How real is the threat from Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant? – Politico

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Reports of shelling on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Russia-occupied Ukraine have rekindled fears of a nuclear disaster – but experts believe the risk of a Chernobyl-like catastrophe remains low.

The plant in Zaporizhzhya, under the control of Moscow troops since March, was hit with multiple shelling attacks in the weekends.

Ukraine and Russia trade allegations of attacks with Ukraine Saying A Russian attack damaged three radiation monitoring detectors and a plant worker was hospitalized with shrapnel wounds.

With UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, news of the attacks immediately drew international condemnation. Call “Any attack” on nuclear facilities is “suicidal” and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi request To “exercise the utmost restraint” on both sides to avoid a nuclear disaster.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky immediately urged Western countries to impose new sanctions on Russia on its nuclear industry. previous warnings From the Chernobyl-scale disaster.

“The world must not forget about Chernobyl and remember that Zaporizhzhya” [nuclear power plant] the largest in Europe,” he Told, “The Chernobyl disaster is an explosion in one reactor, Zaporizhzhya has six power units.”

But experts say the situation in Zaporizhzhya – where 500 Russian soldiers and 50 pieces of heavy machinery, including tanks, are stationed according to Ukraine – does not warrant warning of a Europe-wide disaster.

According to Leon Sizelj, president of the European Nuclear Society, the risks from shelling are limited, as the reactors are protected by concrete for up to 10 meters. He estimated that only a barrage of targeted aerial bombardment would likely break through the walls of the reactor.

He said the attack would have limited impact on spent fuel storage sites, as any released radioactive material would travel only 10 to 20 kilometers.

James Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agreed that the shelling is not a real risk, pointing instead to the vulnerability of the plant’s cooling system.

“The perfect analogy here is Fukushima not Chernobyl,” he said.

Nuclear power plants are designed with multiple independent protection systems, including multiple grid connections and backup diesel generators. Zaporizhzhia also uses a spray pond for cooling, meaning that warm water from inside the plant is sprayed into the outside air to lower the temperature.

Russian military vehicles pass through the gates of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Station. Andrey Borodulin / AFP via Getty Images

“These are actually going to be relatively vulnerable because they have to be in contact with the outside world,” Acton said, “making them potential targets of attack.”

Both stressed that even in the worst case scenario – if the cooling system fails, causing reactor meltdown – it will only cause serious damage locally. Cizelj estimated a radius of 30 kilometers.

“It would be a tragedy for the local people,” he said, even though it didn’t cause any immediate casualties, but “the environment for us in Europe.”

So why are Russia and Ukraine accusing each other of shelling and emphasizing the risk of disaster?

“The idea of ​​a nuclear accident is scary — it will get people’s attention — so it’s a ready-made tool for this purpose,” said John Erath, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a nonprofit. ,

For Russia, this is a way to “increase the stake to increase” [domestic] Concern… to highlight the importance of continuing military operations,” he said.

It could also be a strategy to “play on Western fears of a nuclear disaster and undermine Western will to provide additional military aid to Ukraine”. analysis Published Monday from the Institute for the Study of War.

For Ukraine, the aim is to build “public sympathy” around the captured plant, Erath said.

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