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Dirty Bomb Risk in Ukraine, Control of Nuclear Materials Questionable

  • As Ukrainian society and economy crumble, control over their nuclear materials is a real concern
  • Oligarchs, corrupt politicians, extremist political factions add up to a "nightmare" environment

This article originally appeared at RT

A nightmare scenario is that a dirty bomb could end up in the Middle East in the hands of terrorists, because great powers are not in control of nuclear weapons anymore, historian and political analyst Martin McCauley told RT.

According to Ukraine's security forces, they have seized nuclear material from a criminal gang that was trying to sell it. The substance is said to be Uranium-238, which can be used to create a so-called 'dirty bomb'

<figcaption>Nuclear power plants in Ukraine</figcaption>
Nuclear power plants in Ukraine

RT:There's little information about this seizure of uranium - no details have been revealed about those who tried to sell it, or their client. Do you have any thoughts on who could be behind it?

Martin McCauley: Well, there are various possibilities, because there are those in Ukraine who don’t accept President [Petro] Poroshenko as president, they don’t see him as legitimate - they would like to remove him. If one of those militias had a dirty bomb, it would be a very powerful weapon, and they could in fact blackmail a president. That’s one option. The other option is that there might be a terrorist organization. One can name a lot of terrorist organizations starting with IS, which would like a dirty bomb. If they could get their hands on it, they can do a lot of damage. So in the present very dangerous environment in Ukraine, there is risk that this in fact could happen, because uranium can, as you say, be enriched so it becomes plutonium. Plutonium goes into a nuclear bomb.

RT: Uranium can be used to make a dirty bomb - a threat increasingly discussed by officials in the UK, where you are. What does the fact that it's being sold on the black market in Ukraine tell us about the security situation in the country?

MM: It tells that the security is very insecure, that it’s very fragile, because plutonium should be locked up or anything which could in fact make a dirty bomb should be under lock and key and guarded by the military. It should be a state-controlled operation. It appears now, if this is accurate, that somebody has entered one of these garrisons and obtained this very dangerous element so that he can make money out of it. Perhaps he did have a person on the inside and therefore, you have to look then at a very dangerous and fragile security environment in Ukraine, where one can say that the military is not really in control of the country. 

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko © Mikhail Markiv

RT:Ukrainian officials said the amounts of seized uranium were small. How real is the threat of a dirty bomb, both to the Ukraine and to other countries?

MM: Yes, because you start up with uranium and you enrich it and it becomes plutonium and then you proceed to a bomb. On the black market there are plenty of people who know what to do and how to make a bomb, because making a nuclear bomb is no longer difficult - a lot of people understand physics. 
The difficulty is for those who are trying to control the spread of nuclear weapons; it is extremely difficult to do so. Even though they may have got hold of a very small portion of uranium, you then add that to another piece of uranium, and so on. One of the nightmares is that a dirty bomb will end up in the Middle East in the hands of a terrorist organization, which would then be a disaster. Therefore, this is very bad news that makes everyone more nervous than before. Everyone has said that a nuclear bomb can be made. It is not really the great powers, it’s not really Russia, China, France, Britain and the US, Pakistan, Israel, India who control nuclear weapons now. Other countries can make them. And Ukraine after all was a nuclear power until the early 1990s. So the expertise and the knowledge must be there. Ukraine had a former nuclear weapons industry in places like Dnepropetrovsk before. So the knowledge, the expertise, and so on is within Ukraine. Let’s hope it doesn’t really escalate into a dirty bomb.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.



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