An image obtained from a live broadcast from the Zaporizhia Nuclear Authority on March 4, 2022 shows multiple explosions at a Ukrainian nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia due to Russian bombing.  (Photo: AFP)

Between the images of the war in Ukraine that the world has watched with horror are those of the fire at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. At the beginning of March, the Zaporizhia plant was occupied by the troops of Russia amid international fear of catastrophe. “There are six nuclear reactors there. In Chernobyl it was a reactor that exploded, only one”, he said in those days to the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Nearly two months later, nuclear safety fears continue.

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At the moment, eyes are still on Zaporizhia. The director of the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEA), Mariano Grossi, urged kyiv and Moscow on Tuesday 10 to allow the deployment of their experts at the nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine so that they can inspect the plant’s nuclear material. .

Before the subcommittee on Security and Defense of the European Parliament, the expert explained that the nuclear plant carries out activities that require physical inventories and supervision tasks from time to time, which makes it possible to ascertain where the radioactive material is or what happens to it.

An image obtained from a live broadcast from the Zaporizhia Nuclear Authority on March 4, 2022 shows multiple explosions at a Ukrainian nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia due to Russian bombing. (Photo: AFP) / LAURENT FIEVET

Grossi criticized that Ukraine Y Russia allow an expert mission to the plant but only “under his flag”. Although he detailed that the IAEA was able to detect that Ukraine is not developing nuclear weapons, noted that “Not being able to go inspect for the possibility of accusations or doubts in the future is a real danger.”

the center of Zaporizhia it continues to function with Ukrainian experts but also Russians whose role is not clear.

Carlos Umaña, a member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and the International Association of Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, points out that it is very important that nuclear power plants are inspected by experts.

One of the big problems that nuclear power plants have is that there must always be experts and people with knowledge of how to manage nuclear power plants to prevent disasters from occurring.

It happened with Chernobyl. When the Russians take over the nuclear power plant of that plant, which is not working, but still requires radioactive risks to be contained, they say that there is no problem because there are experts running the plant. But we don’t know who these people are, whether they are 20-year-old soldiers or really experts. That is one of the dangers that all nuclear power plants have, there always has to be a specialist there”, Umaña tells El Comercio.

The first power unit of the Zaporizhia NPP in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine.  (Photo: EFE)
The first power unit of the Zaporizhia NPP in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine. (Photo: EFE) / SERGEI ILNITSKY

In the case of the Zaporizhia plant, it is important to pay attention to it because it has six reactors and is the largest. “It is located practically in the center of the armed conflict, the other plants are in a more peripheral location. Also, it can wreak havoc on the rest of central Europe, so it’s a big concern.”, points out the expert.

A country with four nuclear power plants

Due to its Soviet past, Ukraine is a nuclearized country, but, paradoxically, it does not have any nuclear weapons.

Ukraine is considered a nuclear country due to its four nuclear complexes, something that, in a context of war, makes the conflict more dangerous, and not only for the parties involved.

Umaña emphasizes that it is very dangerous for a country with these characteristics to be one of the actors in a conflagration. “The risks that there would be at this moment with Ukraine would be much less if Ukraine did not have nuclear reactors. That is very clear. This has been known since Chernobyl”, points out the expert.

He adds that since the first nuclear attack took place in 1945, it is considered that the nations that hold the label of nuclear are in another step of development, they are states that have a certain prestige, a connotation that, as is being shown, is quite dangerous.

If we compare nuclear energy with other energy sources, for example, renewable energy, we see that it is not really more efficient at all, it is an energy that is very expensive and has many risks and that it is not green energy at all”, he points out.

Other concerns

A latent concern about nuclear safety in the war in Ukraine is that the nuclear power plants in that country are old. That plant was relatively new when the Chernobyl disaster struck, but the complexes still standing in the former Soviet republic are decades old, making them even more vulnerable.

Regarding Chernobyl, the IAEA has remarked that “the situation seems to have stabilized” and, although the experts’ conclusions suggest that radiation levels “experienced increases”, this did not lead to a “dangerous” scenario.

Another reason for latent fear in the conflict is the possibility that Russia will launch a nuclear attack, although the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pointed out days ago that it sees no signs that Moscow is preparing to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. in the Ukrainian war.

The problem is that if Russia follows through on its threats we are talking about unimaginable destruction and an existential threat to the entire planet. They maintain the rhetoric and even feed it. They keep the use of nuclear weapons on the table, it is a way not to dissuade, but to exert coercion so that the NATO countries do not get into the war and they have a strategic advantage over Ukraine”, remarks Umaña.

One problem that follows from the above is that the presence of such rhetoric makes it more likely that nuclear accidents will occur, as they have before in history.

There are 1,800 nuclear warheads in the world, from the US and Russian arsenals alone, that are on high alert, meaning they are ready to be detonated in minutes. Umaña recalls that the systems that control these arsenals have been accidentally activated in the past by storms or flocks of geese that have been interpreted as a nuclear attack.

In times of war, where there are explicit threats, the possibility of misinterpretation and miscalculation increases. So it is very likely that an accident could lead to a nuclear detonation, and if we cross the threshold of using a nuclear weapon from there it is very easy for the conflict to escalate into a large-scale nuclear attack. The risk right now is higher than ever”, adds the expert.

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