In an effort to justify escalating its conflict against its neighbor, Russia accuses Ukraine of preparing to use a “dirty bomb.” Kyiv and its Western allies reject this claim as a false flag operation.
A dirty bomb is a weapon that combines radioactive material like uranium with ordinary explosives like dynamite. As it is intended more to incite fear and panic than to destroy any military target, it is frequently described as a weapon for terrorists rather than for nations.
The claims made by Moscow have been frequently refuted by Ukrainian officials, who have also invited UN inspectors to their country to demonstrate that they “have nothing to hide.”
Here’s what you need to know.
What does Russia claim?
Without providing any evidence, Moscow claims there are scientific institutions in Ukraine housing the technology needed to create a dirty bomb – and accuses Kyiv of planning to use it.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a briefing on October 24 that it has information that shows Kyiv is planning a provocation related to the detonation of a dirty bomb.
“The purpose of this provocation is to accuse Russia of using weapons of mass destruction in the Ukrainian theater of operations and thereby launch a powerful anti-Russian campaign in the world aimed at undermining confidence in Moscow,” claimed Igor Kirillov, chief of Russia’s Radiation, Chemical, and Biological Protection Forces.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the claim in a call with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on October 23, according to a US official familiar with the conversation.
Shoigu also made similar comments to his French and British counterparts.
Following a closed-door UN Security Council meeting on October 25, Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN told reporters that he told the Council his nation believes there are two facilities in Ukraine potentially working on constructing a dirty bomb.
How has the world responded?
Russia’s allegations have been strongly refuted by Ukraine, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and NATO, which have in turn accused Moscow of trying to launch its own false-flag operation.
“Everyone understands everything well, understands who is the source of everything dirty that can be imagined in this war,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on October 23.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog said on October 24 that it will send inspectors to visit two nuclear locations in Ukraine after receiving a request to do so from authorities in Kyiv.
The IAEA did not give the location of the two sites.
In a tweet on October 24, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “Unlike Russia, Ukraine has always been and remains transparent.”
Is a dirty bomb a nuclear weapon?
The blast from a dirty bomb is generated by conventional explosives.
The blast from a nuclear weapon can flatten entire cities.
For instance, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 obliterated 2.6 square miles (6.2 square kilometers) of the city, according to ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
The conventional explosives in a dirty bomb may only flatten or damage a few buildings.
Meanwhile, the mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion could cover tens to hundreds of square miles, spreading fine particles of nuclear material – radioactive fallout – over that area, DHS says.
Has a dirty bomb ever been used?
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Chechen militants attempted to detonate one in a Moscow park in 1995 but were unsuccessful.
There have been rumors that terrorist groups like al Qaeda or ISIS have constructed or attempted to construct a dirty bomb, but none have ever gone off.
Is the nuclear material in a dirty bomb deadly?
It is doubtful that a dirty bomb could deliver high enough radiation levels “to inflict acute health consequences or fatalities in a large number of individuals,” according to the DHS.
The Texas Department of State Health Services explains why.
Large amounts of shielding from lead or steel would be required to produce a dirty bomb that could deliver lethal dosages of radiation, it claims, in order to prevent the material from killing its creators during production.
According to the Texas state agency, adopting such shielding material would make the bomb heavy and difficult to transport or deploy, likely needing heavy equipment and remote handling tools, and it would restrict how far the radiation could spread.
What about radiation exposure?
According to Texas health services, exposure levels from a dirty bomb’s radiation would be comparable to those from dental X-rays.
It’s similar to smashing a rock. The department notes that if someone were to throw a big rock at you, it would probably hurt and could hurt you physically. “The chances of it doing you any serious damage are substantially reduced if they take the identical rock and break it up into grains of sand and then they hurl the sand at you.”
The DHS states that cumulative radiation exposure has an impact on how severe radiation illness is. Simple preventative actions like leaving the area can be used.
Walking even a short distance from the explosion’s site could offer significant protection because the dose rate dramatically decreases the more you are from the source, according to DHS.
The DHS advises that people cover their noses and mouths to prevent inhaling radiation, go inside to avoid a dust cloud, throw away their garments in a plastic bag, and then gently wash their skin to eliminate contaminants.
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