Rescuers from the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry take part in a drill in the city of Zaporizhzhia on August 17, 2022, in case of a possible nuclear incident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant located near the city.
Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images
The Russian Defense Ministry warned on Thursday that in the event of an accident at the nuclear power plant it occupies in southern Ukraine, radioactive material would blanket Germany, Poland and Slovakia.
Igor Kirillov, head of Russia’s radioactive, chemical and biological defense forces, said the plant’s backup support systems had been damaged as a result of shelling, Reuters reported, and that several countries in Europe could be at risk in the event of an accident.
Thursday’s warning came as tensions over the status of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant came to the fore, with the fate of the facility – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – set to be discussed in talks between the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday.
Russia and Ukraine repeatedly accused each other of bombing the power plant.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday it could shut down the nuclear power plant if Ukrainian forces continued to bomb the facility. Ukraine denies bombing the factory and instead accuses Russia of endangering the facility, saying it stores ammunition and military equipment there.
Ukraine and the international community have warned of the possibility of a catastrophic accident at the plant and on Wednesday, the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry conducted a nuclear disaster drill in the city of Zaporizhzhia, located in the southeast of Ukraine on the Dnipro River, in case of an accident accident.
Zelenskyy said Wednesday evening that Ukrainian diplomats and nuclear scientists were in “constant contact” with the International Atomic Energy Agency and were working to get a team of inspectors into the factory occupied by Russian troops. since the start of the war.
Tensions around the plant have risen in recent weeks, with Ukraine accusing Russia of using the facility as a shield and part of a “nuclear blackmail” strategy. Ukrainians still working at the facility say they are effectively hostages there, the BBC said last week that they were at gunpoint.
The game of cat and mouse over the plant continued on Thursday with the Russian Defense Ministry claiming on Telegram that Kyiv was planning a “provocation” at the plant during Guterres’ visit, saying that “as a result of which the Russian Federation will be blamed for creating a man-made disaster at the power plant.”
The ministry added that, “to prepare for the provocation”, it was deploying radiation observation posts near Zaporizhzhia and conducting training exercises for a number of military units in the region “on measures to take under conditions of radioactive contamination of the area.”
Russia has presented no evidence in support of its claim and has often been accused of “false flag” operations.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter that if Russia was concerned about a disaster at the factory, it could withdraw its troops immediately.
The possibility of an accident at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is a terrifying prospect for Ukraine, a country that still lives with the scars of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which remains the world’s worst nuclear accident and led to the spread of radioactive material across Europe.
“Probably more than any country in the world, Ukraine is aware of the consequences of an explosion and fire at a nuclear power plant,” said Antony Froggatt and Patricia Lewis, the group’s environmental and safety experts. British think tank Chatham House, during a search last week. at what is at stake in the case of Zaporizhzhia.
However, they noted that the reactors in Zaporizhzhia are different from those that were in Chernobyl but that, nevertheless, an accident at the plant could have significant consequences for Ukraine.
“Zaporizhzhia uses enriched uranium, its current VVER [water-water energetic reactors] the reactors are not graphite moderated, but water moderated, which means they are safer and won’t burn like Chernobyl,” they said.
Modern reactors in Ukraine, like Zaporizhzhia, are also surrounded by a secondary containment system – a hard concrete shell designed to withstand explosions and a crashed plane, they noted.
“However, it is unclear how effective they would be against attacks, as the thickness of the containment wall in this reactor design is traditionally 1.2 meters thick, and a thickness of about two meters is required for new construction projects,” they said. .
They noted, however, that radioactive materials at Zaporizhzhia are also stored in the spent fuel pools (or ponds), where spent fuel is kept under water to cool and allow radiation levels to drop before being transferred to final storage.
“If coolant is lost from the ponds, either by direct impact breaking the containment structures, or by core meltdown due to power losses, the stored fuel will heat up. If the temperature exceeds approximately 900 degrees Celsius , the sheath around the zirconium sheath will ignite, causing the spread of radioactive material,” they warned.
Although any release of radioactive isotopes could be “catastrophic” for the surrounding areas, Froggatt and Lewis said that “due to the type of reactors at Zaporizhzhia, the impact would probably be nowhere near as severe as the disaster in Chernobyl in 1986 and more likely similar in scale to the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011.”
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