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


Russia accuses Ukraine of planning the so-called dirty bomb, which Kyiv and its Western allies dismissed 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 with radioactive materials such as uranium. It is often referred to as a terrorist weapon rather than a weapon of states because it is designed to spread fear and panic rather than eliminate any military objective.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly denied Moscow’s accusations, and Kiev’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 Ukraine has scientific institutions that house the technology needed to create a dirty bomb, and accuses Kiev of planning to use it.

In a briefing on October 24, the Ministry of Defense of Russia announced that it has information indicating that Kyiv is planning a provocation in connection with the detonation of a dirty bomb.

“The aim 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 confidence in Moscow,” Russian radio chief Igor Kirillov claimed. , Chemical and biological defense forces.

On October 23, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu made the claim when communicating with US Defense Minister Lloyd Austin, referring to the talks by a well-known US official.

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, Reuters reports.

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, Great Britain, the European Union and NATO, in turn accusing Moscow of trying to launch its own false flag operation.

“Everyone understands everything well, they understand what is the source of all the dirty things that can be imagined in this war,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi in his address on the night of October 23.

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

On October 24, the UN nuclear watchdog announced that it would send inspectors to visit two nuclear facilities in Ukraine, upon receiving a request from Kyiv authorities to do so.

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

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

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted on October 24: “Unlike Russia, Ukraine has always been and remains transparent. We have nothing to hide.”


A dirty bomb explosion is caused by conventional explosives. A nuclear explosion is caused 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 US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fact sheet.

A nuclear explosion can flatten entire cities. For example, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 destroyed 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, a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion could cover tens to hundreds of square miles, spreading fine particles of nuclear material — radioactive fallout — according to DHS.

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


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

There have been reports of terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda or ISIS building or attempting to build a dirty bomb, but none have ever been detonated.

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

The Texas Department of State Health Services explains why.

Making a dirty bomb capable of delivering lethal doses of radiation would require large amounts of lead or steel shielding to prevent 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 remote instruments and limiting how far the radiation could spread, the Texas state agency said.

According to Texas Health Services, the radiation from the dirty bomb would cause the same level of exposure as dental X-rays.

“It’s like splitting a rock. If someone throws a large rock at you, it’s likely to hurt and cause you physical harm,” the department explains. “If they take the same rock and break it into grains of sand and then throw the sand at you, the chances are that real damage to you is significantly less.”

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

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

People should also cover their nose and mouth to avoid ingesting any radiation, go indoors to avoid dust clouds, dispose of clothing in a plastic bag and then wash their skin carefully to remove contaminants, according to DHS.


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