Wed, Nov 26, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Army warns of threat of `dirty bombs'

NATIONAL DEFENSE `Unrestricted warfare' as espoused by China could involve the use of nuclear or biochemical weapons in all their various forms

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan is unprepared for a non-conventional attack by China involving nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, the army said yesterday.

"China has been emphasizing the importance of `unrestricted warfare' in the future battlefield," said Major General Huang Hsi (黃喜), director of the chemical department of the army general headquarters, referring to a form a warfare that seeks to destabilize a militarily superior foe.

"The use of nuclear and biochemical weapons is among the methods of conducting unrestricted warfare," he said.

"In response to this type of threat, the army will seek to enhance its capabilities against non-conventional warfare such as unrestricted warfare," Huang said.

Huang made the remarks yesterday at a regular press conference of the Ministry of National Defense as he briefed the press on the army's development of countermeasures against nuclear and biochemical attacks.

Huang singled out the possibility of such attacks by China, a scenario that most military leaders do not want to discuss in public.

Given that the majority of military leaders are ethnic mainlanders, they are usually unwilling to admit the possibility that people of the same blood on the other side of the Taiwan Strait might use such weapons against them.

Huang called attention to the "dirty bomb," a cheap and easy-to-make weapon that China might use before launching wide-ranging non-conventional attacks.

The "dirty bomb" is conventional explosives mixed with radioactive material. There is no nuclear fission or fusion, but the radioactive material is dispersed by the conventional explosives, contaminating a wide area and causing panic.

Huang said the US military had conducted an exercise in May to simulate the impact of a "dirty bomb." Taiwan's military has made a computer simulation of a similar scenario, he said.

"The results of the US exercise show that although no immediate casualties will occur in the wake of a dirty bomb explosion, it can still produce some radioactive fallout that will affect the health of people in the explosion area and pollute the whole environment," Huang said.

"The power of a dirty bomb depends on the amount of radioactive material it contains. A small dirty bomb, for instance, can affect several wards of residents in Taipei," he said. Such a bomb might contain 1kg of radioactive material.

The number of victims could be tens of thousands if the bomb drops into a densely-populated region such as Taipei's Wanhua district around the Presidential Office.

"The US exercise tells us that 160 shelters and 50 medical centers need to be set up to cope with a dirty bomb attack," Huang said.

National Defense Medical College executive dean Colonel Liu Hwang-wun (劉鴻文), who also attended the press conference, said the military currently has only limited ability in handling such attacks.

"We can treat affected people and decontaminate polluted areas but only in a limited way," Liu said.

"As yet, the government has not assigned any department to handle the possibility of dirty-bomb attacks. The military has no guiding principles to follow except those for countermeasures against nuclear and biochemical attacks," he said.

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