SCOTT RITTER: Russia’s ‘Dirty Bomb’ Scare

Russia appears to be legitimately concerned about the possibility of Ukraine building and using a “dirty bomb,” so much so that it has taken the unprecedented step of reaching out to multiple senior Western defense authorities.

By Scott Ritter
Special to Consortium News

In the span of a few hours on Sunday, the senior-most Russian defense authorities — Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and General Gennady Gerasimov — called their counterparts in the U.S., U.K., France, and Turkey, with the same message — Ukraine is preparing to detonate a so-called “dirty bomb”— high explosive-wrapped radiological material, designed to contaminate large areas with deadly radioactive isotopes. 

Russia is not only concerned about the immediate impact of Ukraine detonating such a devise in terms of the harm that would be done to people and the environment, but also about the potential for such an event to be used by Ukraine’s western allies to directly intervene militarily in the ongoing conflict, similar to what occurred in Syria when allegations about the use of Sarin nerve agent by the Syrian government against civilians were used by the U.S., U.K., and France to justify an attack on Syrian military and infrastructure targets. (It turned out that the allegations of Sarin use were false; the jury is still out about the use of commercial chlorine as a weapon.)

President of Russia Vladimir Putin with Defense Minister of Russia Sergey Shoigu after a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Russia is to raise the matter at the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

In return, Western governments on Monday accused Russia of plans to deploy a dirty bomb. “We’ve been very clear with the Russians … about the severe consequences that would result from nuclear use,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price. “There would be consequences for Russia whether it uses a dirty bomb or a nuclear bomb.”

Ukraine is requesting that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) send a team to Ukraine to investigate.

A Dud

For all the press attention that has been given to the possibility of a “dirty bomb” being used in Ukraine, history shows that despite the hype, a “dirty bomb” is not a weapon that is either easily produced or procured or causes the kind of mass casualties its proponents hope for.

The current “dirty bomb” scare isn’t Russia’s first encounter with the concept. In November 1995 a “dirty bomb” comprised of high explosives and cesium was uncovered in Moscow’s Ismailovsky Park, and in December 1998 another cache of radioactive material was found attached to an explosive charge near a railroad track in Chechnya. Both devices were disarmed by Russian security forces.

In May 2002 F.B.I. agents arrested Jose Padilla, an American citizen who converted to Islam, as he returned to the United States from a trip that took him to Egypt, Pakistan, and eventually Afghanistan, where, sometime in 1999-2000, he allegedly met with Abu Zubaydah, Osama Bin Laden’s operations chief. According to Zubaydeh, he and Padilla discussed the possibility of Padilla building and detonating a “dirty bomb” inside the U.S.

While Al Qaeda had apparently drafted plans for such a weapon — and in fact had accumulated radioactive medical isotopes for use in a “dirty bomb” (these materials were seized by the U.N. in 2002) — none of this information was shared with Padilla, who arrived in the U.S. with neither a weapon design nor means to accomplish the task. He was tried and convicted, nonetheless.

The closest the world has come to the actual production and employment of an actual “dirty bomb” came in 1987, when Iraq built and tested four devices designed to spread a cloud of radioactive dust for the express purpose of killing humans — in this case, Iranian soldiers (Iraq was, at that time, engaged in a long and bloody conflict with Iran.)

The device in question — an air-dropped bomb measuring 12 feet in length and weighing more than a ton — was, according to documents turned over by Iraq to United Nations inspectors, intended to be dropped on troop areas, industrial centers, airports, railroad stations, bridges and “any other areas the command decrees.”

According to the document, the bomb was intended to induce radiation sickness which would “weaken enemy units from the standpoint of health and inflict losses that would be difficult to explain, possibly producing a psychological effect.” Death, the document noted, would occur “within two to six weeks.”

The Iraqis chose zirconium as their radioactive source. The Iraqis had zirconium in quantities due to its use in incendiary weapons. By irradiating zirconium flakes in the Iraqi nuclear reactor located in Tuwaitha, the Iraqis produced the radioactive isotope Zirconium 95, which had a half-life of 75.5 days, meaning the bomb would have to be used soon after it was manufactured.

The weapon was tested three times in 1987, including a final test involving two actual “dirty bombs” dropped by aircraft. The weapons were a bust, loosing their radioactive properties shortly after detonation. In fact, one would need to stand within ten feet of the point of detonation of the bomb to absorb a lethal dose of radiation, something the high explosive charge of the bomb itself made moot. The project was abandoned.

The Iraqi results were replicated by Israel which, between 2010 and 2014 carried out 20 explosive tests of actual “dirty bombs” in the Negev desert. The research found that the radiation was dispersed in a manner that the danger posed to humans was not substantial, concluding that “the main impact of such an attack would be psychological.”

False Flag, or False Alert?

The Russians are serious about the threat posed by the possibility of a Ukrainian “dirty bomb.” While the history of “dirty bombs” does not point to a threat on the scale or scope of an actual nuclear weapon, one can “worst case” a scenario which provides the potential for the significant loss of life and property from the radioactive fallout such a weapon could produce. Such an outcome would be a disaster which Russia and, presumably, the Western allies of Ukraine would like to prevent.

So far, the Russian allegations appear to have fallen on deaf ears, with Ukraine dismissing the claims as absurd, and non-government affiliated western analysts flipping the script, accusing Russia of actually planning a false flag attack on Ukraine using a “dirty bomb” of its own construction.

But the reality is that Russia takes its senior military-to-military connections with its western counterparts very seriously, given the role such contacts play in the kind of deconfliction cooperation that keeps small-scale incidents from exploding into war. The possibility that Russia would deliberately corrupt this communication channel with disinformation is highly unlikely. Russia appears to be legitimately concerned about the possibility of Ukraine building and using a “dirty bomb”, so much so that it has taken the unprecedented step of reaching out to multiple senior Western defense authorities to prevent such an occurrence from happening.

If, at the end of the day, the appropriate phone calls are made by the West, and Ukraine backs down, then Russia will have succeeded. And if it turns out that the Russian information is wrong, there was no harm from the effort. However, if Russia is correct, and Ukraine not only is preparing to use a “dirty bomb”, but detonates one, and the West did nothing to prevent it, then Russia is on the record for having provided the West with due warning.

Scott Ritter is a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD. His most recent book is Disarmament in the Time of Perestroika, published by Clarity Press.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.


33 comments for “SCOTT RITTER: Russia’s ‘Dirty Bomb’ Scare

  1. usa psycopathic
    October 27, 2022 at 04:16

    I feel like I am living in a Twilight zone episode. That I will wake up and it has all been a bad dream. But every night I go to sleep only to wake up and discover yet a new insanity and evil perpetuated by USA. USA is run by a psychopathic group of bullies that needs to be put down once and for all.

  2. Gerry L Forbes
    October 26, 2022 at 23:23

    When the punditry discuss the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons they usually refer to the use of tactical nukes in Ukraine. However if the Russians are concerned about the detonation of a false flag dirty bomb on Ukrainian territory it seems unlikely that they would want to create a much more devastating nuclear explosion on that same territory. Therefore if Russia resorts to the use of nuclear weapons expect the first target to be the City of London.

  3. Curmudgeon
    October 26, 2022 at 11:47

    Everything Mr. Ritter says is true. However, once the US cranks up the Mighty Wurlitzer of disinformation, it won’t matter. The compliant media in our Zionist occupied countries of the so-called Western liberal democracies will blame Russia, not Ukraine. The US will bribe or threaten its usual suspects at the UN to blame Russia. The psychopaths in charge will get the war they want, but not necessarily the result they want.

  4. Brad Smith
    October 26, 2022 at 11:06

    One of my thoughts on this is that it could be Ukraine’s way of blackmailing the US and NATO into putting forces into Odessa. The city in question stands directly between Kherson and Odessa. The threat could go like this. Either you stop the Russians from Taking Odessa or we will use a dirty nuke to stop their advance this winter.

    We all know what a disaster it would be for Ukraine to lose Odessa and with Russia’s mobilization that could be where this is heading.

  5. Mikael Andersson
    October 25, 2022 at 19:08

    I can tolerate it for a while, because it’s Standard Operating Procedure, but “We’ve been very clear with the Russians … about the severe consequences that would result from nuclear use”. The arrogance of these people. The “consequences” will be in Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Seattle. These imbeciles threaten “consequences” for the country with the largest arsenal of nuclear explosives? Damn right there’ll be severe consequences – the USA is itching to get in this fight. Any trigger will do and a patent lie will suffice. Then add Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, Brussels and London to their list of “consequences”.

      October 27, 2022 at 04:22

      It is as if the USA treats other countries, even other superpowers as children. It shows a total lack of diplomatic skills, common sense and humanity. It is because USA thinks it is the world’s dictator.

  6. Ricardo2000
    October 25, 2022 at 17:09

    Joseph Schumpeter: “[Golden Billion] Politicians are like bad horsemen who are so preoccupied with staying in the saddle that they can’t bother about where they’re going.”

    The radiation needed requires short half-life isotopes with intense radioactivity. The production and purification requires sophisticated techniques. So it might appear that a ‘dirty bomb’ could be a wasteful use of resources.

    Georges Clemenceau (1841 – 1929): “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.”

    Attacking a nuclear power plant would do the same thing without sophisticated assembly or technology. Spent fuel is the source of the ‘dirt’ in ‘dirty bomb’. So I’m more worried about continued shelling of the Zaporozhye NPP, and its long term, dry and wet spent fuel storage areas. Attacking the Crimean Bridge and destroying the NordStream pipelines signalled there would be no peace short of victory for Zelenskiy and Biden. It also shifted the boundaries of this war. Now every European pipeline and energy facility is a target. Civilian structures are targets, particularly Polish and Slovenian power plants, railroads and highway networks. Can anyone in Europe say, “Chunnel”, “Rotterdam”, or “TGV”?

    John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873): “I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally conservative.”

    I hope Russia has also made specific threats regarding continued shelling of these facilities. Russia should regard attacks on the ZNPP as a nuclear attack. Russia should threaten widespread retaliation on European energy sources, particularly Poland’s largest coal power plants, Rumania and the 101st Airborne, North Sea pipelines and wind power.

  7. Lois Gagnon
    October 25, 2022 at 17:07

    The mad dogs in Washington will stop at nothing to achieve their Full Spectrum Dominance. Russia is in the unfortunate position of being in its crosshairs for destruction. They certainly know at this point they are not dealing with rational beings, but mindless automatons who have no concern about the consequences of their actions. The world needs to pull together and isolate these cretins before it’s too late.

  8. rosemerry
    October 25, 2022 at 16:05

    The West is still claiming to support Ukraine and to be so shocked at the thought that its “partner”, sovereign, democratic and independent, could possible even think of such a thing. However, it means that surely Ukraine must realise this is NOT ON and Russia’s fears may be eased. Who would believe Ukraine, or the USA, after so many lies up to now?

  9. David Otness
    October 25, 2022 at 15:11

    Our fate in the hands of Biden’s White House, a viper’s nest of veritable Democratic Party John Boltons.
    How did we allow our republic to be ruled over by those who put these awful words and actions in the President’s ear? The man himself is an empty husk, running on fumes. His staff are vicious and obsessive, pathological deviants, themselves radiating evil for consummation of a poisonous legacy no matter the cost to the rest of humanity.
    My own sneaking suspicions point to a Jeffrey Epstein-type mole early and long now in the Biden legacy woodpile.

    I sincerely mean it when I now say God help us.

  10. Realist
    October 25, 2022 at 14:55

    This purported caper brings to mind the depleted uranium projectiles that the US widely used against the Iraqis and the Serbs in those glorious little wars. Their proximal intended effect was to pierce armor on tanks and other military vehicles and certainly to shred bodies struck with the metal fragments generated by the impacts. Their very real collateral effects were not immediately lethal as toxins, teratogens or carcinogens but certainly were over time, even in American troops exposed to the dust and debris. Over time, exposure to the mostly Uranium-238 did cause cancers, birth defects, still births and other chronic disorders in both combatants and innocent civilians whether intended by the deployers of these weapons or not. This happens when alpha emitters like U238 (or beta emitters like Iodine 131) are absorbed by the body and integrated into structures like bone, nerve fibres or soft tissue. A dirty bomb laced with dangerous radionuclides, including both beta and powerful gamma emitters such as Cesium-137, Strontium-90, Radium-226 and Iodine-131, will have both immediate effects of radiation sickness from the high energy gamma rays, if the dose is high enough, and lingering pathologies from radioisotopes integrated into body tissue. I-131 notoriously becomes concentrated in the thyroid gland to later cause cancer. Hence the potassium iodide tablets taken as a prophylactic if you are near a nuclear blast. Hot Strontium goes straight into bone. Cesium accumulates in the kidneys and muscle. Boomers incorporated a lot of these nasty isotopes as children during the open air nuclear testing done during the ’50’s and probably still have plenty of such atoms as souvenirs of their childhood and future triggers of a spontaneous cancer. Cs-137 and Sr-90 both have half lives of around 30 years, I-131 persists a much shorter time with a half life of about 140 days. Click on Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly” for a scene of typical Americans from the ’50’s picnicking in the desert whilst watching a nuclear test detonation ( ). A long strange trip it has certainly been.

  11. Peter Loeb
    October 25, 2022 at 14:04

    Who is behind it you ask??

    Defense contractors, that’s who.

    Read William Hartung’s book “Prophets of War”. Norman Augustine was CEO of Martin Marietta and then
    of Lockheed Martin. There was a need for “markets” for defense contractors’ expensive weapons. Augustine
    “created” these markets. See the above book Chapter 8. There are other descriptions of Mr. Augustine’s
    aggressive salesmanship.

    The basis of defense contractors was, of course, FDR who proudly produced the “arsenal of democracy”. That
    included tax perks, contract plus bids, free construction of plants etc. Of course…there was a war then. (There
    are several sources for FDR’s role.)

  12. Georges Olivier Daudelin
    October 25, 2022 at 10:41

    Les affidés de la BÊTE IMPÉRIALISTE OCCIDENTALE MENTENT COMME ILS RESPIRENT, Zelensky n’est qu’une Marionnette, c’est Washington qui contrôle”

    Washington et l’Otan ont décidé tout simplement d’utiliser l’impensable, l’inimaginable, l’interdiction totale et absolue, c’est-à-dire l’arme nucléaire. Les affidés de la BÊTE IMPÉRIALISTE OCCIDENTALE, dont Washington est l’antre capitale, ne reculeront devant aucune horreur HUMAINE pour imposer leur mondialisation hégémonique dans leur guerre contre la Russie et la Chine.

    L’hécatombe est en vue comme solution pour Washington et ses vassaux de l’Otan. La mort ne se présente plus avec une faux, mais avec une bombe sale prête à être délestée de la main au doigt inquisiteur. Pour ces affidés de la BÊTE, une guerre nucléaire est gagnante: totalement PSYCHOPATHE ET BESTIAL.

    La gouvernance chaotique mortifère occidentale est un échec total.

  13. Vera Gottlieb
    October 25, 2022 at 10:04

    I reside in Europe but that doesn’t mean I know everything about Ukraine. However, what I’ve read so far leads me to believe NOT to trust Ukraine. Is this nation (leaders) so blind and stupid not to see what the US is doing and using them as fodder? And it is no secret here in Europe that Ukraine is about the most corrupt nation here.

    • Susan Siens
      October 26, 2022 at 16:56

      I don’t think they care. The one common denominator I have seen in fascist movements is the desire to KILL, KILL, KILL. As Hannah Arendt pointed out about Hitler, at bottom was his desire to destroy Germany. The Ukrainian Nazis don’t care if every Ukrainian is killed; I have immense sympathy for ordinary Ukrainians caught up in this mess, knowing that if they speak up they will be tortured and murdered (U.S. tactics used in Latin America, now in use in Ukraine).

  14. October 25, 2022 at 09:02

    Extremely helpful; thanks Scott! Ray

  15. mgr
    October 25, 2022 at 08:49

    Once again, you see Russia and Putin reaching out for cooperation with the West. This has been true in general for decades, in particular after the breakup of the Soviet Union and certainly during the run up to the present conflict in Ukraine. In stark contrast, the West has repeatedly eschewed any cooperation or negotiation whatsoever, certainly in regards to mutually beneficial security arrangements. Note the US going in the opposite direction, leaving the various arms agreements.

    Russia and China are promoting cooperation among peers for a new world order. Funny how I, we, always thought that was what the US stood for. I cannot express how disappointing the actual truth is. Sadly, the US strives only for submission and views every other sovereign nation as either a vassal or an adversary. There is no middle ground and the US does not have allies, just sources of resources and cannon fodder; vassal states.

    The US plays with nuclear weapons like a child with a loaded gun. And that gun is pointed at all our heads.

    As for Ukraine, eight months or so ago it was known as the most corrupt country in Europe, ruled by oligarchs and with rising neo-Nazi elements in military and government (you can read all about it in the NYT, back then). It is now even worse. It is the Zelenski government after all that is refusing to negotiate and is literally fighting to the last Ukrainian even while its oligarchs are selling off most of the arms that are being sent by the West. This is Ukraine, a cesspool. It was before and it is worse now. It would be no surprise to find that Ukraine was actually planning this dirty bomb. It’s exactly who they are and of course, we can also thank the CIA for training them so well.

    Ukraine’s future was always stunted. If anything, it was destined to be a bane on Europe. As part of Russia, it has a chance. As a US/NATO vassal state it was never going to get any better. Or should we look at America’s other great successes at nation building in the last 50 years as a guide? Try to name a few…

    • Valerie
      October 25, 2022 at 10:26

      Incredible isn’t it, to think the EU has put sanctions on Hungary, who they deem corrupt, yet are trying to fast-track Ukraine to be an EU member. Why? So they can sanction them too. What a joke. The hypocrisy and shenanigans of europe and the USA knows no bounds.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      October 25, 2022 at 11:26

      Thank you. You have expressed what I believe very well.

    • Rob Roy
      October 25, 2022 at 14:08

      Well said.

    • David Otness
      October 25, 2022 at 14:57

      Excellent synopsis, mgr. Thank you.

      • Jeff Hambleton
        October 26, 2022 at 00:59

        Yet another barrel of nitroglycerin added to the back of the shaky wagon.
        We’re nearest to Armageddon than we were yesterday.

    • mgr
      October 26, 2022 at 08:45

      Thank you everyone for your kind replies. I only wish it were not so.

  16. Henry Smith
    October 25, 2022 at 08:46

    I think the reality is that Russia is not concerned so much with a potential dirty bomb but with “the potential for such an event to be used by Ukraine’s western allies to directly intervene militarily in the ongoing conflict”.
    Gonzalo Lira highlights his take on this scenario here:
    IMO, direct intervention of USA/NATO against Russia is a non starter. The West cannot ‘win’ and the consequences of trying are unthinkable.

    • WillD
      October 25, 2022 at 23:38

      That’s what I thought, too – that Russia is raising the possibility of a major and very severe false flag operation by the West, or its proxy Ukraine, so that there is a clear public record in the event that such an attack is carried out in Ukraine and blamed on Russia. Russia can then legitimately say that it warned everyone that this might happen, and thus deflect the blame.

    • Brad Smith
      October 26, 2022 at 11:49

      My thinking is similar. However I look at the location of the threat and the importance of the location is clear. It’s the only large city between the Russians and Odessa. I do think the goal is to get the US to move into Odessa. The threat is that if the US and NATO won’t move into Odessa, then Ukraine will have this dirty bomb set to go off when Russia tries to move through Mykolaiv, on the way to Odessa this Winter. Ukraine wouldn’t have to make this threat directly, they wouldn’t need to, they could simply get caught in the act of building the weapon, for the US to understand the implications. Would Ukraine actually set off a dirty bomb, possibly. And in this scenario is actually makes sense from a tactic point of view. If the Russians can’t move ground troops through Mykolaiv they would likely have to land them by sea or air drop them or both. The Russians can’t easily bipass Mykolaiv because the rest of the area is essentially one huge swampland covered in a series of rivers and marshes.

      Mykolaiv is the linchpin securing Odessa and it’s always possible that they hope the Russians will not take Mykolaiv if they believe their advance will be halted anyway, when it’s irradiated. It might not be any more complicated than that. I’m not sure what Ukraine wouldn’t be willing to do to try to save themselves from becoming a landlocked rump state. (apparently nothing is off the table with the exception of negotiations)

  17. Mike S
    October 25, 2022 at 06:02

    And if the west is behind it?

    • Vera Gottlieb
      October 25, 2022 at 10:01

      If the West is behind it? Why not be a lot more specific: the US is behind it…

      • Mr. Russian
        October 25, 2022 at 17:26

        Probably the UK not the US.
        Russian officials specifically mentioned that they know Ukraine has contacted the UK about acquiring certain parts of nuclear weapons.

        • Susan Siens
          October 26, 2022 at 16:59

          USUK is one entity. And the rest of western Europe appears ready to face Armageddon rather than cut the apron strings which tie them to their master. Eurovassals, indeed.

  18. peter mcloughlin
    October 25, 2022 at 05:43

    There’s a maxim from history: everyone eventually gets the war they want to avoid. Everybody wants to avoid WW3. But time is running out to find a way back from the brink.

    A free ebook: The Pattern Of History and Fate of Humanity

    • Mike Maddden
      October 25, 2022 at 12:07

      If the US is behind it, evidence will be suppressed and Russia will be blamed. Just like Nord Stream.

      • Minkz
        October 27, 2022 at 04:22

        Or MH17, or Skirpals / Navalny….

Comments are closed.