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Dirty Bomb

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Conventional explosives used to scatter radioactive materials over a large area.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
ElodieHiras on Sep 17th 2016 at 4:27:14 PM
Last Edited By:
AM_NK on yesterday
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

To-Do and Metadata (?)

Trope

Also known as "Radiological Bombs", Dirty Bombs are non-nuclear devices with radiological material added to them. These bombs show up in many pieces of media involving The War on Terror and are based on a pretty simple concept: detonating explosives in order to spread radioactive materials over a large area.

The main effect of a radiological bomb is psychological, as most people are afraid or anything radiation related, though it would require thorough decontamination of the affected area, which takes time and resources. As a trope/plot device, this particular kind of hazard would be used to increase the stakes, and for the Ripped from the Headlines kind of excitement.

In Real Life radiological bombs are Awesome, but Impractical. As weapons of mass disruption, their main purpose is to scare people, as the actual process of spreading radioactive material through an area is just highly inefficient and hard to evenly spread out in any manner where the material would affect large populations in any serious manner. In fiction, however, these bombs are very powerful and intimidating, to say the least.

Subtrope of Trick Bomb. Not to be confused with either the stink bomb, which is chemical in nature but has no radioactive component, nor with the nuclear bomb, whose examples can be found in Nuke 'em, nor with salted bombs, which are atomic devices designed to spread more radiological material than usual rather than for destruction.


Examples

Anime & Manga
  • Throughout Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, Section 9 and other Japanese law enforcement agencies scramble to prevent the Individual Eleven and militant refugees from using dirty bombs as part of their terrorist agenda. One such dirty bomb was located in downtown Nagasaki, which forced the city to be evacuated under martial law. S9 learns that the bomb there is planted by the Japanese Government's Central Intelligence Service, who had their own agenda to place the blame on refugees living in Dejima.

Film

  • In Goldfinger, Auric Goldfinger's scheme is to use an explosive to irradiate the gold at Fort Knox, all to increase the value of his own personal gold stockpile. In a case of Artistic License Nuclear Physics, he uses a salted nuke (which realistically would have reduced Fort Knox to a crater) rather than a proper dirty bomb.
  • In Halo: Nightfall, a Sangheili extremist attacks a shopping mall on Sedra with a transuranic element that acts similarly to a dirty bomb, releasing radiation that poisons and kills surrounding people seemingly at random.
  • In Gaiji Keisatsu Black Dawn, Japanese and South Korean law enforcement/intelligence agencies are forced to work together after North Korean terrorists were reported to be last seen sneaking in and out of Fukushima in order to secure Japanese-made tech and information related to nuclear science left behind in the region after the Fukushima earthquake in order to help expedite the construction of a dirty bomb in the Korean Peninsula. The ending of the movie suggests that the head of the National Intelligence Service is willing to let the North Koreans activate their bomb before they're taken out at the last minute in order to support hardline policies against Pyongyang.

Literature

  • Michael Connelly novel The Overlook has Harry Bosch investigate the murder of a man who handles radioactive material meant for medical use. When Harry and his partner find out that the man just withdrew a bunch of radioactive material at the behest of terrorists who kidnapped his wife, the FBI takes charge and it becomes a counterterrorism investigation of a "dirty bomb" plot.

Live-Action TV

  • The bread and butter of 24. By the time Season 6 has rolled around, there are six dirty bombs that need to be found and neutralized, and they fail on at least one of them.
  • Blindspot: "Split the Law" features not only a radiological bomb, but a bomb-maker as well. (His accomplices are shown to be dying of radiation poisoning, and the FBI agents tasked with tracking down the bomb are given radiation monitors and told about the risks of extended exposure to radiation.)
  • Castle: The season 3 episode "Countdown" has the NYPD desperately trying to find one before it goes off. When Beckett & Castle find it, the obvious big red timer is counting down with less than a minute to go, and it's going to take five minutes for the bomb squad to make it through traffic. At 0:01, Castle yanks out all the wires, pointing out that one of them had to be the right one.
  • An episode in CSI: Miami has the team trying to prevent one from being detonated.
  • Madam Secretary: In "Left of the Boom", Hizb al-Shahid (a Daesh clone) steals spent uranium from Moldova and uses it in a suicide-bombing of an Muslim girls' education conference in Virginia. Henry McCord suffers radiation poisoning but survives. The rest of the season deals with the fallout from the attack, with Henry working on a task force to counter HS.
  • One first-season episode of Nikita has a Mle Trois develop between Division, its Russian counterpart Gogol, and Nikita and her ally CIA analyst Ryan Fletcher, over a dirty bomb. Nikita ultimately tricks Gogol into taking a Fakin' MacGuffin away from her, letting Fletcher hand over the bomb to the CIA.
  • The 7th season of Strike Back (aka Revolution) has a nuclear missile missing from a Russian Tu-160 thanks to a rogue airman, which is sent from Malaysia to India, where the payload is disassembled to portable nukes for a potential dirty bomb attack.
  • S.W.A.T. (2017) has the episode "The B-Team" where the LAPD and FBI are working together to hunt down a radical faction of the Okinawan independence movement since they wanted to use a dirty bomb against USFJ bases for the crimes committed by USFJ military and civilian personnel against the local populace with assistance from a corrupt research assistant from a research center who was Only in It for the Money.

Video Games

  • Command & Conquer: Generals: The GLA uses anthrax instead of radiation, but the effect is the same: a cloud of near-instadeath to infantry, while vehicles last only slightly longer. Their Bomb Trucks can be upgraded to do more damage, leave a cloud of anthrax, or both.
  • Detroit: Become Human: An android steals a truck loaded with radioactive cobalt, wires it up to explode, then gives the remote detonator to Markus, leader of the android rights movement. Significantly, this bomb could make all of Detroit uninhabitable for humans, but the radiation would pose no threat to the androids. It's up to the player whether Markus sets off the bomb or not—if you do, it results in a Bolivian Army Ending where the US President declares this the start of an all-out war against the androids.
  • The Excuse Plot of Dirty Bomb explains not only why massive areas of London are deserted but also provides a battlefield hazard to avoid.

Feedback: 43 replies

Sep 18th 2016 at 2:42:24 AM

OP/ElodieHiras: do you have any examples of this trope in works of fiction?

Sep 18th 2016 at 2:49:02 AM

I'd say keep this d/l for a while, given its absolutely horrible timing. And rename it.

Sep 18th 2016 at 4:04:54 AM

I remember an example in CSI Miami where the team had to prevent one from being detonated (don't remember which episode though), and it's in the Excuse Plot of the video game named Dirty Bomb to explain not only why massive areas of London are deserted but also provide a battlefield hazard to avoid, and as for renaming the trope, well it's more well known as a dirty bomb than by the proper name radiological bomb, but those are the two commonly used names for it.

Sep 18th 2016 at 7:55:45 AM

Not to be confused with Cluster F Bomb, a different kind of "dirty" bomb.

Sep 18th 2016 at 2:00:30 PM

  • Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken:
    The Washington Times quoted a Matt Drudge story titled "White House Offices Left Trashed: Porn Bombs, Lewd Messages." Unlike Matt Drudge, I've never experienced a porn bombing. I can only imagine that a porn bomb is a form of "dirty bomb," consisting of a conventional explosive surrounded by a thick coating of dirty books and pictures. When the bomb goes off, the filth, either images or bits of text, could contaminate schoolyards, churches, and even John Ashcroft's prayer meeting.

Sep 19th 2016 at 11:51:22 AM

Might mention that, as a trope/plot device, this particular kind of hazard would be used to increase the stakes, and for the "ripped from the headlines" kind of excitement.

  • {Series/Castle} The season 3 episode "Countdown" has the NYPD desperately trying to find one before it goes off. When Beckett & Castle find it, the obvious big red timer is counting down with less than a minute to go, and it's going to take five minutes for the bomb squad to make it through traffic. At 0:01, Castle yanks out all the wires, pointing out that one of them had to be the right one.

Sep 20th 2016 at 3:01:32 PM

Live Action TV: Blindspot episode 5 features not only a radiological bomb, but a bomb-maker as well. (His accomplices are shown to be dying of radiation poisoning, and the FBI agents tasked with tracking down the bomb are given radiation monitors and told about the risks of extended exposure to radiation.)

Sep 23rd 2016 at 7:13:11 AM

Isn't there a Franchise/James Bond movie where the villain planned to detonate a dirty bomb on Fort Knox to contaminate the gold there, causing his own stockpile of gold to skyrocket in value? Not sure about this one.

And that Al Franken quote sounds like a Parodied Trope, given how absurd it is. :P

Sep 23rd 2016 at 1:30:27 PM

^ I believe the bond example was a salted nuke (similar to the doomsday device in Dr. Strangelove), which is a nuclear bomb and not a conventional explosive. Apparently the film makers overlooked the fact that a nuclear bomb would not only make the gold radioactive, but also replace Fort Knox with a big empty crater.

Sep 24th 2016 at 11:26:00 PM

Command And Conquer Generals: The GLA use anthrax instead of radiation, but the effect is the same: a cloud of near-instadeath to infantry, while vehicles last only slightly longer. Their Bomb Trucks can be upgraded to do more damage, leave a cloud of anthrax, or both.

Sep 25th 2016 at 7:19:15 PM

Do we have a trope for chemical warfare?

Compare Dung Fu, another kind of "dirty" bombing

Jan 10th 2018 at 2:40:48 PM

Live-Action TV

  • The bread and butter of Twenty Four. By the time Season 6 has rolled around, there are six dirty bombs that need to be found and neutralized, and they fail on at least one of them.

Jan 10th 2018 at 5:45:48 PM

Literature

  • Michael Connelly novel The Overlook has Harry Bosch investigate the murder of a man who handles radioactive material meant for medical use. When Harry and his partner find out that the man just withdrew a bunch of radioactive material at the behest of terrorists who kidnapped his wife, the FBI takes charge and it becomes a counterterrorism investigation of a "dirty bomb" plot.

Jan 10th 2018 at 8:14:03 PM

Does this cover "stink bombs"?

Jan 11th 2018 at 2:40:40 AM

^ No. A stink bomb is chemical in nature. They have no radioactive component.

Aug 13th 2018 at 10:00:42 AM

In the Fallout universe, this type of bomb seems to be the primary WMD of at least China, and possibly the United States as well. Although large portions of the United States have reached livable levels of radiation, areas directly hit by the bombs are still extremely radioactive over two hundred years after the war.

Aug 13th 2018 at 10:04:21 AM

Would a bomb that ends up spreading a zombie infection count under this? If so, then Dead Rising would definitely qualify, because Carlito attempts to use a set of explosives to blow up the wilamette mall, and if he succeeds the resulting explosion causes the zombie infection to spread across the globe.

Aug 13th 2018 at 1:21:19 PM

^ It's Up For Grabs, so I guess that decision falls to whoever (if anyone) decides to take over. I'd say being a bit more general wouldn't hurt, though.

Aug 16th 2018 at 11:35:00 PM

  • Detroit Become Human: An android steals a truck loaded with radioactive cobalt, wires it up to explode, then gives the remote detonator to Markus, leader of the android rights movement. Significantly, this bomb could make all of Detroit uninhabitable for humans, but the radiation would pose no threat to the androids. It's up to the player whether Markus sets off the bomb or not—if you do, it results in a Bolivian Army Ending where the US President declares this the start of an all-out war against the androids.

Sep 6th 2018 at 12:12:21 PM

Bump. If it's still Up For Grabs, I would like to take control of it.

Sep 6th 2018 at 12:57:03 PM

I think the James Bond example ought to count. Just mention that it's a severe case of Artistic License Nuclear Physics.

  • In Goldfinger, Auric Goldfinger's scheme is to use an explosive to irradiate the gold at Fort Knox, all to increase the value of his own personal gold stockpile. In a case of Artistic License Nuclear Physics, he uses a salted nuke (which realistically would have reduced Fort Knox to a crater) rather than a proper dirty bomb.

Sep 6th 2018 at 2:13:07 PM

Well, added then.

I'm inclined to change the title to "Radiological Bomb" withd "also known as Dirty Bomb" as the first phrase of the article. But I don't know what people think about that, so I've opened a crowner:

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/crowner.php/AlternativeTitles/DirtyBomb

Sep 6th 2018 at 3:23:01 PM

You'll want to add a note about the crowner in the title or laconic and link it in the laconic or the top of the draft.

Sep 6th 2018 at 6:55:57 PM

There should be mention in the description that radiological bombs are Awesome But Impractical. As mentioned, the main purpose is to scare people, as the actual process of spreading radioactive material through an area is just highly inefficient and hard to evenly spread out in any manner where the material would affect large populations in any serious manner.

Sep 15th 2018 at 8:20:55 AM

Should be noted that Dirty Bombs are considered Weapons of Mass Disruption instead of Destruction. See DRCEQ statement above as to why.

Sep 16th 2018 at 9:42:08 AM

Fallout isn't an example; they use regular nukes and hefty amounts of Artistic License Nuclear Physics.

Film:

  • In Halo Nightfall, a Sangheili extremist attacks a shopping mall on Sedra with a transuranic element that acts similarly to a dirty bomb, releasing radiation that poisons and kills surrounding people seemingly at random.

TV:

  • Madam Secretary: In "Left of the Boom", Hizb al-Shahid (a Daesh clone) steals spent uranium from Moldova and uses it in a suicide-bombing of an Muslim girls' education conference in Virginia. Henry McCord suffers radiation poisoning but survives. The rest of the season deals with the fallout from the attack, with Henry working on a task force to counter HS.

Sep 23rd 2018 at 8:35:18 AM

Bump. Added examples and corrections from Star Sword.

Sep 27th 2018 at 6:24:25 PM

TV:

  • One first-season episode of Nikita has a Melee A Trois develop between Division, its Russian counterpart Gogol, and Nikita and her ally CIA analyst Ryan Fletcher, over a dirty bomb. Nikita ultimately tricks Gogol into taking a Fakin Mac Guffin away from her, letting Fletcher hand over the bomb to the CIA.

Jan 24th 2019 at 5:51:53 PM

I voted in the title crowner.

Jan 25th 2019 at 12:30:15 PM

If people would leave a comment saying that they voted after voting in the title crowner, that would be great.

Jan 27th 2019 at 5:52:01 AM

It seems that the trope will be named "Dirty Bomb" after all.

Still, I'll wait until it reaches 10 hats before launching. In case there's something left to be done for the trope.

Jan 27th 2019 at 1:55:18 PM

^ No, still too early to tell. How Crowners Work says that the minimum amount of votes is usually 10-15 combined votes for the option with the most votes cast.

Jan 27th 2019 at 9:35:09 PM

  • In the season finale (4th season) of RUSH, the Tactical Response Team works with the rest of the Victoria Police Force in evacuating Melbourne and secure a nuclear bomb made from Russian-made material. The culprit is the South Korean-based cult known as The Church of the Shining Cloud. The suspect is a Japanese-Australian who can speak Korean.


  • The episode "Containment" in SEAL Team has Bravo Team deployed on a mission to secure nuclear waster somewhere in the rural areas of Ukraine to prevent it from being sold to the black market. They later find out that it's actually decommissioned nukes with warheads that are set to go off if something happens to it.


  • Throughout Ghost in the Shell: 2nd Gig, Section 9 and other Japanese law enforcement agencies scramble to prevent the Individual Eleven and militant refugees from using dirty bombs as part of their terrorist agenda. One such dirty bomb was located in downtown Nagasaki, which forced the city to be evacuated under martial law. S9 learns that the bomb there is planted by pro-CIS forces meant to blame it on refugees living in Dejima.


  • In Gaiji Keisatsu Black Dawn, Japanese and South Korean law enforcement/intelligence agencies are forced to work together after North Korean terrorists were reported to be last seen sneaking in and out of Fukushima in order to secure Japanese-made tech left and information related to nuclear science behind in the region after the Fukushima earthquake to help expedite the construction of a dirty bomb in the Korean Peninsula. The ending of the movie suggests that the head of the National Intelligence Service is willing to let the North Koreans activate their bomb before they're taken out at the last minute in order to support hardline policies against Pyongyang.

Feb 9th 2019 at 9:49:01 PM

Feb 11th 2019 at 8:06:03 AM

Adding.

People, we need votes for the Crowner!

Feb 12th 2019 at 5:29:50 AM

  • The 7th season of Strike Back (aka Revolution) has a nuclear missile missing from a Russian Tu-160 thanks to a rogue airman, which is sent from Malaysia to India, where the payload is disassembled to portable nukes for a potential dirty bomb attack.

Feb 12th 2019 at 8:06:50 AM

Hmmm. I just read that wiki article on Salted Bombs, and it makes a pretty big distinction.

Salted Bombs are atomic devices designed to spread more radiological material than usual rather than for destruction, but Dirty Bombs are just non-nuclear devices with radiological material added to them.

Perhaps we should make that distinction in the description.

yesterday

Ominae, we're not talking about nuclear bombs in this article. That's Nuke Em.

As for the rest, adding those that fit the trope, and the distinction which DRCEQ mentioned.

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