By accusing Ukraine of wanting to detonate a “dirty bomb” on its own territory to make it look like a Russian attack, Russia once again gives substance to the hypothesis of a nuclear escalation, although some analysts do not rule out a simple distraction.
Ukrainians and Westerners suspect that Russia may be preparing to detonate a “dirty bomb” itself and blame Ukraine, then justify a military escalation with a tactical nuclear weapon in retaliation.
This is what we know about this weapon.
What is a dirty bomb?
The “dirty bomb” is not a nuclear device but a conventional bomb wrapped in radioactive materials intended to be spread as dust during the explosion.
The term “dirty bomb”, also called “radiological dispersal device” (RDD), designates any device that, when detonated, spreads one or more chemically or biologically toxic products (NRBC: nuclear, radiological, biological or chemical).
This type of bomb is not considered an atomic weapon, whose explosion results from nuclear fission (bomb A) or fusion (bomb H) and causes immense destruction in a wide radius. Making an atomic bomb requires complex uranium enrichment technologies.
Much less complicated to manufacture, the “dirty bomb” uses a conventional explosive and its main objective is to contaminate a geographical area and the people who are there, both with direct radiation and by ingesting or inhaling radioactive materials.
“A dirty bomb is not a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ but a ‘weapon of mass disturbance’ that primarily seeks to contaminate and scare,” summarizes the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (US NRC).
The radioactive materials necessary for the elaboration of this type of device are usually used in hospitals, research centers and industrial or military establishments.
“Radioactive substances coming from nuclear fuel storage facilities used at the [Ukrainian] Chernobyl nuclear power plant can be used” to make a dirty bomb, Russian General Igor Kirillov, in charge of radioactive substances and products, said in a statement on Monday. chemical and biological in the Russian army.
Risks and preventive measures
The main danger from a “dirty bomb” comes from the explosion and not from radiation. Only people who are very close to the blast site would be exposed to levels of radiation capable of causing immediate serious illness.
However, radioactive dust and fumes can spread farther and pose a health hazard if they are inhaled from the air or if contaminated food or water is ingested.
“Because people can’t see, smell, feel, or taste radiation, you should take immediate steps to protect yourself and your loved ones,” says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC suggests the following steps if you are around a dirty bomb explosion:
• Cover your nose and mouth with a cloth to reduce the risk of breathing in radioactive dust or fumes.
• Do not touch the objects thrown by an explosion, they can be radioactive.
• Quickly enter a building where the walls and windows have not been broken. This area will protect you from radiation that may be outside.
• Once inside, remove the outer layer of clothing and seal it in a plastic bag if available. Put the cloth you used to cover your mouth in the bag as well. Removing outer clothing can remove up to 90% of radioactive dust.
• Place the plastic bag where others will not touch it and store it until authorities tell you what to do with it.
• Shower or wash with soap and water. Be sure to wash your hair. Washing will remove any remaining dust.
• Tune in to local radio or television news for further instructions.
Russia’s accusations against Ukraine
On Sunday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke with his counterparts from several NATO countries, expressing concern about Ukraine’s possible use of a “dirty bomb” on its own territory.
Russia said on Monday that Ukraine had entered “the final phase” for the manufacture of its “dirty bomb”, a threat that Moscow has been promoting since Sunday and that kyiv’s Western allies firmly rejected.
“According to the information we have, two Ukrainian organizations have specific instructions to create the so-called ‘dirty bomb’. Their work has entered the final phase,” Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, in charge of the Russian Army, said in a statement. radiation, chemical and biological products.
According to him, “the goal of this provocation is to accuse Russia of using weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine and thus launch a powerful anti-Russian campaign in the world,” he charged, considering that kyiv was seeking to “intimidate the local population and increase the flow of refugees across Europe.
“The detonation of a radioactive explosive device will inevitably lead to the contamination of the area in an area that could reach several thousand square meters,” he warned.
Kirillov also accused the UK of maintaining “contacts” with kyiv “on the question of the potential obtaining of technologies (necessary) for the production of nuclear weapons” by Ukraine.
Ukraine dismissed these accusations as “lies” and “absurdity”.
“If Russia calls and says that Ukraine is supposedly preparing something, it means one thing: Russia has already prepared all this. I think that now the world should react as harshly as possible,” Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky reacted on social media.
US threatens Russia over dirty bomb
A senior US official on Sunday called Russian accusations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb “patently false.”
The United States denies “the clearly false allegations by (Russian Defense) Minister Shoigu that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
“The world will not be fooled by any attempt to use this accusation as a pretext for escalation,” he warned.
Russia will have to face the consequences if it uses the so-called “dirty bomb” or any other nuclear weapon, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday.
Washington and other Western countries have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of plotting to step up action in Ukraine on the pretext that Moscow believes kyiv will use a “dirty bomb,” a device containing nuclear material.
“It would certainly be another example of President Putin’s brutality, if he were to use a so-called ‘dirty bomb.’ Price told reporters.
He added that it was important for Moscow to know the “profound nature of the consequences” that would befall it if it used nuclear power. He did not detail those consequences or say whether they would be different depending on the type of weapon.
Price said the United States saw no indication that Russia was preparing to use a nuclear weapon, but concerns about the possible use of a “dirty bomb” stemmed from warnings from Russian officials that Ukraine was preparing to use a nuclear weapon. such a weapon.
“We know the Kremlin’s track record when it comes to these kinds of claims. That is, of course, the rationale, what ultimately supports our concerns,” Price said.
The United States has seen no reason to adjust its own nuclear posture, he added.
With information from AFP and Reuters