The United States handed over sensors to Ukraine to detect radiation from nuclear bombs - ForumDaily
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US donates sensors to Ukraine to detect radiation from nuclear bombs

The United States gave Ukraine sensors capable of detecting‌‌ bursts of radiation from a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb. They can identify the attacker. Writes about it The New York Times.

Photo: IStock

Part of the goal is to make sure that if Russia detonates a radioactive weapon on Ukrainian soil, then its atomic signature and Moscow's fault will be proven.

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine 14 months ago, experts have been worried about whether Russian President Vladimir Putin would use nuclear weapons in combat for the first time since the US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

House hearings and details provided by the National Nuclear Security Administration, a federal agency that is part of the Department of Energy, provide the strongest evidence to date that Washington is taking concrete steps to prepare for the worst possible consequences of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. .

The Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) is a shadow body of nuclear experts run by the safety agency. NEST is now working with Ukraine to deploy radiation sensors, train personnel, monitor data, and warn about deadly radiation.

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The agency said that a network of atomic sensors is being deployed "throughout the region" and makes it possible to "characterize the size, location and consequences of any nuclear explosion." In addition, the statement said that the deployed sensors would deprive Russia of "any ability to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine without the attacker being detected."

In one scenario, Washington could use information gathered by the network to eliminate the possibility of mistakenly identifying an attacker who set off a nuclear explosion. This may seem like an unnecessary step given the peculiarity of the mushroom cloud. But if the weapons were delivered by truck, tank or boat, rather than by a tracked missile, it might be next to impossible to trace their origin.

According to nuclear experts, public information about such defensive planning could deter Moscow and let it know that Washington can expose what it calls a "false flag operation."

For example, Moscow may falsely claim that Kyiv staged a nuclear explosion on the battlefield to try to enlist the West for more serious military assistance. But theoretically, with a sensor network, Washington could point to its own nuclear attribution analysis to show that the attacker was actually Moscow.

Last fall, Russia, without presenting any evidence, repeatedly claimed that Ukraine planned to detonate a bomb designed to spread radioactive materials, the so-called dirty bomb. Washington has warned that the Kremlin is trying to create a false pretext to escalate the war.

The science of nuclear attribution gained momentum in the United States after the September 2001 terrorist attacks raised the issue of domestic nuclear terrorism. While science has secret aspects, its outlines are public knowledge.

Now this newly acquired capability is being used on foreign soil in the context of a potential nuclear war or a Russian attack on 15 Ukrainian nuclear reactors at four power facilities.

“If a nuclear emergency occurs in Ukraine, whether it be a radiation release from a nuclear reactor or a nuclear weapon explosion, scientific analyzes will be promptly provided to US government agencies and decision-making centers in Ukraine and the region. The data will be transferred to make effective, technically sound decisions to protect the health and safety of the population of both Ukraine and Europe as a whole.”

Nuclear experts say such defensive precautions could be the biggest test in the coming weeks as the Ukrainian army launches a counteroffensive. China hopes that Russia will stop saber-rattling nuclear weapons, and Putin has not mentioned the nuclear threat lately. But Western experts worry that Russia's failures on the battlefield are making Putin more dependent on his nuclear arsenal, if anything, and they worry that more failures could increase his willingness to pull the nuclear trigger.

The security agency reports to Jennifer Granholm, head of the Department of Energy. Last month, she spoke to Congress about general precautions when radiation is detected in Ukraine and said the goal of U.S. assistance is to "make sure Ukrainians are safe and not exposed to radiation." However, she provided few details, saying it would require a closed meeting.

The Energy Department and the security agency say they will spend about $160 million this year on nuclear energy safeguards in Ukraine, a similar amount being requested for 2024.

Jeffrey Richelson, author of Defuse Armageddon, a 2009 book about the nuclear emergency support team, said she often interacted with the Joint Special Operations Command, an elite military unit so secretive that the Pentagon refused to acknowledge its existence for years.

Experts say Ukraine needs all the help it can get because its nuclear infrastructure is vast and has come under massive attacks from Russia over the past 14 months.

Shortly after the invasion began, Russian forces seized control of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which suffered a world-famous accident in 1986. Then radioactive clouds hung over some regions of Europe, and in some places there were wastelands with contaminated soil. Russian troops dug up a nearby piece of land, which increased radiation levels in the area, but not enough to endanger workers.

Russian troops fired on and seized Europe's largest nuclear power plant, Zaporozhye, which is a complex of six reactors. During the assault, a fire broke out, but security officers did not detect radiation.

The main Ukrainian center for nuclear research is located in Kharkov - this is an extensive Institute of Physics and Technology. In the first days of the conflict, he was hit by 100 Russian shells and rockets. Volleys damaged a nuclear facility for the production of medical isotopes, but experts did not find any radiation leaks. The complex lost power for more than a month.

In Kyiv, Russian shells hit the Institute for Nuclear Research, causing a fire in a warehouse. The institute's small reactor was not damaged, and no radiation leaks were found.

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Ukraine's other nuclear infrastructure includes additional power plants, spent nuclear fuel storage facilities, and facilities across the country, including hospitals, that use radioactive materials for research and treatment.

The Department of Energy, in addition to helping NEST, says it is supporting partner agencies in Ukraine to measure airborne radiation, model atmospheric radiation plumes, and counter nuclear smuggling and treat radiation injuries.

Edwin Lyman, a nuclear energy expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists who closely follows the war in Ukraine, said a federal official had briefed him on a possible threat scenario. It argues that Russia, if it suffers a humiliating defeat and withdraws from Ukraine, could retaliate by shelling the reactor or its spent fuel storage facilities to release radiation into the environment.

“This is one of the biggest dangers,” Dr. Lyman emphasized. “If they wanted to make as much of the countryside uninhabitable as possible, these reactors could be targets.”

He said he was encouraged to learn that NEST and the Department of Energy are "proactive and taking these threats seriously."

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