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


Russia accuses Ukraine of intend to use a so-called dirty bomban allegation dismissed by Kyiv and its Western allies as a false flag operation that Moscow could use as a pretext to step up Kremlin attacks war against his neighbour.

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

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

Here’s what you need to know.

Without providing any evidence, Moscow claims there are scientific institutions in Ukraine harboring 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 had information showing that Kyiv was planning a provocation related to the explosion 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 aimed at undermining trust in Moscow,” he said. said Igor Kirillov, head of Radiation Russia. , Chemical and biological protection forces.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the claim during 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 take its charges against Ukraine to the UN Security Council on October 25, according to Reuters.

Russia’s claims have been strongly refuted 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, understands who is the source of everything imaginable dirty in this war,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his October 23 evening speech.

The White House said Oct. 24 that it was “monitoring as best it could” any potential preparations for the use of 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 statements made by the Russian Federation on Sunday regarding alleged activities at two nuclear sites in Ukraine”, according to a press release on the agency website.

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

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


The blast of a dirty bomb is generated by conventional explosives. The blast from a nuclear weapon is generated by a nuclear reaction, such as atomic bombs dropped by the United States 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 U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fact sheet. ).

The explosion of a nuclear weapon can level 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. Conventional explosives in a Dirty Bomb can only flatten or damage a few buildings.

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

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


In 1995, Chechen rebels planted one 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 built or attempted to build a dirty bomb, but none ever exploded.

DHS says it would be unlikely that a dirty bomb could deliver radiation doses high enough “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 such shielding material would make the bomb bulky and difficult to move or deploy, likely requiring heavy equipment and remote handling tools, and it would limit the distance the radiation could travel, according to the Texas state agency.

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

“It’s like breaking a rock. If someone threw a large rock at you, it would likely hurt you and could cause you physical harm,” the department explains. “If they take the same rock and break it up into grains of sand and then throw the sand at you, the chances of it doing you real damage are considerably lower.”

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

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

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

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