Radioactive material was stolen from a laboratory near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant during the Russia-Ukraine crisis. However, the probability of a “dirty bomb” being built from the material is low. Meanwhile, Chernobyl workers have gone nearly two months without pay and are running out of food and medicine.
According to a specialist from Ukraine’s Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP), radioactive material was most likely stolen from a Chernobyl radiation monitoring facility.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, which pushed ISPNPP workers away from the power plant, the facility was looted. From the remains of the 1986 disaster, thieves took radioactive isotopes needed to calibrate instruments and radioactive trash.
The loss of radioactive compounds was first reported by science. According to science, communication with another lab that holds significant sources of gamma and neutron radiation has been cut off, so materials may have gone missing there.
According to Bruno Merk from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, the stolen material was not the type needed to make a nuclear weapon; therefore, there’s no reason to panic. Small quantities of material, according to Merk, would be of pretty limited use in the production of a dirty bomb, which combines radioactive material with conventional explosives to harm an area.
Merk said that anything found in Chernobyl-area laboratories and offices would be no more dangerous than substances found in medical equipment or construction sites.
“There are so many radioactive sources around the world. If someone wants to get their hands on this, there’s an easier way,” he added. “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, the material you use to calibrate detection equipment,” Merk said.
“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.”