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


Russia accuses Ukraine of planning to use a so-called dirty bomb, a charge Kyiv and its Western allies have 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 and radioactive material such as uranium. It is often referred to as a weapon for terrorists, not countries, because it is designed to spread fear and panic more than to eliminate any military objective.

Ukrainian authorities 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 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 indicating 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 thereby launch a powerful anti-Russian campaign in the world with the aim of undermining confidence in Moscow,” claimed Igor Kirilov, head of Russian radiation. . , Forces for chemical and biological protection.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the claim in a conversation 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 accusations against Ukraine at the UN Security Council on October 25, according to Reuters.

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

Russia’s allegations were strongly rejected by Ukraine, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and NATO, which in turn accused Moscow of trying to launch its own false flag operation.

“Everyone understands everything good, they understand the source of everything dirty that can be imagined 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 best we can” 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 body 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 about alleged activities at two nuclear sites in Ukraine,” according to a statement on the agency’s website.

The IAEA has not disclosed 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 the US dropped 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).

A nuclear explosion can level 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 may only level or damage a few buildings.

Meanwhile, a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion could cover tens to hundreds of square miles, spreading tiny 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 planted 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 made or attempted to make a dirty bomb, but none have ever been detonated.

DHS says it is unlikely that a dirty bomb could 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 prevent the material from killing its makers during construction, it said.

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

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

“It’s like breaking a rock.” “If someone throws a large rock at you, it will probably hurt and may 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 causing you any real damage are significantly lower.”

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

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

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


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