There is an increasing and credible concern of terrorism threats at the Sochi Olympics during February 6-23. They are looking for ‘black widow’ female suicide bombers; there have been threats from militant groups made by video, etc., all of which have triggered a massive Russian security response ahead of the Games.
The fact that Sochi is near Chechnya raises particular concerns, given that the Chechen leader Doku Umarov has encouraged Islamic militants to disrupt the Olympics.
Here’s why a Dirty Bomb is a credible threat at the Sochi Olympics…
There are fears of suicide conventional bombing, and there are far more troubling fears that any of these groups might attempt to use radioactive materials to bring tragedy and chaos to the Olympics.
According to a report from the Federation of American Scientists,
Chechens have been responsible for some of the earliest uses of radioactive material, starting from the placement of a small cesium 137 source in a Moscow park in the mid-1990s and there have been repeated threats and reports of Chechen groups intent to use radioactive material in a Radioactive Dispersal Device (RDD), particularly the threat to use explosives to carry out the dispersal, creating a “Dirty Bomb.”
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, various sorts of radioactive material has been out of control in Chechnya and it is certainly possible that militant groups might possess amounts of radioactive material.
While conventional explosives are readily available, is it reasonable to suspect that any of these groups would use radioactive material against the Sochi Olympics if they possessed it?
The Olympics is an extremely visible target, and is even more tempting given that Russian President Putin has made his personal reputation an issue.
The major media will be hard pressed not discuss the the threat of radioactive materials at a major event. One reason: Panic.
Having said that, if a Dirty Bomb were to go off at the Olympics in Sochi, while there would be loss of life from the conventional explosion, a dirty bomb is NOT a nuclear bomb. The radiation dose probably would not have near-term fatalities associated with it, although there would certainly be a cleanup and decontamination problem.
The real problem would be panic. Public and media reaction would be immense. Panicked people scrambling to leave the venues and region would create follow-on chaos and disruption that may take even more lives. The Olympic Games would probably be totally cancelled. The world’s reaction will be unpredictable and even dangerous.
One would assume that Russian security has put in place contingency plans for a Dirty Bomb situation, but one does not know how effective such plans might turn out.
In the end, the motivations and apparent opportunities exist there for suicidal (or not) terrorists to set off a Dirty Bomb at an Olympic venue while the world looks on in horror.