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 operation 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 rather than eliminate any military targets.

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 there are scientific institutions in Ukraine that house the technology needed to create a dirty bomb, and accuses Kyiv of planning to use them.

The Russian Defense Ministry said at a briefing on October 24 that it has information showing that 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 thus launch a powerful anti-Russian campaign in the world with the aim of undermining confidence in Moscow,” stated Igor Kirillov, head 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.

Russia plans to present its accusations against Ukraine to the UN Security Council on October 25, according to Reuters.

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

Russia’s accusations have been strongly denied by 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, they understand who is the source of all the dirt that can be imagined in this war,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening speech on October 23.

The White House said on October 24 that it is “following as best as possible” any possible preparations for the use of a dirty bomb in Ukraine, but sees nothing to indicate the imminent use of such a weapon.

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

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

The IAEA did not give the location of the two sites.

In an Oct. 24 tweet, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “Unlike Russia, Ukraine has always been and remains transparent. We have nothing to hide.”


The explosion of a dirty bomb is generated by conventional explosives. The explosion of a nuclear weapon is generated by a nuclear reaction, such as the atomic bombs that the US dropped on Japan during 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 US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fact sheet.

The explosion of a nuclear weapon can flatten entire cities. For example, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 wiped out 2.6 square miles (6.2 square kilometers) of the city, according to ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. A dirty bomb’s conventional explosives can only flatten or damage some 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 — across that area, DHS says.

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


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

There have been reports that terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda or ISIS have built or attempted to build a dirty bomb, but have never detonated one.

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, large amounts of lead or steel shielding would be needed to prevent the material from killing its makers during construction, he says.

But using that shielding material would make the bomb bulky and difficult to move or deploy, likely requiring heavy equipment and remote manipulation tools, and would limit how far the radiation could spread, the state agency said from Texas

The radiation generated by a dirty bomb would cause exposure levels similar to the amount received during dental X-rays, according to Texas Health Services.

“It’s like breaking a rock. If someone were to throw a big rock at you, it would probably hurt you and cause physical harm,” the department explains. sand, the chances of it doing any real damage to you are 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 (explosion) scene could provide significant protection, as the dose rate decreases dramatically with distance from the source,” DHS says.

People should also cover their noses and mouths to avoid ingesting any radiation, go indoors to escape any dust clouds, throw their clothes in a plastic bag, and then gently wash their skin to remove pollutants, says the DHS.


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