchasing this item to screen mail, packages and shipments entering and leaving facilities."

    "This item comes in two suitcases that are very sturdy and foam packed."

  21. amanfromMars Silver badge

    @Spooks hired a spin doctor?

    Now there's a novelty.

  22. lglethal Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    £7 million... thats a bargain!

    Come on folks, how much money did each of the government departments just lose over the last year - a hell of a lot more then £7 million im sure. At least for this £7 million were getting something out of it! Good on em for doing something right!

    And a note for all the anti-nuclear campaigners - Uranium is radioactive when its in the ground. We're just lucky that it naturally forms a protective layer that stops the radiation from escaping. When we dig it out of the ground its still radioactive. When we use it in the reactor yep still radioactive. And when were finished with it, guess what? still radioactive! So why people dont like the idea of just burying it back underground is beyond me...

  23. Charles Pearmain

    7 million quid?

    Cheaper to pack the stuff into jiffy bags and get TNT to transfer it to the HMRC. Or does that only work one way?

  24. Aram

    Re: £7 million... thats a bargain!

    lglethal, there may be amounts of uranium dispersed around the place, but the clue is in the adjective I just used - dispersed. Once you dig it up and start concentrating it to make use of it everything gets more tricky.

    The risks associated with nuclear are too great for my liking. The economics simply doesn't work. Alternative forms of energy generation can be far more simply dismantled (i.e. a wind turbine), with nothing left behind, rather than a dangerous amount of crap we're currently incapable of dealing with. Don't worry about it, our kids will be able to work out what to do with cubic miles' worth of radioactive crap, shurely.

    I choose the skull & crossbones because the waste crap is dangerous now, just as it will be in >10,000 years' time.

  25. Chris

    Wait a minute..

    Didn't the The Reg themselves sell me a few viles containing the radioactive gas Tritium a few years ago?! Yes here's proof!

    And no checks made to check I wasn't a long bearded jehad screaming terrorist type, shame on you reg! I shall promptly dispose of all my tracer keyrings at the nearest MI5 collection point so I and everyone else can sleep better at night.

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