The failed Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine and the country’s 15 operational reactors are safe during the Russian invasion, according to nuclear experts and the International Atomic Energy Agency, a branch of the United Nations that sets and inspects safety standards for its nuclear reactors. it for compliance.
“The only real problem is whether a nearby target gets hit and what has collateral damage,” said Edwin Lyman, a reactor expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I don’t see this as an immediate radiological threat. I don’t think Russia would deliberately target a plant.”
In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant suffered a meltdown that sent radioactive clouds over parts of Europe, locally leaving a wasteland of contaminated soil. All four Chernobyl reactors are still shut down and plant personnel are closely monitoring the safety of the Chernobyl reactor, Unit 4, which exploded and caught fire in 1986. An exclusion zone spanning hundreds of square miles surrounds the abandoned factory to restrict public access and habitation.
The sprawling factory — some 10 miles from Belarus, a Russian ally — is on one of Russia’s main invasion routes. Western experts said it was in Moscow’s interest to keep Ukraine’s reactors and electrical system running smoothly if the goal was regime change rather than national ruin.
“There is a certain risk of a direct hit,” said R. Scott Kemp, a professor of nuclear science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “But I imagine they will do everything possible to prevent that, because they don’t want to deal with the consequences.”
The bigger threat, said Dr. Kemp, is the degradation of Ukraine’s power grid, which could cause nuclear power plants to go offline and result in a power outage.
The Ukrainian government said on its official website on Thursday that the Russian invasion and military takeover of Chernobyl “could cause another ecological disaster”. If the war continues, the government added, a disaster like Chernobyl could “happen again in 2022”.
But nuclear experts did not sound the alarm. Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna, said in a statement Thursday that his Ukrainian counterpart reported that the country’s 15 nuclear power plants are operating safely. As for the Chernobyl site, he added, the Ukrainian body reported “no casualties or destruction.”
On Friday, the agency noted reports of “higher radiation readings at the Chernobyl site” and quoted Ukraine’s nuclear body as saying the readings may have been the result of heavy military vehicles that had shaken the ground poisoned by the 1986 accident.
The stated measurements, the agency added, “are low and remain within the operational range measured in the exclusion zone since its inception, and therefore pose no threat to the public at all.”
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ukraine receives just over half of its electricity from its reactors – an unusually high fraction.
Two of Ukraine’s four operational nuclear sites are in the western region – far from Russia’s main invasion routes and presumably out of danger. The other two are in the southern region, much closer to the ongoing military attacks.
The Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, the largest of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, houses six separate reactors. It is located on the Dnieper River, about 100 miles north of Crimea. Russia annexed the peninsula of southern Ukraine in 2014, and the breakaway region serves as a staging area for Russian troops and a major invasion route.
Understand the Russian attack on Ukraine
What is the basis of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine to be within its natural sphere of influence, and it has become nervous about Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of the country becoming a member of NATO or the European Union. Although Ukraine is part of neither, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Recently, the World Nuclear Association, an industrial trade group based in London, reported that Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear power company, had worked out some rules designed to improve the safety and security of its nuclear power plants during wartime.
The group said early this month, as Russia built its forces around Ukraine, Petro Kotin, the acting president of Energoatom, described how a bombing raid would shut down a nuclear power plant and said the operators would unload its radioactive fuel “until the threat is eliminated.” .”
If a factory were to lose its external power supply, Mr Kotin added, backup generators would kick in to ensure uninterrupted reactor control. Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, he was quoted as saying, “are ready for such a mode of operation: the stock of diesel fuel in nuclear power plants significantly exceeds established standards.”
Mr Kotin added that Ukrainian power plants are “even ready for a plane crash” because the reactor vessels and surrounding containment areas are designed to withstand such impacts.
On Friday, the World Nuclear Association reported that security departments at Ukrainian factories are “on the alert”.