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No, Ukraine does not have nuclear bombs or “dirty bombs”
If Your Time is short
Ukraine does not have a nuclear bomb or a “dirty bomb,” according to experts and watchdogs.
The country used to have Soviet-era nuclear weapons but returned them to Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed.
Ukraine also dismantled or destroyed its nuclear missiles and silos. Its nuclear materials are now used for peaceful purposes.
Since invading Ukraine, Russia has repeatedly claimed that Ukraine is going to detonate a nuclear bomb on its own territory.
The most recent example came Oct. 23, when Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu called his counterparts in the United States, the United Kingdom and France to say that Ukraine is preparing a "provocation" with a radiological device known as a "dirty bomb."
"Dirty bombs" use conventional explosives to spread radioactive material, according to a fact sheet by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They are easier to make and considerably less deadly than nuclear weapons, but they can contaminate targeted areas with radioactive particles and cause panic.
Similar allegations have circulated on social media.
An Oct. 21 Instagram post included footage from a Russian TV show and featured text saying, "Today on Russian TV. Ukraine has a nuclear bomb primed in Mykolaiv which it will detonate and then blame on Russia so that the US has a justification for getting directly involved in the war and launching missiles on Russia."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
The Instagram post’s text and the footage match an Oct. 19 tweet by BBC Monitoring journalist Francis Scarr, who summarized in English what was said in Russian in the TV clip.
A BBC spokesperson said Scarr "reports on the output of Russian TV" and that the tweet "reported a statement made on Russian state-controlled TV, and attributed the statement to that source." The spokesperson noted that "BBC Monitoring’s activities include investigating and exposing disinformation."
Contrary to Russia’s repeated claims, Ukraine has neither a nuclear bomb nor a "dirty bomb," according to experts and watchdogs. The country used to have Soviet-era nuclear weapons but returned them to Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed. Ukraine also dismantled or destroyed its nuclear missiles and silos. Its nuclear materials are now used for peaceful purposes, such as academic research and nuclear forensics.
Nine countries in the world are known to have nuclear bombs: Russia, the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea, according to a January 2022 fact sheet by the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C., that promotes arms control.
The Soviet military kept nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory during the Cold War, according to a June 2022 fact sheet by the U.S. Defense Department. But after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Ukraine signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and transferred the weapons to Russia by 1996. Ukraine also dismantled its nuclear missiles and destroyed its nuclear missile silos.
According to the fact sheet, the small quantity of highly enriched uranium still present in Ukraine "is intended for specific scientific purposes" and "is well below the amount needed to produce a nuclear device." Ukraine does not have "uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing capabilities" nor "substantial quantities of separated plutonium."
Pavel Podvig, an expert in the nuclear forces of Russia and former Soviet states, told PolitiFact that the claim that Ukraine still has nuclear weapons is "completely false." The country has not tried to develop them before or after the start of the invasion, Podvig said, and "there is absolutely no evidence that Ukraine has ever worked on a ‘dirty bomb.’"
Russian ambassador Dimitry Polyanskiy said Oct. 25 that the Kremlin had "intelligence information" suggesting that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy had ordered the construction of a "dirty bomb," but he provided no evidence to back the claim.
Russia mentioned two specific nuclear sites in its accusations, but the International Atomic Energy Agency said Oct. 24 that its inspectors have visited those sites regularly. The agency also said it inspected one of the sites one month ago and found "no undeclared nuclear activities or material."
The agency has repeatedly certified that all nuclear materials in Ukraine are meant for peaceful applications, according to Podvig.
The foreign ministers of the United States, the United Kingdom and France issued a joint statement Oct. 23 rejecting what it called "transparently false allegations" from Shoigu, the Russian defense minister.
Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter that his country is a committed member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and neither has nor plans to acquire "dirty bombs." He added that Shoigu’s claims "are as absurd as they are dangerous."
But Russian officials continue to repeat Shoigu’s claim about a "dirty bomb" in recent days. On Oct. 24, Russia’s army chief Valery Gerasimov repeated the claim in phone calls to NATO nations. On Oct. 25, Russian ambassadors made the allegation at the United Nations in a closed-door meeting of the Security Council.
Following Shoigu’s claim, the Ukrainian president said, "If Russia calls and says that Ukraine is allegedly preparing something, it means one thing: Russia has already prepared all this." Echoing Zelenskyy’s statement, Ukraine’s foreign minister said that "Russians often accuse others of what they plan themselves."
An Instagram post says, "Ukraine has a nuclear bomb primed in Mykolaiv."
Experts and watchdogs say Ukraine has neither a nuclear bomb nor a "dirty bomb." Ukraine used to have nuclear weapons but it transferred them to Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed and dismantled or destroyed its nuclear missiles and silos. The nation’s nuclear materials are now used for peaceful purposes.
We rate the post False.
Email interview with Pavel Podvig, director of the Russian Nuclear Forces Project and researcher at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, Oct. 25, 2022
Email exchange with Gabriela Hernández, researcher and analyst at the Arms Control Association, Oct. 25, 2022
Email exchange with a BBC Monitoring spokesperson, Oct. 26, 2022
Reuters, "Russia, without evidence, says Ukraine making nuclear ‘dirty bomb,’" March 6, 2022
Tass, "US prepares provocations to accuse Russia of using tactical nuclear weapons," Apr. 23, 2022
The Associated Press, "Russia’s defense chief warns of ‘dirty bomb’ provocation," Oct. 23, 2022
United States Department of Homeland Security, Fact sheet on radiological attacks, "dirty bombs," and other devices, 2004
The Associated Press, "Dirty bombs sow fear and panic, cause few deaths," Oct. 24, 2022
Arms Control Association, Fact sheet on countries with nuclear weapons, Jan. 2022
United States Department of Defense, Fact sheet on the nuclear arsenal of Ukraine, June 2022
The New York Times, "Ukraine yields warheads," June 2, 1996
The New York Times, "Last missile silo destroyed," Nov. 1, 2001
International Atomic Energy Agency, "Safeguards inspectors to visit two nuclear locations in Ukraine," Oct. 24, 2022
A tweet by Dmytro Kuleba, foreign minister of Ukraine, Oct. 23, 2022
A joint statement by the foreign ministers of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Oct. 23, 2022
Reuters, "Moscow says Russian, UK chiefs of staff discuss risk of 'dirty bomb' in Ukraine," Oct. 24, 2022
Reuters, "Russia raises accusation at U.N. of Ukraine 'dirty bomb' plans," Oct. 25, 2022
Remarks by Dmitry Polyanskiy, deputy representative of Russia to the United Nations, Oct. 25, 2022
The New York Times, "Western officials warn Russia could use a dirty bomb as a pretext," Oct. 24, 2022
The Associated Press, "Ukraine alleges Russian dirty bomb deception at nuke plant," Oct. 25, 2022
A statement by Energoatom, nuclear energy operator of Ukraine, Oct. 24, 2022
A speech by Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, Oct. 23, 2022
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