Ukraine is a “dirty bomb” threat to the world

The ongoing war in the Donbass creates conditions for radiological terrorism.

ITAR-TASS: DONETSK REGION, UKRAINE. JULY 15, 2014. Local residents clear rubble in a residential area of the town of Snezhnoye in the aftermath of a shelling attack by the Ukrainian government's forces. (Photo: ITAR-TASS/ Zurab Dzhavakhadze)

DONETSK REGION, UKRAINE. JULY 15, 2014. Local residents clear rubble in a residential area of the town of Snezhnoye in the aftermath of a shelling attack by the Ukrainian government’s forces.

Events in the south-east of Ukraine force us to speak about nuclear safety again. In early July, news agencies reported the shelling of the regional cancer center in Lugansk by the “right sector” nazi with the heavy artillery . A member of the clinic staff was injured and bedridden patients who could not be evacuated into a bomb shelter experienced all the horrors of the missile and bomb fire.

Those who ordered and carried out the attack, hardly thought about that, apart from the patients and staff there are also special medical facilities where diagnosis and treatment of cancer use highly radioactive isotopes. And if a bombshell hit one of these devices, the consequences would be dire.

“The isotopes used in such medical equipment are powerful enough in terms of radiation,” – told “Komsomolskaya Pravda” Igor Ostretsov, doctor of technical sciences, professor, the deputy director of the Research Institute of nuclear engineering in 1980-2009, – “Isotopes are used in small amounts. But it would be enough for local pollution.”

Nuclear physicist, an expert on nuclear energy with the international organization “Bellona”, Andrew Ozharovsky said that the main danger is the gamma-gun medical devices:

“There cobalt-60 is used for irradiation of cancerous tumors, and in the case of destruction of the instrument a serious pollution will occur. It is certainly not comparable to an accident at a nuclear power plant, but may cause tens or even hundreds of people to suffer and contaminate territory within a few kilometers.”


As an the example Ozharovsky talks about an incident that occurred in the Brazilian city of Goiania in 1987. 7 years after the closure of the hospital in which the equipment remained filled with cesium in a vacant building, marauders stole the parts of the medical device – just with a seemingly totally insignificant amount of dangerous residues. The part was thrown in the trash, but later found by the owner of the landfill, who brought it home and invited friends and neighbors to admire the power emitting blue light. The powder was taken in hand, rubbed onto faces, passed from one to another. For two weeks hundreds of people encountered the “magic” powder, the radiation transmitted through the banknotes, handrails in public transport and so on. The Goiania accident resulted in 4 people dead, dozens chemically injured, 90 houses became uninhabitable. A place where later contaminated by radiation material was buried can be used again only after 250 years.

The infection in Goiânia was awarded the fifth degree of hazard by the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES). For comparison, the accident at Chernobyl and Fukushima are the seventh, the highest degree.

But back to the events in the south-east of Ukraine.

“War near facilities where radionuclides are used is terrible!” – Exclaims Ozharovsky, – “We must remember that nuclear power plants are usually remote from the cities. On the contrary, those clinics and hospitals, where nuclear devices are used are usually located in densely populated areas.”

The places in the south-eastern Ukraine, where there are medical facilities and facilities using radioactive sources are numerous. These are Lugansk, Donetsk, Yenakievo, Gorlivka, Mariupol, Kramatorsk, Hartsyzsk. In total there are 339 medical institutions in the Donetsk region using sources of ionizing radiation for diagnosis and radiotherapy, in Lugansk – 130, in Zaporozhye – 106.

Experts also pay special attention to the fact that in the south-eastern Ukraine there are more than 170 enterprises in coal, metallurgy, chemical, petrochemical industry, energy. These industries widely use sources of ionizing radiation in various devices. And blind carpet bombing from the air and the use of artillery are continuing there. Any next hit of a projectile can have serious consequences.

“Stuffing” for terror

Back in the spring there were numerous threats to blow up “strategic objects” from the camp of the radical Ukrainian nationalists, if life in Ukraine will not run according to their script. Most notorious and crazy of them was Sashko Bily: he came to meetings with a machine-gun, choked a prosecutor, threatened to hang the head of Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Sashko Bily was killed by Ukrainian secret services, but he has enough followers. And dangerous objects have not gone away.

In the vicinity of the war zone are Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkov interregional special plants for the disposal of radioactive waste. Only in these two places there is radioactive waste with a total activity over 150,000 curies, formed by isotopes of cobalt-60, strontium-137, polonium-210, plutonium-240.

In this regard, experts remind us of the so-called dirty bombs – the idea of their application using cobalt-60 was seen in the early 1950s as the most suitable material for the creation of combat radioactive substances. At the time the idea of the creation of such weapons was abandoned by both the Soviet Union and the United States because of the extremely long period of lethality and unpredictable consequences.

However the combatants of the ultra-right may well use radioactive substances as additional toppings to create makeshift bombs and shells.

“A bomb can be filled with radioactive mud and the explosion will spread the infection to an area measured in square kilometers,” – warns Igor Ostretsov. Just ten grams of radioactive material is sufficient for this.

Experts say that the threats and risks related to nuclear safety are becoming more real. The situation in Ukraine does not preclude dangerous incidents with radioactive materials, as well as the loss of control over the facilities, where they are used.

The ongoing war and chaos create all conditions for radiological terror. After all, a makeshift “dirty bomb” is easy to transport to a given territory – whether neighboring area or a neighboring state – even with a balloon, even with the help of a drone. In turn, these technologies can be embraced by terrorists from other countries in Europe and the world.


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