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“Dirty bomb” in Ukraine? Beware of the documents that accompany this Russian allegation


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A “dirty bomb” would be under development in Ukraine: this is the narrative unfolded since October 23, 2022 by Moscow. These allegations were accompanied on Telegram and on Twitter by illustrated slides, which seem to support the point. But the images in it are old and some were even taken in Russia. They can therefore be misleading.

Verification in a nutshell

  • Since October 23, 2022, Russia has accused Ukraine of developing a “dirty bomb”, a type of bomb that combines conventional explosives and radioactive elements.
  • An allegation taken up on Telegram by the Russian Ministry of Defense on October 24 and then on Twitter by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accompanied by explanatory slides which seem to implicitly support their point.
  • But the images appearing on these slides come from various websites, unrelated to such accusations. Some were even taken in Russia.
  • There is no indication to date that Ukraine is preparing such a weapon. For Ukraine and its allies, such accusations are a “pretext for escalation”.

The details of the check

This is an assertion made by Russia since Sunday, October 23, 2022: Ukraine is preparing a “dirty bomb”. Composed of conventional explosives, such a weapon has the particularity of being surrounded by radioactive materials which are dispersed after the explosion, contaminating the surrounding area.

“According to the information available to us, two Ukrainian organizations have received a direct order to create the so-called ‘dirty bomb’. The work is in the finalization phase,” the Russian Defense Ministry wrote on its Telegram channel. , Monday, October 24, 2022, without specifying the nature of these two organizations. A narrative supported by several illustrated slides.

The first, also shared on Twitter by the Russian Foreign Ministry, lists in English “radiation hazardous installations in Ukraine”, namely “nuclear power plants”, “industrial enterprises”, and “scientific research institutes”. “.

Another slide of the same type, titled “Ukraine’s capacities to create the ‘dirty bomb'”, presents, for its part, different potential sources of radioactive substances: the “spent nuclear fuel storage basins in nuclear power plants “, “radioactive waste storage sites” and “scientific research reactors”. It also includes indications relating to the “development of ‘dirty bombs'”. The Twitter post in which this slide appears has been shared over 800 times.

Screenshots of tweets shared by the Russian Foreign Ministry on October 24, 2022. The observers

As for the third slide, it claims to illustrate the “critical consequences of such provocations”, such as a potential “panic of the population and an increase in the flow of refugees”.

Third slide shared by the Russian Foreign Ministry on October 24, 2022 on Telegram.
Third slide shared by the Russian Foreign Ministry on October 24, 2022 on Telegram. The observers

These graphic elements were subsequently taken up by many accounts on Twitter, including French-speaking ones (here Where here for example).

Russian research center and nuclear power plant

While these images are not explicitly labeled as evidence, they are posted by official Russian accounts alongside their claims and thus appear to be used to support them.

However, many of them have nothing to do with these accusations. The use of multiple reverse image searches on the different photos present in this illustration (see here how to proceed) makes it possible to find their origin.

On the first slide, the image that illustrates the danger represented by Ukrainian research institutes thus shows a Russian institute: the PIK neutron reactor, located at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Saint Petersburg. We can indeed find this photo shared by the Tass agency, in an article from February 8, 2021.

Origin of this image featured in this slide shared on Telegram by the Ministry of Defense on October 24, 2022.
Origin of this image featured in this slide shared on Telegram by the Ministry of Defense on October 24, 2022. The observers

The second slide, supposed to document Ukraine’s capabilities to create a “dirty bomb”, is also based on images showing Russian structures. The photo on the left shows the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in Russia. We find it in particular in this article of March 20, 2020 published by the Russian media Newsae.

The photo on the right was used in January 2016 in an article on the Wonderful Engineering website among other images documenting the Novosibirsk chemical concentrates plant. A plant that is located in Russian Siberia and produces nuclear fuel for nuclear reactors.

As for the image accompanying the part on the “development of the ‘dirty bomb'”, it is actually a photo of the Slovenian radioactive waste agency from 2010. This is what the government Slovenian insured in a tweet on October 25.

“The photo shows smoke detectors subject to general use. They contain a radioactive source, but none of the radioactive sources listed in the table below the photo. The photo was published without the knowledge of ARAO”, can we read in the post.

Origin of several images in this slide shared on Telegram by the Ministry of Defense on October 24, 2022.
Origin of several images in this slide shared on Telegram by the Ministry of Defense on October 24, 2022. © Observers

Images used by Russian propaganda during the war in Syria

On the third slide, the image on the left may also catch our attention. As remarked by Eliot Higginsfounder of the investigative site Bellingcat, it had already been used by Russia in 2018, in the context of the war in Syria, to claim that members of the Syrian civil defense (known as “White Helmets”) were staging images of war crimes against civilians.

“It should be noted that this type of information warfare technology has already been used by the West in Syria when the White Helmets filmed propaganda footage of the use of chemical weapons by government forces there. “, writes the Russian Ministry of Defense on Telegram above this slide.

The same allegations had been broadcast on Russian television in 2018.

Comparison between an image on the slide shared by the Russian Defense Ministry on October 24, 2022 and a 2018 broadcast by Russian TV channel Russia 1 which used these images.
Comparison between an image on the slide shared by the Russian Defense Ministry on October 24, 2022 and a 2018 broadcast by Russian TV channel Russia 1 which used these images. The observers

However, the image comes from a shooting of a Syrian film, as we explained in an article and a video in 2018.

These images, which may implicitly appear to confirm the thesis of the preparation of a “dirty bomb” in Ukraine, in no way support these accusations and may therefore prove to be misleading.

The two Russian ministries gave no further evidence to support their claims.

The United States, France and the United Kingdom, allies of Ukraine, have rejected such allegations, which they say constitute a strategic move by Moscow.

“No one would be fooled by an attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation,” they said in a statement Monday, October 24.



France 24-Trans

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