Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering

First Advisor

Braden Goddard


Nuclear terrorism has been a risk since the dawn of the first atomic bomb. Though state sponsored nuclear weapons development is of concern for countries, non-state sponsored terrorism with radiological material can be of even greater concern. This stems from the fact that the material is under less stringent or no safeguards and can readily change hands between different terrorist groups or innocent civilians may accidently come into contact with the material.

Within this paper an analysis of previous accidents using orphan radiological sources, malicious use of orphan radiological sources, and how these sources could be used by terrorists is analyzed. Literature pertaining to doses received during theoretical dirty bomb attacks is reviewed and compared to potential consequences to the human body.

With this review of literature complete, a methodology is created to generate realistic scenarios in which a non-conventional nuclear terrorist attack using radiological material could be carried out. These scenarios are re-created in MCNP models to quantify dose estimates civilians would receive. These scenarios include a source placed under a metro seat, a particulate source distributed in a children’s sandbox, a source placed in a government building waiting room, and a source placed in a bush next to a line at a theme park. These scenarios are designed to analyze changing different aspects of the situation to show how different sources, shielding, time, and placement could affect the dose and effectiveness of a terrorist attack. The scenarios showed that the individuals in the subway model and waiting room models received the highest dose with the sandbox model receiving the third highest dose and the theme park line receiving the lowest dose.

These results are later discussed and the potential impact an attack of this type could have to those exposed. This ranges from medical impacts, such as acute radiation sickness, birth defects, increased cancer rates, economic impacts to society, and civil turmoil from a distrustful public. Lastly, a means of countering such an attack is analyzed from detection to prevention. This in total provides a comprehensive review of how an attack could occur, motives for such an attack, the impact of said attack, and how to prevent or mitigate the consequences of the attack.


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