Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Nuclear attack on D.C. a hypothetical disaster

By Gary Emerling
April 16, 2008

A nuclear device detonated near the White House would kill roughly 100,000 people and flatten downtown federal buildings, while the radioactive plume from the explosion would likely spread toward the Capitol and into Southeast D.C., contaminating thousands more.

The blast from the 10-kiloton bomb — similar to the bomb dropped over Hiroshima during World War II — would kill up to one in 10 tourists visiting the Washington Monument and send shards of glass flying the length of the National Mall, in a scenario that has become increasingly likely to occur in a major U.S. city in recent years, panel members told a Senate committee yesterday.

"It's inevitable," said Cham E. Dallas, director of the Institute for Health Management and Mass Destruction Defense at the University of Georgia, who has charted the potential explosion's effect in the District and testified before a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. "I think it's wistful to think that it won't happen by 20 years."

The Senate committee has convened a series of hearings to examine the threat and effects of a terrorist nuclear attack on a U.S. city, as well as the needed response.

Yesterday's panel stressed the importance of state and local cooperation with federal authorities in the wake of an attack, assistance from the private business sector to aid recovery and the dire need to boost the capabilities of area hospitals.

They recommended expanding emergency personnel by training physicians like pharmacists and dentists to aid in all-hazards care, monitoring the exposure of first responders to radiation and clearly disseminating information to the public.

"The scenarios we discuss today are very hard for us to contemplate, and so emotionally traumatic and unsettling that it is tempting to push them aside," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and committee chairman. "However, now is the time to have this difficult conversation, to ask the tough questions, and then to get answers as best we can and take preparatory and preventive action."

Ashton B. Carter, co-director of the Preventive Defense Project at Harvard University, said the likelihood of a nuclear attack on U.S. soil is undetermined, but it has increased with the proliferation of weapons by Iran and North Korea and the failure to secure Russia's nuclear arsenal following the Cold War.

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