What is a dirty bomb and why is Russia talking about it?


Russia accuses Ukraine of planning to use a so-called dirty bomb, an allegation dismissed by Kyiv and its Western allies as a false flag campaign that Moscow could use as a pretext to escalate the Kremlin’s war against its neighbor .

A dirty bomb is a weapon that combines conventional explosives such as dynamite and radioactive material such as uranium. It is often referred to as a weapon for terrorists, not countries, as it is designed to spread fear and panic more than eliminate any military target.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly denied Moscow’s accusations and Kyiv’s foreign minister has invited UN inspectors to visit Ukraine to show they have “nothing to hide.”

Here’s what you need to know.

Without providing any evidence, Moscow claims that scientific institutions in Ukraine are home to the technology needed to create a dirty bomb – and accuses Kyiv of planning to use it.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said in a briefing on October 24 that it had information indicating that Kyiv was planning a provocation involving 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, head of Russian Radiology. , Chemical and Biological Defense 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.

Russia plans to raise its charges against Ukraine at the United Nations Security Council on October 25, according to Reuters.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is driven along Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2022.

Russia’s claims have been strongly refuted by the Ukraine, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and NATO, which in turn have 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 White House said on October 24 that it is “monitoring to the best of our ability” any possible preparations for the use of a dirty bomb in Ukraine but does not see anything to indicate the use of such a weapon is imminent.

The UN nuclear watchdog said on October 24 that it will send inspectors to visit two nuclear sites in Ukraine after receiving a request to do so from authorities in Kyiv.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was “aware of statements made by the Russian Federation on Sunday about alleged activities at two nuclear sites in Ukraine,” according to a news release on the agency’s website.

The IAEA did not provide 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 continues to be transparent. We have nothing to hide.”


Conventional explosives that produce a dirty bomb explosion. The explosion of a nuclear weapon is produced by a nuclear reaction, like the atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan in World War II.

“A nuclear bomb creates an explosion that is thousands to millions of times more powerful than any conventional explosive that could be used in a dirty bomb,” according to a fact sheet from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The explosion of a nuclear weapon can flatten entire cities. For example, 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 level or damage a few buildings.

Meanwhile, the mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion could cover tens to hundreds of square miles, scattering fine particles of nuclear material — a radioactive fallout — over that area, DHS said.

Most of the radioactive material from a dirty bomb would be spread over a few city blocks or a few square miles, according to DHS.


In 1995, Chechen rebels planted but failed to detonate one in a park in Moscow, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

There are reports that terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda or ISIS have built or attempted to build a dirty bomb, but none has ever been detonated.

The DHS says it would be unlikely that a dirty bomb could deliver high enough doses of radiation “to cause immediate health effects or death in large numbers of people.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services explains why.

To make a dirty bomb capable of delivering lethal doses of radiation, a great deal of shielding from lead or steel would be needed to prevent the material from killing its makers during construction, he said.

But using such a shielding material would make the bomb bulky and difficult to move or use, probably requiring heavy equipment and remote handling equipment, and would limit how far it could travel. the radiation spread, according to the Texas state agency.

The radiation produced by a dirty bomb would cause similar levels of exposure to the amount received during dental X-rays, according to Texas health services.

“It’s like cutting a rock. If someone threw a large rock at you it would probably hurt and could cause you physical harm,” explains the department. “If they take the same rock and break it up into grains of sand and then throw the sand at you, the likelihood of it causing any real damage is significantly lower.”

The severity of radiation sickness is affected by exposure over time, according to the DHS. Preventive measures can be as simple as walking away.

“Walking even a short distance from the scene (of the explosion) could provide significant protection as the dose rate decreases dramatically with distance from the source,” DHS said.

People should also cover noses and mouths to avoid ingesting any radiation, go inside to escape any dust cloud, dispose of their clothing in a plastic bag and then wash their skin gently to remove contaminants, the DHS said.


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