Ukraine alleges Russian dirty bomb deception at nuke plant

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s nuclear power operator said Tuesday that Russian forces are doing covert work at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, activities that shed light on Russia’s claims that the Ukrainian military is preparing a “provocation” involving a radioactive device.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a baseless allegation that Ukraine is preparing to launch a so-called dirty bomb.. Shoigu made the accusation in calls to his British, French, Turkish and US counterparts over the weekend. Britain, France and the US rejected it as “manifestly false”.

Ukraine also dismissed Moscow’s claim as an attempt to divert attention from the Kremlin’s own alleged plans to detonate a dirty bomb that uses explosives to disperse radioactive waste in an effort to sow terrorism.

Energoatom, the Ukrainian state-owned enterprise that operates the country’s four nuclear power plants, said Russian forces had been carrying out covert construction work at Ukraine’s occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant over the past week.

Russian officials who control the area do not grant access to Ukrainian staff who run the plant, nor do they grant access to observers from the United Nations Atomic Energy Observatory, which would allow them to see what the Russians are doing.

Energoatom said it “assumed” the Russians were preparing a terrorist act using nuclear material and radioactive waste stored at the plant. The plant’s dry spent fuel storage facility had 174 containers, each containing 24 spent nuclear fuel assemblies, it said.

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“The destruction of these containers as a result of the explosion will lead to a radiation hazard and radiation contamination of hundreds of square kilometers (miles) of the adjacent land,” the company said.

It asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to assess what was going on.

The UN Security Council held closed-door consultations on the dirty bomb allegations at Russia’s request on Tuesday.

Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia sent a five-page letter to council members ahead of the meeting, saying that the Nuclear Research Institute of the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev, Ukraine, and the Vostochny Mining and Processing Plant had “directly received, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Orders from (President Volodymyr) Zelenskyy’s regime to produce such a dirty bomb” and “work is in the final stages.”

The ministry also received word that “this work can be done with the help of Western countries,” Nebenzia said. He warned that authorities in Kyiv and their Western backers “will bear full responsibility” for “all consequences” of using a “dirty bomb” that Russia considers an “act of nuclear terrorism.”

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Poliansky, was asked by reporters after the council meeting what evidence Russia had that Zelensky ordered the development of a “dirty bomb.” He replied, it is intelligence.

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“We have shared it in our telephonic conversation with colleagues who have the required level of clearance,” he said. “Those who wanted to understand the seriousness of the threat had every opportunity to understand it. Those who wish to dismiss it as Russian propaganda will do so anyway.

Polianski said the IAEA could send inspectors to investigate allegations of a “dirty bomb”.

Britain’s deputy UN ambassador James Kariuki told reporters after the meeting that “we have seen and heard no new evidence” and the UK, France and the US clarified that “this is a patently false allegation” and “pure Russian disinformation”. He said, “It is clear that Ukraine has nothing to hide” and “IAEA inspectors are coming.”

In a related matter, Russia asked the Security Council to establish a commission to investigate claims that the United States and Ukraine are violating the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Biological Weapons in Ukraine’s laboratories.

In the wake of Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, its UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia claimed that secret American labs were engaged in biological warfare in Ukraine – a claim denied by the US and Ukraine.

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Russia has called a Security Council meeting on Thursday regarding Ukraine’s biological laboratories and its allegations.

The Kremlin has insisted its warning of a Ukrainian plan to use a dirty bomb must be taken seriously, criticizing Western nations for its withdrawal.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow’s lifting of the warning was “unacceptable given the seriousness of the danger we have talked about”.

During a conference call with reporters, Peskov added: “We reiterate the serious danger posed by the plans prepared by the Ukrainians.”

US President Joe Biden was asked at the White House on Tuesday whether Russia was preparing to deploy a tactical nuclear weapon after Ukraine said it was using a dirty bomb.

“I talked about it a lot today,” Biden told reporters.

The president was also asked if claims of a Ukrainian dirty bomb amounted to a false flag operation.

“Let me just say that if Russia were to use a tactical nuclear weapon, it would be making an incredibly grave mistake,” Biden said. “I still don’t assure you that it was a false flag operation … but it would be a serious, serious mistake.”

Dirty bombs lack the devastating destruction of a nuclear explosion, but can expose wide areas to radioactive contamination.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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