Fact check: No abnormal radiation levels after missile strikes on weapons depot in Ukraine

No increased levels of radiation are observed in Ukraine, in Bulgaria or in other European countries;

Reports from Russian sources of a “sudden radioactive release” around the Ukrainian city of Khmelnytskyi were not confirmed by measuring tools in Ukraine or neighbouring countries;

Claims of a “radioactive cloud” in the region are intended to cause panic among the population and provoke resentment against Western countries that provide military aid to Ukraine.

On May 19, Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, told the media that a “radioactive cloud” coming from Ukraine was moving towards Europe. According to his statement, this was the result of Russian shelling hitting Ukrainian military warehouses in the area of the city of Khmelnytskyi on the night of May 13. Russian sources claim that the warehouses contained depleted uranium munitions from the UK.

The information about a “sudden radioactive release” in the Khmelnytskyi region has been spread by Russian profiles on social networks since the first days after the attack on the weapons warehouses, and last week many Russian media outlets, as well as several Bulgarian information sites, joined in its dissemination.

According to articles in Pogled Info, Blitz and News247, the radiation background in the Khmelnytskyi region is elevated, which is a sign that the exploded military warehouses there stored depleted uranium ammunition, such as it is known that the UK provided to Ukraine . The articles in Pogled Info and News247 are marked as translated from Russian, but their source is not indicated. Blitz quoted a Russian military expert, but also did not indicate a source.

The Russian media, which spread these claims last week, also did not cite data from a specific source that spoke of increased radiation in the area.

According to the Center for Strategic Communication of Ukraine, the claims are not based on real measurements and were distributed in a coordinated manner by known Russian propagandist profiles on social networks on May 14, when 200 messages with similar content were released on public Telegram channels, and about 50 were distributed from Russian Twitter accounts.

Measurements by the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Center show a slight increase in background radiation in the Khmelnytskyi region after May 12, with values reaching around 150 nanosieverts (nSv) per hour, which is not an unusual level and does not exceed permissible norms. For comparison, the figures in the area of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that crashed 37 years ago, which is located under a metal sarcophagus, currently reach values of over 5600 nSv per hour. At the same time, the radiation in a single chest x-ray is about 100 000 nSv.

The European radiation monitoring system does not confirm the information about increased radiation background in Ukraine or the neighboring countries – according to the data of measuring instruments, the gamma background in Kyiv has been moving between 80 and 90 nanosieverts (nSv) in the last month. These levels are significantly lower than the natural radiation background at many other points in Europe. There is no change in the figures of the measuring stations in Ukraine’s neighbouring countries.

Last week, Bulgarian profiles on social networks also spread false information about dangerous levels of radiation in Ukraine. There were also panic-inducing claims that dangerously high levels of radiation had already moved to Bulgaria, and some posts even called for prevention with iodine to be started.

The data of the Executive Environment Agency (ExEA) show that there is no change in the radiation situation in Bulgaria in the period after May 12. The ExEA publishes a daily bulletin with the radiation levels in different points of the country and maintains an archive with the data of all measurements for the last 20 years. They show that there is nothing unusual in the radiation situation in Bulgaria at the moment. On May 22, figures for Sofia were 128 nSv, and on May 11 they were also 128 nSv – these are their usual values.

It is not known whether there were depleted uranium ammunition in the military warehouses in Khmelnytskyi that were blown up on May 13. In March this year, the British Ministry of Defence announced that the country would send depleted uranium projectiles to Ukraine, which are designed to penetrate the armour of Russian tanks.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), depleted uranium is significantly less radioactive than natural uranium. It is used in ammunition because of its high density and penetration. Despite its lower radioactivity, depleted uranium is toxic to humans if inhaled or ingested and carries a risk of internal radioactive exposure if it gets inside the body. In the case of an explosion of munitions containing depleted uranium, the particles of the substance do not remain in the air for long because they are heavy – according to the IAEA, the smallest of them can be carried by the wind at most several hundred meters from the place of detonation. Therefore, the risks of health consequences primarily affect people in the immediate vicinity of the munitions explosion.

Fact checked:

The radiation background in Ukraine, Bulgaria and other European countries is normal. Reports from Russian sources of a “sudden radioactive release” around the Ukrainian city of Khmelnytskyi were not confirmed by measuring instruments in Ukraine and neighboring countries, nor by the European radiation monitoring system. Claims of a “radioactive cloud” in the region are intended to cause panic among the population and provoke resentment against Western countries that provide military aid to Ukraine.

This article was first published on factcheck.bg

Vanessa Nikolova of factcheck.bg

Vanessa Nikolova graduated in journalism from the Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. She has worked as an editor and translator in print and online media. She is interested in topics related to the Western Balkans and the Far East, including the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.