Russian Forces Hold Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant In “Nuclear Terror”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has called for the demilitarization of the areas surrounding the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant following shelling on the plant site, in what Ukraine President Zelenskyy called “Nuclear Terror.” Russia, which has controlled the plant since the outbreak of the war in March, has opposed any cease fire, with their UN representative stating that it would leave the plant exposed to “terror attacks.” Both sides in the war blame the other for instigating the attack, yet no independent source has verified the source of the shelling.

Located beside the Dnipro river, the six-reactor nuclear plant is the largest in Europe, supplying power to four million Ukrainian homes. Russian forces have been using it as a military base since the beginning of the war, with Ukrainian employees working under the threat of an estimated 500 Russian soldiers. The use of the power plant as a nuclear base has been widely condemned, as the plant has been used as a base to fire missiles at the nearby city of Nikopol across the river, which has recently come under heavy Russian shelling.

According to Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power company, a nitrogen-oxide station and combined auxiliary building were damaged during the fighting. In a statement released on Friday, the IAEA stated that although no system important to nuclear safety were damaged, there is serious cause for immediate preventative action. The head of the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear agency, has warned that the situation is “completely out of control” and that “every principle of nuclear safety has been violated.” These sentiments have been strongly echoed by both the G7 and the EU, with both demanding that Russia secede control of the plant over to Ukraine in order for the correct safety inspections to be carried out.

The ZNPP is twice as big as the Chernobyl power plant, and as such Ukrainian authorities believe a possible disaster could be much larger in scale. In a statement from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, an advisor outlined a possible scenario should the fighting in the region trigger a nuclear disaster. The potential exclusion zone is predicted to be up to twice the size of Ukraine, encompassing 30,000 square kilometers. Depending on the direction of the wind, contamination could spread to nearby Russia and Belarus as well as damaging other European states to the west. The ministry predicts tens of thousands dead and a potential 2 million people evacuated, as well as the pollution of the Dnipro river, one of the longest in Europe. These dire predictions can also be seen in a Greenpeace technical briefing from early March of this year, which outlines the danger of a scenario similar to the Fukushima Daiichi incident in 2011. The briefing predicts that a potentially “devastating effect” on Ukraine and neighboring countries, including Russia and a portion of Europe.

Even more concerning are reports from Energoatom president Petro Kotin that say Russian forces intend to connect ZNPP to the power grid of nearby occupied Crimea. This highly technical process would put plant security as a serious risk, as once the plant is disconnected from the Ukrainian power grid it will be dependent on diesel power generators. Any failure of these could lead to nuclear catastrophe. It is clear that immediate action must be taken in order to prevent a wide-spread disaster, starting first and foremost with a ceasefire between Ukrainian and Russian forces in order to stabilize the plant. However, as both sides accuse the other for the attacks, this may be difficult to negotiate. Although Russia is the clear aggressor in this war, and Ukrainian sovereignty should be upheld, a possible nuclear disaster would have catastrophic long-term effects for both of these states. Preventing this should be a priority. As Rafael Grossi, IAEA director, said, “If an accident occurs at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, we will not have a natural disaster to blame — we will have only ourselves to answer to. We need everyone’s support.”