The primary goal of dirty bombs is to instill fear, panic, and confusion by hurling dust and radioactive fumes into the atmosphere.
The Kremlin accuses Ukraine of preparing to detonate dirty bombs to blame Russia and force escalation of the war has entered its ninth month.
Western countries have dismissed Moscow’s claims as “clearly untrue”.
Although no dirty bomb attacks have ever been recorded, two unsuccessful attempts to detonate such a device were reported in the southern Russian province of Chechnya over 20 years ago. Investigator also found nuclear material potentially used in a dirty bomb in an abandoned factory in Chechnya.
Here’s what the experts mean by the term “dirty bomb”:
How do dirty bombs work?
Technically known as a radioactive dispersal device, a dirty bomb is a relatively crude, imprecise weapon. They are much easier and cheaper to make than nuclear devices and also much less dangerous.
Dirty bombs use conventional explosives, such as dynamite, which are placed next to the radioactive material, which is then thrown out by the force of the explosion. The amount of radioactive material released is dangerous but not necessarily deadly.
The material used in a dirty bomb can be obtained from radioactive sources used in medicine and industry or from research facilities.
“A dirty bomb is really easy to build,” said Scott Roecker, vice president of the nuclear materials security program at The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based nonprofit.
“It’s a rudimentary device.”
Richard Giragosian, founding director of the Center for Regional Studies, an independent consulting organization in Yerevan, Armenia, said in a 2016 op-ed for Al Jazeera that after the September 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaeda, in the West fear doubled over the danger posed by radioactive “dirty” bombs.
Giragosian said that although there have been significant efforts in Russia and Ukraine to dispose of radioactive materials left over from the former Soviet Union, the safe disposal of such materials in the Caucasus is a “priority” lower”.
The Soviet-era facilities in the Caucasus once had “an abundant supply of cesium, strontium and other related radioactive materials”. But since the fall of the Soviet Union, “most of these facilities have been minimally protected, with precautions or sketchy security protections,” he said.
Giragosian also said at the time of writing that the arrest of three suspects in Georgia for attempting to sell radioactive material should remind the world that they cannot continue to be complacent with dirty bombs.
That same year, then-U.S. President Barack Obama hosted world leaders at a Nuclear Security Summit focused on preventing attackers from using radioactive material to “get through” the 9/11 attacks.
What damage can dirty bombs do?
The number of casualties and the extent of damage from dirty bombs depends on many factors.
The main factor is the amount and type of conventional explosives used, which determine the size of the explosion.
The amount and type of radioactive material released are other factors, as are the weather conditions – and especially the wind – at the time of the explosion. A large area could potentially be contaminated.
Low levels of radiation exposure usually do not cause any symptoms. People may not know if they have been exposed because they cannot see, smell, or taste the radiation.
How dangerous are dirty bombs?
Experts say the main impact of dirty bombs is psychological, which is why such devices are often referred to as “disruptive weapons” against mass destruction.
Dirty bombs, not for battlefield use, are more clearly deployed in urban areas, Roecker said.
“They are more like a psychological weapon. When you’re trying to scare people, intimidate people, you’re going to use a weapon like this,” he said.
Radioactive dust and fumes can spread far and be dangerous if inhaled near the epicenter of the explosion.
According to Roecker, the radioactive cloud will likely spread over several blocks. But as radioactive material spreads through the atmosphere, it becomes less concentrated and less toxic.
Key factors in radiation exposure are what type of radiation is, how long someone has been exposed to it, and whether the radiation is absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or taken by mouth. are not.
Specialized equipment is required to detect radiation.
Contaminated homes, businesses and public services can be banned for months and require a costly cleanup.