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Russia’s Recklessness with Zaporizhzhia – Europe’s Largest Nuclear Power Plant

Russia’s Recklessness with Zaporizhzhia – Europe’s Largest Nuclear Power Plant

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Photo: Victor/Xinhua/Alamy Live News

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On 7 April, Russia launched a drone attack on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the attacks on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant were reckless.

“No nuclear power plant in the world is designed to withstand [such incidents],” a recent IAEA statement read. “Shelling of [the] Zaporizhzhia NPP and its infrastructure is unacceptable.” If the attacks continue, such incidents would “significantly increase the risk of a major nuclear accident,” the IAEA added.

The incident impacted one of the power plant’s six reactors, and the events were a “serious incident with [the] potential to undermine [the] integrity of the reactor’s containment system.” The statement concluded that the attack was a “serious incident that endangered [the] nuclear safety and security [of Ukraine].”

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This is not the first time the Russians have attacked the ZNPP. Since the beginning of the war, Russia has occupied territory around the power plant. When the Russian invasion began, the Russians shelled the facility with their artillery as they took over the area in March 2022. Several months later, Russian forces attacked the facility again in November 2022. This prompted a statement from the United Nations urging the Russians to stop their attacks on the area. The Russians ignored these pleas, and instead, they turned the installation into an army base. This further jeopardized the area.

By 2023, matters became worse. Throughout the year, the power plant lost power, thus risking the safety and security of the facility. Power is necessary for the plant to function. The longer the facility is without power, the “higher the chance of a possible nuclear meltdown.”

To make matters worse, the IAEA reported that Russian forces had placed “mines along the perimeter” of the ZNPP. The Ukrainian government also made its own assessments, stating that objects resembling explosives had been placed on the “roof of the power plant.” If any of these explosives were to detonate, this would seriously jeopardize the facility and its surroundings.

Finally, during the summer of 2023, the Russians destroyed the Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine. The structure contained the Kakhovka Reservoir on the Dnipro River, which supplied the ZNPP. The dam’s destruction not only destroyed “more than one million hectares of [farm] land,” but it also impacted water levels around the ZNPP. Russian forces further tampered with the cooling process of the ZNPP by mining the plant’s cooling pond.

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In other words, shelling the power plant, placing explosives in and around the perimeter, tampering with water supplies to the plant, and mining the plant’s cooling pond have all negatively impacted the area around the ZNPP. Should this recklessness continue, the Russians could jeopardize millions of lives. 

Recent Russian strikes on the ZNPP have increased concerns about a potential nuclear event in the area. If such an incident were to occur, the impact would be “10 times larger” than the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense estimates that the blast radius of a destroyed ZNPP would be 150 kilometers (93 miles). Such devastation would have multiple consequences. First, millions of citizens within the blast radius would be killed or injured by the tragedy. Nuclear fallout would span much further, impacting areas on the Black Sea, and several of Ukraine’s neighboring countries.

Furthermore, millions of hectares of farmland would be destroyed, several facilities and factories would contaminate Ukrainian waterways, and much of Ukraine’s agriculture in central, southern, and eastern Ukraine would be destroyed. This would impact the price of food globally. In other words, the destruction of the ZNPP would be costly.

Overall, the situation at the ZNPP is dire. The recent Russian drone strikes on the facility have once again highlighted the gravity of the situation.

For two years, the Ukrainian government and the IAEA have continued to raise the alarm about Russia’s mistreatment of the area, but their concerns have gone largely ignored. Given the recent attacks, the international community must try to force an end to Russia’s war. Otherwise, if the Russians continue to conduct these attacks without consequence, then this could result in a major catastrophe for the globe. At that point, it would be too late for the world to intervene.

A potential tragedy at the ZNPP is avoidable. The international community, however, must determine if it is willing to prevent Russia from conducting such a devastating atrocity.

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