Russia World

(Radiological) War by Other Means: A Dirty Bomb in Ukraine?

Written by Robert T. Wagner

Fear is mightier than the sword, and few things stoke fear like a dirty bomb. So, it should have come as no surprise when Russia accused Ukraine of building a radiological dispersal device (RDD), possibly setting the stage for a false-flag attack. By manipulating widespread fear of radioactivity, such a device is a potent weapon of terror, and Russia has transformed it into an instrument of “war by other means.” To manage this, relevant chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) doctrine must also shift to emphasize public information and crisis recovery.

It is no secret that Russia’s military strategy includes targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, aiming to ensure this winter is taxing on the Ukrainian population. While such an effort is nothing new in warfare, the prevalence of nuclear power in Ukraine makes it unique—and dangerous. Heavy fighting has occurred near one of the country’s four operating nuclear power plants, with a missile reportedly landing close to another. This has raised the alarm among the international community; the effects of a nuclear meltdown could reach well beyond Ukraine’s borders, as was the case during the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Consequently, Russia has been forced to become creative in targeting nuclear facilities.

In late October 2022, Russia claimed Ukraine was building a dirty bomb. A tweet by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs named Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and research reactors as the sources of the necessary radionuclides, stating Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239—the fissile isotopes of nuclear power—were the most likely ingredients. Although they make lousy ingredients for a dirty bomb when compared to Cobalt-60 and Strontium-90, which were also mentioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the fear was palpable on both sides. Ukraine and the West immediately counterclaimed that Russia was the true perpetrator, accusing them of contemplating a false-flag event that risked nuclear escalation. Meanwhile, Russian state media played up the potential consequences, and the surrounding countries braced for a radiological incident. Although it is inconclusive from open-source intelligence if Russia truly intended to stage a false-flag attack, the threatened employment of an RDD to incite fear and achieve strategic military objectives was dastardly creative.

Read more at National Interest

About the author

Robert T. Wagner

Robert T. Wagner is a Senior Weapons of Mass Destruction Subject Matter Expert at Octant Associates, where he supports the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. He holds a Master of Arts Degree in Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School and is a Nationally Registered Paramedic.