w/e 28th October 2022
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu has raised fears, without evidence, that Ukraine plans to use a dirty bomb in the Russo-Ukraine conflict. This he has explicitly stated, apparently, to the UK’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and also to other defence ministers in the USA, France, and Turkey. This unfounded allegation has been rejected by all.
What is a so-called “dirty bomb”? Well, it isn’t a tactical nuclear weapon, that’s for sure. Nuclear weapons depend on the fission or fusion of radioactive isotopes to release massive amounts of energy which produce catastrophic results. A dirty bomb, on the other hand, employs a relatively small amount of conventional explosive to scatter radioactive material, like uranium for example, through the air.
It doesn’t require the highly refined material that is needed for a nuclear weapon proper, but can use radioactive materials from research establishments, hospitals, or nuclear power station waste. On the initiation of the explosive charge, particles of radioactive dust are dispersed and can be dangerous to health, and it can’t be seen, or smelled, or tasted. In other words, it is an invisible killer.
The attractions of the dirty bomb, if we can call them that, is that they are cheap and easy to produce. They don’t need investment in the complicated centrifuges required to super-refine material for standard nuclear weapons, nor do they need expensive delivery systems. They can be put in a suitcase of car boot and taken to their target.
The major downside is that they are fairly indiscriminate. There is no control over where the resultant radiation cloud might spread, and it can be just as dangerous to one’s own side as it is to the enemy. There’s also the question of whether the radiation drifting into a neighbouring NATO country would trigger Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the “attack on one is an attack on all” clause.
The suggestion made by Russia that Ukraine might be planning such a dirty bomb attack is frankly ludicrous and another indication of desperate the Putin regime has become in the face of defeat on the battlefield. There is no suggestion that they are doing so and we can dismiss this particular piece of disinformation out of hand.
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