A mushroom cloud over Ukraine caused horror among many observers. Did nuclear material explode? Research sheds light on the matter.
Munich - A huge mushroom-shaped cloud of fire rises slowly but menacingly into the air. It stands towering in the sky like a gigantic, glowing memorial before slowly spreading and disintegrating. Many people think of only one thing at first: Hiroshima. Nagasaki. An atomic bomb.
Mushroom cloud over Ukraine makes us fear the worst
A viral video from Ukraine probably triggered exactly this horrific vision in many observers. Suspected footage of a massive explosion in the western Ukrainian city of Khmelnytskyi gave rise to fears of the worst and spread rapidly on the Internet. But was it a real bomb? No - claims are quickly circulating that a stockpile of "depleted uranium" has been hit, and as a result, radiation levels in Ukraine have risen. How much truth is there to this theory? The International Atomic Energy Agency dismissed this as a hoax. But after many worries about Europe's largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, and Russia's nuclear sabre-rattling since the beginning of the war, not every doubter is immediately convinced.
"According to information, the value of the ammunition destroyed at the Khmelnytsky ammunition depot is about 500 million dollars," reads a post on Twitter, which has been viewed almost seven million times.
Ammunition depot probably contained aviation ammunition from 1949
The U.S. portal Newsweek got to the bottom of the allegations with its fact-finder team. The claim on the Internet is therefore mostly this: The weapons depot hit by the Russians was home to uranium-depleted ammunition that Britain had supplied to Ukraine. Scientific-looking diagrams quickly confirmed the fear, and reports in the Russian media and right-wing accounts in the United States also went in this direction.
The source of the diagrams was usually the account "SaveEcoBot". According to Newsweek, however, these theories are demonstrably false or misleading.
Shocking image: A mushroom cloud after an explosion in Ukraine. © CCTV
According to an investigation by GeoConfirmed, a Twitter account that geolocates visual content from the Russia-Ukraine war, there is little evidence to suggest that the attack was a facility where "depleted uranium grenades" were stored. But what was deposited in the camp? The Twitterers cited pre-war media reports and public records suggesting that it was a Soviet-era ammunition depot that reportedly could have contained up to 30,000 tons of ammunition. Some of the articles suggest that the aviation ammunition stored at the facility dates back to 1949.
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Newsweek questioned earlier reports about the existence of the uranium ammunition. In addition, Russia's ruler Vladimir Putin's comparison to real nuclear weapons is "largely unfounded". The explanation: Depleted uranium, which is undoubtedly controversial as ammunition, is a by-product of the process of producing enriched uranium used in nuclear fuel and weapons. It is far weaker than enriched uranium and cannot trigger a nuclear reaction.
Increased radioactivity in Ukraine? Values probably harmless
In the case of sealed uranium, "radioactivity is something of a diversionary tactic, as the real danger seems to lie in its toxicity as a heavy metal," said David Hambling, an expert in military technology. For the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), depleted uranium is mainly a toxic chemical and does not pose a radiation hazard.
And the measured increased radioactivity? The research revealed irregularities in the chronological sequence of events, such as data measured 48 hours before the explosion. With a peak of 155 nanosieverts per hour, the values are also quite low and comparable to values in Germany. By way of comparison, 500 nSv were measured in the Chernobyl exclusion zone last week. Enerhoatom, Ukraine's national nuclear energy company, also spoke of normal values.
So, according to them, an explosion of uranium ammunition is highly unlikely - just as there is no increased radiation in Ukraine. So a mushroom cloud - fortunately - does not make a nuclear war. (cgsc)
There are hardly any certainties in the Ukraine war. Ukraine has now published the number of Russian fighters in the country - but even that is not verifiable. Meanwhile, a court in Moscow has sentenced a Colombian to five years and two months in prison for "discrediting the Russian armed forces".