[ RadSafe ] Colombia Backs Off “Dirty Bomb” Statement

Clayton J Bradt cjb01 at health.state.ny.us
Thu Mar 6 15:42:17 CST 2008

Colombia Backs Off “Dirty Bomb” Statement

The vice president of Colombia said yesterday he had not meant to suggest
during a speech that rebels battling his government were seeking a
radiological “dirty bomb,” the Associated Press reported (see GSN, March

Francisco Santos told the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Tuesday
that information taken from two computers indicated that the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Columbia was seeking radioactive material, “the primary
basis of generating dirty weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.”  His
statement was widely reported as alleging that the leftist rebel group
wanted a weapon that would combine conventional explosives with radioactive

However, Santos told AP that the computer information indicated the rebels’
interest in uranium rather than their intent to develop a radiological

“What I said was, ‘Take note.  To put the FARC and the word uranium in the
same sentence is to make anyone’s hair stand up,” he said.  “Don’t take it

An FBI spokesman said the agency has “no information or intelligence
regarding the FARC attempting to use WMD.”

One laptop computer recovered during a Colombian military raid on a FARC
site in Ecuador included a document on “the matter of the uranium.”  It
seemingly indicated that the rebel group had the opportunity to buy 50
kilograms or more of uranium.

The computer and other sources have offered no additional indication that
the group wants to acquire radioactive material or weapons of mass
destruction.  It is also not obvious that FARC commander Edgar Tovar is
discussing uranium in the document, AP reported.  Santos said, though, that
“this sounds like processed uranium.”

Processed uranium is more expensive and more dangerous than the relatively
safe unprocessed form of the material, said Charles Ferguson, a physicist
at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“If it were weapon-grade, highly enriched uranium, I’d be freaking out
because you can make a low-yield improvised nuclear device from that,” he
said.  However, “I’m not aware of any highly enriched uranium in
appreciable quantities in the region of Colombia, Venezuela or anywhere
else near there” (Frank Bajak, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, March 5).
The Colombian government must be monitoring RADSAFE.

Clayton J. Bradt
dutchbradt at hughes.net
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