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Radiological Dispersal Devices (RDD) / Dirty Bombs

Radiological dispersal devices (RDD), also known as "dirty bombs," consist of radioactive material combined with conventional explosives. They are designed to use explosive force to disperse the radioactive material over a large area, such as multiple city-blocks. Around the world, there are many sources of radioactive material that are not secure or not accounted for. Rogue nations and/or terrorist groups can obtain these materials for dirty bombs. These explosive weapons may initially kill a few people in the immediate area of the blast but are used primarily to produce psychological rather than physical harm by inducing panic and terror in the target population. Their use would also result in costly cleanup for decontamination.

The following questions link to information relevant to radiological dispersal devices (RDD)/dirty bombs.

OSHA Compliance


General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)

  • 1926.65, Hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER). Contains requirements relating to ionizing radiation at hazardous waste sites.

Federal Registers

US Department of Homeland Security (DHS)


Standard Interpretations

How will clean-up workers be protected?

What are dirty bombs and how are they hazardous?

  • Fact Sheet on Dirty Bombs. US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), (2010, August). Includes the following subsections: Background, Impact of a Dirty Bomb, Sources of Nuclear Material, Control of Nuclear Material, Increased Security of Nuclear Material, Response to a Dirty Bomb, and Federal Role.

  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Dirty Bombs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Emergency Preparedness & Response.

How will workers in the surrounding area be protected?

How will first responders be protected?

  • Working Group on Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) Preparedness. US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Medical Preparedness and Response Sub-Group, (2003, May 1). Medical treatment of radiological casualties.

  • Example Safety and Health Plans
    • Radiological Emergency Response Team. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Responds to emergencies involving releases of radioactive materials from incidents at nuclear power plants, to transportation accidents involving shipments of radioactive materials, to deliberate acts of nuclear terrorism.
    • US Department of Defense (DoD)

  • Survey instrumentation and personal monitoring

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Decontamination

  • Medical Surveillance

  • Key Elements of Preparing Emergency Responders for Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism. National Council for Radiation Protection & Measurements (NCRP) Commentary 19, (2005).

How will health care workers be protected?

  • Medical Management of Radiological Casualties Handbook, Online Fourth Edition. Military Medical Operations Office, Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, (2013, July). A supplement to the Medical Effects of Ionizing Radiation Course, offered by the US Department of Defense for training health-care professionals in the management of uncontrolled ionizing radiation exposure.

  • Initial Management of Irradiated or Radioactively Contaminated Personnel [4 MB PDF, 40 pages]. US Department of the Navy, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, (2003, September 26). Provides direction to the Medical Department, civilian medical personnel of the naval services and Navy and Marine Corps commands for the initial exposure assessment, management, and treatment of individuals who are irradiated or externally or internally radioactively contaminated.

What organizations and authorities are involved in RDD response?

What can be done to secure radioactive materials?

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Other Resources

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