September 18, 2012

Romney confused about “dirty bombs”

It’s hard to know where to begin when pointing out flaws in Mitt Romney’s recent comments on Iran’s nuclear program. A secretly recorded video, which was released by Mother Jones early this morning, portrays Mr. Romney channeling his inner role-playing geek, playing the part of Iran:

If I were Iran, if I were Iran—a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we’ll just say, “Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we’re going to let off a dirty bomb.” I mean this is where we have—where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people. So we really don’t have any option but to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

As many have pointed out, “fissile material,” or the uranium that Iran is enriching, is an incredibly poor material for a dirty bomb. It released its radiation incredibly slowly, meaning that you’d need to vaporize well over one thousand metric tons to contaminate Manhattan. To put that in perspective, according to the latest IAEA figures, in the past decade Iran has accumulated less than 7 metric tons of LEU, or .4% of what they’d need.  Clearly Mr. Romney is confusing the science.
More seriously, he’s also jumbling the policy. In the Congressional Research Service’s briefing regarding dirty bombs, they never mention national nuclear programs as a concern. Instead, they focus on the “over 100 countries in 1999 were ‘known or thought to lack effective control over radiation sources and radioactive materials.’”
Unfortunately, the United States is one of those 100 countries. The Government Accountability Office just released a report saying that “nearly four out of five high-risk hospitals nationwide have failed to implement safeguards to secure radiological material that could be used in a “dirty bomb.”
They go on, mentioning a hospital that kept cesium-137, a material commonly cited as a dirty bomb risk, “in a padlocked room, with the combination to the lock written on the door frame in a busy hallway.” Another hospital couldn’t tell how many people had access to its radioactive material “because the computer program that tracked comings and goings didn’t count beyond 500.”  From the sound of it, these sites are about as private as a Mitt Romney fundraiser.
If Mr. Romney wanted to talk about Iran, he could have discussed the concern of how to ensure an enrichment program never becomes a weapons program. If he wanted to talk about dirty bombs, he should have started with our hospitals.

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