A Risk and Economic Analysis of Dirty Bomb Attacks on the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

Principal Investigator: Heather Rosoff

Other Investigators: Detlof von Winterfeldt


This paper analyzes possible terrorist attacks on the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach using a radiological dispersal device (dirty bomb) to shut down their operations and cause substantial economic and psychological impacts. Using risk and economic analysis methods, the paper first identifies the most likely attack scenarios in terms of sources of radiological material, delivery modes and detonation sites. For each of these scenarios, a project risk analysis is developed to determine the tasks terrorists would have to perform and the probability of the project’s success. Next, the consequences of a successful attack are described in terms of human health effects and economic losses. The main results show that the chances of a successful dirty bomb attack are lower than expected and the health consequences of even a major attack are relatively small. However, the economic consequences due to a shutdown of the harbors could be very large. Implications for detecting, intercepting and countering a dirty bomb attack are discussed.