How Dangerous Was Russia’s Nuclear Plant Strike?
There have been multiple fights at nuclear plants so far, and if any of them went wrong it could be a cataclysmic event.
From Fox News. Europe’s largest nuclear power plant was hit by Russian shelling early Friday, sparking a fire and raising fears of a disaster that could affect all of central Europe for decades, like the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.
Concerns faded after Ukrainian authorities announced that the fire had been extinguished, and while there was damage to the reactor compartment, the safety of the unit was not affected.
But even though the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is of a different design than Chernobyl and is protected from fire, nuclear safety experts and the International Atomic Energy Agency warn that waging war in and around such facilities presents extreme risks.
One major concern, raised by Ukraine’s state nuclear regulator, is that if fighting interrupts power supply to the nuclear plant, it would be forced to use less-reliable diesel generators to provide emergency power to operating cooling systems. A failure of those systems could lead to a disaster similar to that of Japan’s Fukushima plant, when a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed cooling systems, triggering meltdowns in three reactors.
The consequence of that, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, would be widespread and dire.
“If there is an explosion, that’s the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe,” he said in an emotional speech in the middle of the night, calling on nations to pressure Russia’s leadership to end the fighting near the plant….
After taking the strategic port city of Kherson, Russian forces moved into the territory near Zaporizhzhia and attacked the nearby city of Enerhodar to open a route to the plant late Thursday….
Later Friday, Ukrainian authorities said Russia had taken over the nuclear plant….
After speaking with Ukrainian authorities on Friday, Rafael Grossi, the director general of the IAEA, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, said a building next to the reactors was hit and not a reactor itself.
“All of the safety systems of the six reactors at the plant were not affected at all and there has been no release of radioactive material,” he said….
WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED?
The reactor that was hit was offline, but still contains highly radioactive nuclear fuel. Four of the other six reactors have now been taken offline, leaving only one in operation.
The reactors at the plant have thick concrete containment domes, which would have protected them from external fire from tanks and artillery, said Jon Wolfsthal, who served during the Obama administration as the senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council….
Another danger at nuclear facilities are the pools where spent fuel rods are kept to be cooled, which are more vulnerable to shelling and which could cause the release of radioactive material.
Perhaps the biggest issue, however, is the plant’s power supply, said Najmedin Meshkati, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California who has studied both the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, raising a concern also voiced by Wolfsthal and others….
David Fletcher, a University of Sydney professor in its School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, who previously worked at UK Atomic Energy, noted that even shutting down the reactors would not help if the cooling system failed in such a way….
WHAT CONCERNS REMAIN?
Ukraine is heavily reliant on nuclear energy, with 15 reactors at four stations that provide about half the country’s electricity….
Following a conversation with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, IAEA Director Grossi appealed to all parties to “refrain from actions” that could put Ukraine’s nuclear power plants in danger….
Ukraine is also home to the former Chernobyl nuclear plant, where radioactivity is still leaking, which was taken by Russian forces in the opening of the invasion after a fierce battle with the Ukrainian national guards protecting the decommissioned facility.
In an appeal to the IAEA for help earlier this week, Ukrainian officials said that Chernobyl staff have been held by the Russian military without rotation and are exhausted.
Grossi earlier this week appealed to Russia to let the Chernobyl staff “do their job safely and effectively.”
During fighting on the weekend, Russian fire also hit a radioactive waste disposal facility in Kyiv and a similar facility in Kharkiv….
James Acton, the co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the simple key to keeping the facilities safe was to immediately end any military operations around them….
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