N-plants make Ukraine war very risky - GulfToday

N-plants make Ukraine war very risky

ukraine nuclear fire 1

This image made from a video released by Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant shows bright flaring object landing in grounds of the nuclear plant in Enerhodar, Ukraine. File/AP

Russia’s wave of missile strikes against Ukraine, targeting energy infrastructure and civilian targets in Ukrainian cities and villages on Thursday, has resulted in the death of six civilians, five in a village, and many of the cities were plunged into darkness. This is the first since mid-February that Russian missiles targeted civilian infrastructure. While Ukraine says these attacks had no military use, Moscow says the goal of attacking civilian infrastructure is to disable Ukraine’s fighting capacity. But many of the missile attacks expose the civilian population to physical harm and psychological trauma. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, “The occupiers can only terrorise civilians.”

But what has become a huge concern, and even panic, is the vulnerability of the nuclear power plants in Ukraine, which could be hit inadvertently by the Russian missiles. Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations (UN) watchdog), told its members on Thursday, ”What are we doing to prevent this (the nuclear power plant shut down at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant)? We are the IAEA, we are meant to care about nuclear safety.”  The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) was disconnected from the central power grid, to isolate it from the attacks on power plants. The ZNPP is the largest nuclear reactor in Europe, and this is the sixth time that it has been disconnected from the grid.

The danger of disconnecting a nuclear power plant from the power grid is that there is no power left to cool the superheated nuclear reactor at the heart of the plant, and this could lead to a disastrous meltdown as had happened in the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986. Disconnecting the nuclear power plant from the central grid is to protect the nuclear power plant from an external threat. But the disconnect with the central power grid endangers the plant from within. Hence the sense of panic in Grossi’s sense of panic in his appeal to the board members of the IAEA. Grossi wants an agreement between the two warring parties – Ukraine and Russia – that they would not target the nuclear power plants. But it has not worked out so far. Grossi senses the danger when the nuclear power plant is shut down to save it. He told the IAEA board members: “Each time we are rolling a dice. And if we allow this to continue, time after time then one day our luck will turn out.” In his statement, the IEAEA chief said, “This is the sixth time – let me say it again sixth time – the ZNPP has lost all off-site power and has had to operate in this emergency mode, Let me remind you – this is the largest nuclear power station in Europe.  What are we doing? How can we sit here in this room this morning and allow this to happen? This cannot go on.”

The existence of nuclear power plants in a conflict zone and where the conflict is likely to intensify in the next few weeks and months makes it a dangerous place. It appears that the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, are depending on Russian President Vladimir Putin to exercise restraint in the face of the escalating war situation. Putin has many times in the one year since the beginning of the war had made it clear that he may use the nuclear weapons option as a last resort. Though Putin’s statements were condemned for their recklessness, the nuclear power stations pose a different kind of problem than that of nuclear weapons. Indiscriminate bombing and missile attacks could target a nuclear power plant and create unprecedented devastation. The nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima in Japan in 2011 had occurred during a tsunami. And it was shut down. But if a nuclear plant were to be destroyed in a missile attack, that would create a disaster of catastrophic proportions. The war in Ukraine is more dangerous because of the nuclear power plants.

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