What is a Dirty Bomb?

It’s no secret that Russia and Ukraine are entangled in quite the hostile war, but how has this reintroduced a key work back into the media? Everyday news outlets become flooded with new information pertaining to the very relevant and violent war occurring in Ukraine. The major television network CNN has an astounding 75 people on the ground in Ukraine simply to provide up to date information. When browsing the news, one can expect the typical death toll update and riveting first-person stories, but a new category of stories flashed unrecognizably across my screen one day. It struck my attention as I was unfamiliar with what it could possibly mean. So now I ask you, do you know what a “dirty bomb” is?

It’s okay if you don’t – I have already exposed that I had never heard of this phrase either. It’s a confusing term allowing one to imagine scenes where bombs have been soiled, or where a bomb is too dirty to use – being deemed a “dirty bomb”. Wherever your mind went when you first thought of this phrase, there is only one true definition. As defined by the CDC,  “A dirty bomb is a mix of explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive powder.” Such a mix of materials was thought up to immediately impact and contaminate the surroundings of a blast area. A dirty bomb’s detonation, which has the potential to seriously hurt people and destroy surrounding property, poses the greatest threat when used. Another threat posed by the use of a dirty bomb is radiation. When used, the dirty bomb will release radioactive smoke, dust, or other contaminants that are radioactive. The fear of unintentionally contracting radiation is real, as radiation cannot be seen, smelled, felt, or tasted by humans. 

With the phrase ‘dirty bombs’ resurfacing online, there is a lot of gray space offering confusion or misconceptions to readers. This most likely relates back to the misunderstanding of the phrase. Often people think of bombs as an explosive weapon intended to destroy. However, dirty bombs are far less powerful, with their goal being less focused on destruction and more dialed in on creating fear and panic amongst people. This is due to the fact that “dirty bombs” do not actually emit enough radiation to cause immediate serious illness. It can be said that the dirty bomb is not a ““weapon of mass destruction” but a “weapon of mass disruption”,” where anxiety is the detonator’s major objective. Those who are near the blast of a “dirty bomb” are left alive – and likely feeling pretty anxious about what just occurred. 

Knowing and understanding what a dirty bomb is can aid in deciphering today’s relevant news. The term “dirty bomb” is being used within the media over an allegation made by Russia accusing Ukraine of planning to use a so-called dirty bomb. Russia believes that there are two facilities in Ukraine working on constructing these weapons. Yet, in 1994 Ukraine denuclearized their nation in return for security guarantees from the United States, Britain and Russia in the Budapest Memorandum. With Ukraine supposedly having no nuclear arms on its soil, Russia’s claim becomes invalid. Furthermore, a U.S. official stated We just reject [Russia’s] allegation. It’s just not true.It makes sense that Russia would spew false words. As of now, Russia has been facing constant military losses. With an assumed fear of losing the war, Putin has threatened to use “all means available to defend Russian-occupied territory. In stating that Ukraine may or may not be planning something publicly, Putin is making a far-fetched claim just as one would if they were scrambling in their losses to find a win. Another reason for making this claim could be to divert attention from their losses. Against the backdrop of low morale within Russia one can see why they would threaten such absurd suggestions of a “dirty bomb.”  

Although it’s been found that there is currently no danger of “dirty bombs” being dropped, you will now understand the momentum behind the term when and if it flashes upon your screen – just as it did to me.