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Ukrainian Fallout
Next Up in Donbas: A Dirty Bomb?

Ukrainian spooks have released a report that alleges that Russia and the rebels it backs in eastern Ukraine are trying to build a “dirty bomb.” According to the report, they are using the spent nuclear material stored under a Soviet-era chemical factory near the frontline of the conflict between Kiev’s forces and the rebels to make the attempt.

Dirty bombs, unlike proper nuclear weapons, don’t actually use fissile nuclear material to add to the force of the explosion. Rather, they put radioactive material next to conventional explosives so that when the bomb goes off, it spews a large cloud of radioactive dust. So they’re less dangerous than real nukes, but still, obviously, deeply unsettling. The Times of London has more:

The report draws on hacked emails between rebels and intercepted radio communications, as well as a field agent’s findings. […]

Three of the messages are said to be between Alexander Zakharchenko, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), and his ministers and generals. Conversations between rebel commanders are cited as evidence that the radioactive material has already been removed and is in the process of being weaponised. […]

Western intelligence officials said that they were unable to verify the evidence presented in the dossier. However, diplomatic sources said that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Donetsk would investigate the claims.

For their part, the rebels are trying to assure the world that they aren’t doing anything with the waste, as the AP reports:

Andrei Purgin, a rebel leader in Donetsk, said Sunday, according to Russian news reports, that the rebel leadership would welcome monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to check the site’s condition.

Rebel military spokesman Eduard Basurin said that the storage has remained safely sealed, Interfax reported.

The rebel spokesman also said that there wasn’t any “critically dangerous nuclear waste” for the fighters to exploit even if they were so inclined.

Ukraine’s leaders must be worried that the great eye of Western outrage seems to have moved on since Putin’s dramatic seizure of Crimea: more than 150 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed since the Minsk “ceasefire” was announced, yet Western leaders keep gravely intoning that no alternative to that arrangement exists.

But even if Kiev’s intelligence is little more than overheated speculation designed to prick up Western ears, it does point to certain realities: the Times confirms that the facility “houses almost 12 tonnes of Soviet-era radioactive waste, mostly isotopes of caesium, cobalt and strontium, as well as radon gas.” And the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic is not exactly a law-and-order kind of place where it would be inconceivable that dangerous substances could fall into the hands of unscrupulous actors.

The ingredients are there, in other words, to take this nasty little semi-frozen conflict from bad to so much worse, in a hurry.

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  • Nevis07

    Oh great, just what the world needs. Not that I want direct US involvement in this conflict, but we have special forces for a reason.

  • JR

    I’m done asking for Dan Greene. I’m at the point of DEMANDING Dan Greene!!!!

    • Dale Fayda

      “Don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone…” – Cinderella (the hair metal band), 1988.

  • Andrew Allison

    This smells like an attempt by the government of Ukraine to persuade the West to actually do something about the mess the EU has created. But, just in case, it should be made clear to Putain (not a typo) that, because the rebels lack the ability to assemble one, detonation of a dirty bomb will be considered an act of war and responded to in kind. The promise of smart a smart conventional bomb (unlike Putain, the West values civilian life) delivered to Putain’s Palace on the Idokopas Cape (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Putin%27s_Palace) might might get the message across. Let’s be clear, this guy can only be stopped by an iron fist.

    • Z’ing Sui

      You got one thing backwards – from what I can gather, Putin’s popularity in Russia rests largely on the huge improvements in the Russian standards of living during his tenure. On the part that it’s probably a lie/gross exaggeration designed to draw more attention to Ukraine I think we agree. As to the ability to assemble the bomb, rebels hold two large cities and there have to have been specialists who operated the nuclear facilities living there. And after all, it’s really basically just strapping ordinary explosives to a nuclear waste container.

      Putin’s probably not crazy enough to allow a thing like that near Russian borders though. Here’s hoping no rebel goes rogue and nuclear on him.

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      • Andrew Allison

        You are mistaken. Putin’s popularity is based exclusively on his efforts to re-establish Russia as a world power. I’m hearing from former supporters in Russia that the decline in standard of living is eroding his popularity.

        • peacelover

          This is the only solution to the Putin problem. Once his people are disamoured with him, only then is there the possibility to dislodge him from his throne. (And that possibility will of necessity involve loss of life). Though, I am not happy with the Russian people for believing all the lies he has told them.

          • Andrew Allison

            Unhappily, I think you are mistaken. A revolution is more-or-less unthinkable: the Russian Revolution was conducted by a relatively small group against a weak regime. The subsequent regimes have learned from history and been far from weak. The Russian people are the real victims here, just as they were under the Tsars, the Bolsheviks and their successors. It seems to be their fate. There’s a Russian proverb roughly translated as: all we can do is hope for a better master.

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