Preventing a Dirty Bomb: Resources for Hospitals and Research Centers

Hospitals and research centers around the United States—and around the world—are addressing security, safety and liability concerns by replacing blood irradiators that use cesium-137 with FDA-approved x-ray technology. NTI provides resources to prepare you to join them, with answers to technical questions and information on how to get financial support to take this important step.

Why Take This Step? 

The ingredients for a radiological “dirty bomb” – among them, the same isotopes that make life saving blood transfusions and cancer treatments possible – are located at thousands of sites in more than 150 countries.

Experts believe that the probability of a terrorist detonating a dirty bomb is much higher than that of an improvised nuclear weapon. Radical terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State have said they are looking to acquire and use radioactive material in a dirty bomb.

A radioactive dirty bomb could cause billions of dollars of damage due to the costs of evacuation, relocation, and cleanup. A dirty bomb that intentionally spreads cesium-137, a common isotope found in blood irradiators, would have the most devastating consequences.

Join New York and California to Eliminate Threats


In October 2017, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced a first-of-its-kind, innovative program to replace high-activity radiological sources with effective alternative equipment at hospitals, medical facilities and blood banks throughout New York City. NTI was a partner in this effort that also included the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Mount Sinai Health System and the U.S. Department of Energy.

We’ve also helped organize workshops in California, with the State of California to devise strategies to secure and/or replace high-activity radiological sources that could be stolen and used to build radioactive “dirty bombs.”

Emory University Hospital received the "Medical Innovation Award" at the Nuclear Industry Summit for its efforts to help reduce radiological threats. 

These hospitals and city and state agencies have recognized the importance of taking this step for their safety, security and liability. 


Safe and Effective Alternatives  

In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of non-radioactive x-ray devices for sterilizing blood that provide the same medical outcomes as cesium-137 blood irradiators. As of 2015, two types of these devices are available with a typical cost of approximately $270,000 per unit.

The x-ray units require far less security and shielding, eliminate liability, and do not require expensive disposal at the end of the machine’s life-cycle.

Replacement to x-ray technology also protects hospitals that don’t have insurance to cover terrorism losses; otherwise, there is a possibility of financial devastation from having to pay huge damages in the wake of a dirty bomb attack using hospital materials.

A Department of Energy (DoE) cost-sharing incentive program, the Cesium Irradiator Replacement Project (CIRP) - encourages the move away from cesium-137 irradiators. 


Next Steps

Learn More

A 1-minute introductory video about the Office of Radiological Security and how it works to prevent high-activity radiological materials from being used in acts of terrorism.

A 20-minute overview about the current risks and vulnerabilities associated with high radioactive sources, including cesium-137. 

A 24-minute presentation about alternative technologies and how to get funding for replacement of blood irradiators using cesium-137 technology.

A 30-minute case study about the University of Southern California’s switch from cesium-137 to x-ray technology. 


A 14-minute presentation about Mount Sinai Medical Center's experience in reducing and removing the risk of malicious use of high activity radioactive sources. Read the 10-page paper on Mount Sinai's experience here


About NTI’s Work to Reduce Radiological Risks

The Nuclear Threat Initiative works globally with governments and industry on strategies to better secure and eliminate dangerous radiological materials. Our initiative to eliminate cesium-137 blood irradiators is one element of our program to reduce radiological risks. We work with international advisors to develop recommendations, strengthen the international regulatory framework around radiological sources, encourage voluntary actions, accelerate the development of alternative technologies, and strengthen the role of the private sector. NTI also tracks countries’ progress in securing and eliminating sources, works with hospitals in the United States, and works with other key stakeholders to promote alternative technologies. 

February 22, 2018
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Hospitals and research centers around the United States—and around the world—are addressing security, safety and liability concerns by replacing blood irradiators that use cesium-137 with FDA-approved x-ray technology. NTI provides resources to prepare hospitals to take this step, with answers to technical questions and information on how to get financial support.