Chernobyl: Could radioactive material stolen from the nuclear power plant be used in a dirty bomb?

Scientists on the Chernobyl nuclear energy plant say that radioactive materials was stolen by looters in the course of the Russian invasion of Ukraine


| Analysis

29 March 2022

Satellite image of Chernobyl

Satellite picture of the Chernobyl nuclear energy plant in Ukraine on 10 March

Satellite picture (c) 2022 Maxar Technologies/DigitalGlobe/Getty Images

Radioactive materials has been stolen from a laboratory close to the Chernobyl nuclear energy plant in the course of the chaos brought on by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, however the hazard of a so-called soiled bomb being constructed from the fabric is minimal. Meanwhile, employees at Chernobyl have been working unpaid for practically two months and lack meals and medication.

A scientist working for Ukraine’s Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP), who requested to stay nameless for safety causes, confirmed to New Scientist that radioactive materials was in all probability stolen from a radiation monitoring laboratory within the principally deserted metropolis of Chernobyl.

The website was looted within the wake of the Russian invasion on 24 February that pushed ISPNPP employees away from their laboratories and the ability plant. Thieves took samples of radioactive isotopes usually used to calibrate devices in addition to samples of radioactive waste from the wreckage of the 1986 catastrophe.

The lack of radioactive materials was first reported by Science. The nameless supply talking to New Scientist has confirmed these stories, saying they’re “accurate based on the information available”. Science says that communication with one other lab that homes highly effective sources of gamma and neutron radiation has additionally been reduce off, so it’s potential that materials has gone lacking from there too.

Bruno Merk on the University of Liverpool, UK, says there isn’t a trigger for concern over the stolen materials, because it wasn’t the proper sort to create a nuclear weapon. Typically, plutonium or uranium are wanted for such a weapon, however this materials would comprise neither. Merk says that the in all probability small quantities of fabric can be of very restricted use within the building of a soiled bomb – primarily radioactive materials mixed with typical explosives to infect an space.

Anything prone to be discovered within the laboratories and workplaces round Chernobyl can be no extra harmful than supplies utilized in medical gear or on constructing websites, says Merk.

“There are so many radioactive sources around the world. If someone wants to get their hands on this there’s an easier way,” he says. “These radioactive sources you can steal in every hospital. It would always have been possible for someone to sneak in and steal something. I don’t see that the risk is any higher than before the Russians invaded.”

“Mainly they will be calibration sources, material you use to calibrate detection equipment,” he says. “If they have plutonium laying around in offices, then they have massively broken [global] contamination laws. There are clear rules from the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] for this and that doesn’t seem likely.”

The nameless scientist says that Chernobyl employees principally lived within the metropolis of Slavutych previous to the invasion, which was rapidly constructed to accommodate these displaced by the 1986 catastrophe. But those that didn’t flee the advancing Russian troops now don’t have any meals or medication.

“There is a very thin line of humanitarian help available,” the scientist says. “Fortunately, some supply from the nearest villages is organised by the town management. The staff of my institute has received no salary for almost two months because the authority is located in Ivankiv. Normally we spend the day finding some food and night for work. I have a lot to do with the minimum information I have.”

The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine and ISPNPP didn’t reply to requests for remark.

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