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


Russia accuses Ukraine of planning to use the so-called dirty bomb, a charge 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 rather than states, as it is designed to instill fear and panic more than to eliminate any military objective.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly rejected 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 it has scientific institutions in Ukraine that hold the technology needed to create a dirty bomb – and accuses Kyiv of planning to use it.

The Russian Defense Ministry said at 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 war and thus launch a powerful anti-Russian campaign in the world aimed at undermining Moscow’s confidence,” claimed Igor Kirilov, head of the Russian Radiation Service. , Chemical and biological defense forces.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the claim in a conversation with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Oct. 23, according to a U.S. official familiar with the conversation.

Shoigu also made similar comments to his French and British counterparts.

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

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

Russia’s claims 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 everything dirty that you can imagine in this war,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his October 23 night address.

The White House said on October 24 that it was “monitoring as closely as possible” any potential preparations to use a dirty bomb in Ukraine, but saw nothing to indicate the imminent use of such a weapon.

The UN nuclear watchdog said on October 24 that it would 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 the statements made by the Russian Federation on Sunday regarding alleged activities at two nuclear sites in Ukraine,” according to a news release on the agency’s website.

The IAEA did not disclose 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. We have nothing to hide.”


A dirty bomb blast is generated by conventional explosives. A nuclear explosion is generated by a nuclear reaction, such as the atomic bombs dropped by the US on Japan in World War II.

“A nuclear bomb produces 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 collapse 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. Conventional explosives in a dirty bomb can flatten or damage only a few buildings.

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

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 attempted but failed to detonate one in a Moscow park, 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 none have ever been detonated.

DHS says a dirty bomb is unlikely to deliver high enough doses of radiation “to cause immediate health effects or deaths 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 would require large amounts of lead or steel shielding to keep the material from killing its creators during construction, it said.

But using such shielding material would make the bomb bulky and difficult to move or deploy, possibly requiring heavy equipment and tools for remote handling, and would limit how far the radiation could spread, according to the Texas state agency.

The radiation generated 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 breaking a rock. If someone throws a large rock at you, it is likely to injure you and may cause you physical damage,” the department explains. “If they take the same rock and crush it into grains of sand and then throw the sand at you, the chances of it doing any real damage to you are significantly less.”

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

“Walking even a short distance from the (explosion) scene can provide significant protection because the dose rate drops dramatically with distance from the source,” DHS said.

People should also cover their noses and mouths to avoid ingesting any radiation, go indoors to escape a cloud of dust, dispose of their clothes in a plastic bag, and then wash their skin carefully. to remove contaminants, DHS says.


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