While dirty bombs can spread radiation within a small location, they can also spread fear beyond. And, ironically, materials may be available locally. Federal agents and NYPD detectives closed down West 12th Street the week of June 28. They entered a building and worked through the night as counterterrorism detectives stood watch. Their mission was to unbolt a 4,000-pound, lead-lined piece of equipment with enough radioactive material in it to make it a “dirty bomb” concern. Their location was at St. Vincent’s Hospital. The officials placed the cesium-137 blood irradiator inside an 8-foot-tall hazardous-materials cylinder and loaded in onto a tractor trailer. Then the semi, flanked by federal escort vehicles, set off on a secret cross-country trip. It was not until they reached the storage facility in the “southwestern part of the country” two days later that officials were given the OK to talk about the mission. The big concern, according to a National Nuclear Security Administration official, is that the cesium, in the wrong hands, could potentially be used to make a “radiological dispersal device,” or left in a place where a large number of people could be exposed to it. The efforts at St. Vincent’s were unique, according to agency officials, because unlike most of the facilities using radioactive materials in the city, the hospital’s forced closure meant that something had to be done to secure the radioactive cesium, about the size of a soda can, inside the machine.
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