Ukraine has accused Russian military personnel at a captured nuclear plant of doing “secret” work that could make a dirty bomb as allegations surrounding the potential use of such a weapon are tossed back and forth between Kyiv and Moscow.
Energoatom, Ukraine’s state energy operator, alleged Russian operatives have been carrying out “unauthorized construction works” over the last few days at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant’s Dry Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility, where spent nuclear fuel is kept.
These operatives have been working “by themselves, in secret,” Energoatom claimed in a Tuesday statement shared to Telegram, adding that Ukrainian personnel and representatives from the International Atomic Energy Agency are not given access to the site.
“The destruction of these containers as a result of detonation will lead to a radiation accident and radiation contamination of several hundred square kilometers of the surrounding area,” Energoatom said.
The company slammed Russia’s activities, saying any construction at the nuclear plant is illegal, a violation of the plant’s operations licensing, and a breach of international requirements for radiation safety.
Spent uranium stored at Zaporizhzhia’s Dry Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility could be used to construct a dirty bomb — a type of radiological dispersal device that uses conventional explosives to spread radioactive material. Although this type of weapon is unlikely to cause mass casualties, it is designed for radioactive contamination and terrorizing civilians.
“Energoatom assumes that such actions of the invaders may indicate that they are preparing a terrorist act using nuclear materials and radioactive waste stored at [Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant] site,” the company said. Insider could not immediately verify these claims, which follow other Ukrainian warnings of nuclear disaster.
Russian leadership accused Ukraine this week of planning to detonate a dirty bomb on its own territory, and the Russian defense ministry has said it is preparing its forces to be able to operate in radioactive conditions.
Experts have said that such allegations are an attempt by Russia to scare away NATO military support for Ukraine and undermine Kyiv’s credibility. Military experts and analysts argue Russia’s false allegations are meant to spread confusion, fear, and panic.
Ukrainian officials and Western countries have strongly rejected Russia’s baseless accusations.
“Russian lies about Ukraine allegedly planning to use a ‘dirty bomb’ are as absurd as they are dangerous. Firstly, Ukraine is a committed NPT member: we neither have any ‘dirty bombs’, nor plan to acquire any,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Sunday, referring to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. “Secondly, Russians often accuse others of what they plan themselves.”
Energoatom touched upon the Kremlin’s claims in its Tuesday statement, saying that Russia has spent the last few days accusing Ukraine of planning to build a dirty bomb by using the radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel stored at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is the largest in Europe and has been occupied by Russian forces since early March.
“Russia’s statements about the creation of a [dirty nuclear bomb] may indicate that [Russia] is preparing an act of nuclear terrorism,” Energoatom said.
US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price echoed these sentiments during a Tuesday briefing, saying Russia has “demonstrated a pattern of accusing others of that which it ultimately itself is planning.”
Although he was unable to speak to Russia’s activities at the nuclear power plant, Price said he shared the concerns expressed by Energoatom in its statement and rejected Russia’s dirty bomb accusations as “patently false” and “objectively untrue.”
“The type of rhetoric that we have heard from Russia consistently over the course of this conflict, the nuclear saber rattling and now references to the false allegation of a dirty bomb use — that’s irresponsible,” Price said.
Jake Epstein is a Junior Breaking News Reporter on the Speed Desk, based in Boston. He focuses on military, defense, and security issues. Prior, he worked at The Times of Israel, freelanced in the Boston area, and interned at CBS Boston. He graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism and international relations in May 2020. At Lehigh, he was the editor in chief of the independent student newspaper The Brown and White. This first appeared in Insider.