Russia warns radioactive material from nuclear power plant could blanket Europe

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.

International disclaimer

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.

What could happen?

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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