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What is a “dirty bomb”, why is it dangerous and how does the weapon that worries Ukraine and Russia work?

They are always mentioned in the context of a war, in the sphere of action of terrorist groups, in armed conflicts, but they have never been used. Now, in the midst of a counteroffensive by the forces of Ukraine in the territories occupied by the troops of RussiaDirty bombs are back in the world news after Moscow warned that kyiv plans to use them.

Russia assured in recent days, without showing evidence, that Ukraine plans to use a “dirty bomb” on its own territory to blame Moscow of using massive destruction weapons and generate a harsh response from Western allies. This accusation was immediately rejected by kyiv. In addition, countries such as France, the United States and the United Kingdom have ensured that it is a “pretext for a Russian military escalation”.

LOOK: Russia denounces a possible provocation of Ukraine with a “dirty bomb” with radioactive elements

Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the US National Security Council, told CNN that her office rejected “reports on the false accusations of the minister Sergei Shoigu that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb in its own territory”.

US soldiers wear chemical warfare gear during a joint military exercise with South Korea on March 3, 2011. (AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE)

For his part, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyrejected the Russian accusation. “There is only one individual who can use nuclear weapons in our part of Europe, and this person is the one who ordered Comrade Shoigu to call somewhere,” he said, referring to the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin.

LOOK: “I’d rather go to jail than fight in Ukraine”: how a Russian reservist resists participating in the war

But what is a dirty bomb?

Also known as radiological weaponthe dirty bomb is a conventional explosive, such as dynamite, enriched with radioactive material that spreads when it explodes, following a doctrine of use similar to that of chemical weapons, explains the EFE agency.

The radioactive material used is for civil use. and relatively easy to find, like the caesium-137used worldwide in medicine and industry.

They are much easier and cheaper to build than a nuclear device and also much less dangerous on a massive scale.

Despite containing radioactive elements, dirty bombs are not atomic weaponswhich require a complex nuclear fusion reaction, and their range and the damage they can do is only a tiny fraction of what atomic weapons are capable of.

But the very mention of the dirty bomb It generates great alarm among the population because its composition includes radioactive elements that are released into the air.

The AP agency explains that there were two failed attempts to detonate a dirty bomb in Chechnya, Russia, more than two decades ago.

In November 1995, the Chechen leader Shamil Basayev announced that a radioactive container was in the Moscow park of Izmailovo. In the container there was Caesium-137 and its radiation level exceeded a hundred times the norm, although the Russian authorities ruled out that it could seriously endanger people’s health.

“A dirty bomb is really easy to make”Scott Roecker, vice president of the nuclear materials security program at The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, told the AP. “It’s a rudimentary artifact,” he added.

The threat of a dirty bomb.  (AFP).

The threat of a dirty bomb. (AFP).

What damage can it cause?

The AP agency states that the number of victims and the extent of damage from a dirty bomb depend on many variables.

A key factor is the amount and type of conventional explosives usedwhich determine the magnitude of the explosion.

In the case of dirty bombs, the radioactive element hardly directly raises the lethality of the explosivebut in theory it could generate contamination in the affected area that amplifies the effects of an attack with conventional weapons, explains EFE.

However, the dispersion caused by the explosive generates a “dilution” effect of the contaminant in the environment, drastically reducing the radioactive dose that potential victims would suffer.

For this reason, beyond its possible destructive effects, experts point out the ability of this weaponry to generate alarm among the population.

never used in combat

No army in the world includes dirty bombs among its weaponsaccording to a study published in 2021 by the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies (IEEE) of the Spanish Ministry of Defense, which specifies that only some terrorist groups, mainly radical Islamists and supremacists from the United States, consider its possible use.

In the Korean War (1950-1953) the United States considered and discarded its use, says the IEEE report, but it was Saddam Hussein, in the 1980s, who studied its incorporation into a regular army with the aim of avoiding the international prohibitions on nuclear weapons. He eventually also abandoned the project.

According to UN scientists, Iraq would have rehearsed in 1987 the explosion of a radiological bomb, dismissed due to low lethality.

Military experts pointed out, however, that its explosion in a certain place and in meteorological conditions that made it possible to disperse fissile materials could become a “source of substantial radioactive contamination.”

How dangerous is it?

A dirty bomb would likely cause a limited number of deaths. Its main impact is psychological, which is why this type of artifact is usually called “weapons of mass disturbance”.

Dirty bombs are not for use on the battlefield, but rather are deployed more in urban areasScott Roecker said.

“They are more of a psychological weapon. When you try to scare people, intimidate them, you use a weapon like this,” she added.

Radioactive dust and fumes can spread widely and are dangerous if inhaled near the epicenter of the explosion. The radioactive cloud would probably extend for several blocks, according to Roecker. But as the radioactive material spreads through the atmosphere, it becomes less concentrated and less harmful.

Source: Elcomercio

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