Saturday 16th of January 2021

Adelaide-Dirty Bomb Research Centre

DSTO Media Release 21/8/07

The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO is researching the use of a novel technique to deal with the after-effects of incidents involving a dirty bomb

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, Mr Peter Lindsay, said the technique known as ‘luminescence’ would measure levels of radiation resulting from an explosion, so that appropriate treatment could be rendered to people affected by the incident. 

A dirty bomb is an explosive device containing radioactive material which disperses radiation on detonation. Its primary aim is to deliberately spread radioactive contamination unlike an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which is designed to cause damage through a blast effect.  

“DSTO is proactively developing ways of measuring radiation exposure because the amount of radiation will determine the type of treatment to be applied,” Mr Lindsay said.  “Getting an accurate reading of the radiation dose will directly help the recovery effort.” 

The method DSTO is developing is known as recombination luminescence which can measure the dose of radiation in common building materials affected by radioactive contamination.

DSTO scientist Dr Barnaby Smith said recombination luminescence measures electrons trapped in the crystal structure of building materials where they have been forced by exposure to radiation. “The number trapped is proportional to the radiation dose,” he said.

“Generally, the risk to health from radiation exposure is less than the public perception and lower than the risk of injuries from the blast,” Dr Smith said. “However, during an incident, public panic could exacerbate the crisis and even result in further casualties.”

He said dirty bombs were rightly referred to as weapons of ‘mass disruption’ rather than ‘mass destruction’. 

Mr Lindsay said while no known incidents of dirty bomb explosions had occurred overseas, Australia could not afford to take any chances. “Our defence scientists are working actively to ensure that we are suitably prepared to minimise the effects of such incidents.”

“DSTO and the University of Adelaide are working towards establishing a Centre of Expertise in Luminescence that will enhance national security capabilities in this area,” Mr Lindsay said.