Warnings of a “possible attack” on the Russian-controlled Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine have caused some residents to flee the vicinity of the plant, and fears have emerged of a repeat of the “Chernobyl – or Fukushima scenario” in the country.
Zaporizhia is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, and has been controlled by Russian forces since March, and the plant has been the target of bombings since late July, according to AFP, which Moscow and Kiev have accused of carrying out.
With Russia in control of the station, a fierce firefight with Ukrainian forces led to a fire at the station, sparking international concern about a “catastrophic” radiation leak.
The “repeated bombing” of the station during the last period has raised new fears of a nuclear accident, according to a report by the New York Times.
Fresh fears emerged over the possibility of a “possible nuclear catastrophe”, after Russia and Ukraine “exchanged warnings about the possibility of the other party launching a fake attack on the station”, with the aim of “responsible for the attack”. ” before the international community, according to a report by the newspaper “Washington Post”.
Where is it and what is its importance?
For years, Ukraine has relied on nuclear power to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, according to a report by the Washington Post.
Ukraine has 15 operating nuclear reactors, and those reactors supplied the country with 51 percent of its electricity needs in 2020, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Zaporizhia plant is located on the outskirts of the city of Enerhodar in southeastern Ukraine, and the plant includes six of the reactors in Ukraine.
The plant’s reactors began operating between 1984 and 1995, and together they can produce 5,700 megawatts of electricity, at full capacity.
The plant is a major source of Ukrainian nuclear energy, and before the war produced a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity and nearly half of its nuclear energy, according to a Washington Post report.
What happened to the station under Russian occupation?
Since Russian forces took over the plant in March, there have been fears of an ongoing nuclear disaster, after part of the nuclear complex caught fire.
By then the fire had been extinguished, and international observers had not yet recorded a “radioactive material release”, but it was the first time fighting had broken out around an active nuclear power plant, sparking concern around the world.
Since Moscow took control of Zaporizhia, thousands of Ukrainian workers have continued to operate the power plant under difficult conditions, and two of the plant’s six reactors continue to provide power to Ukraine, according to the Washington Post.
Months ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency called on both Russia and Ukraine to allow its inspectors to visit the site, but logistical and political differences prevented that from happening, according to an “IAEA statement.”
In early August, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, warned that the nuclear power plant was “getting out of control,” according to the Associated Press.
In August, Russia and Ukraine accused each other of attacking Zaporizhia, and international concern grew after the bombing damaged parts of the station, according to the New York Times.
The Ukrainian nuclear energy corporation “Energoatom” revealed at the time that Russia had deployed missile launchers and hundreds of soldiers at the site, the BBC reported.
Since August, fighting has continued in the vicinity of the station, prompting a mass flight of residents in the area surrounding the station, who fear for their lives, according to a Washington Post report.
worst case scenario
A senior US defense official confirmed to reporters on Friday that US officials were watching the fighting in the region with great concern, saying: “Fighting near a nuclear facility is dangerous,” adding: “It’s really the height of irresponsibility.” according to the “Washington Post.”
The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, warned on Friday that any further escalation related to the six reactors could lead to a “serious nuclear accident with serious consequences for human health and the environment in Ukraine and elsewhere.”
He demanded that no new steps be taken that could jeopardize the safety and security of one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants, according to a statement by the agency.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and to grant access to international nuclear experts, according to AFP.
Guterres said any possible damage to Zaporizhia would be tantamount to “suicide,” warning against “any attempt to cut electricity to and from the facility,” calling for “the demilitarization of the area around the station.”
And the “Washington Post” warns about the possibility of a new nuclear accident in Ukraine similar to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, which led to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents and the shipment of radioactive material across Europe.
But on the other hand, James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, revealed that the Zaporizhia reactors are protected by reinforced concrete walls, which excludes “the possibility of hitting the reactor.”
He believed that the greatest danger was related to “cutting off the electricity supply to the station as a result of the fighting,” according to “Washington Post.”
Nuclear plants depend on electricity to keep cool, and Zaporizhia’s external energy source has already been damaged by the bombing, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Commenting on this, Acton said that the probability of all cooling systems failing in peacetime “would be very low,” adding: “But in wartime, you can reasonably imagine a series of events causing a major accident.”
“Nuclear power plants are not simply designed to be in war zones,” he added.
The greatest danger to health and the environment comes from radiation, the effects of which are often not felt immediately but can remain a silent threat for years, and studies have linked radiation exposure to an increased risk of cancer and other serious health conditions , according to the Washington Post.
A nuclear accident in Zaporizhia could spread radioactive material across most of Ukraine and possibly to other countries, according to a simulation conducted by the Ukrainian National Weather Service and published this week by the Prevada website.
In March, analysts from Greenpeace International warned of “a scenario that could be worse than the Fukushima disaster,” which occurred in Japan in 2011, which could leave hundreds of kilometers of land around the plant uninhabitable, according to the foundation’s website.
It could also be dangerous to try to switch the plant from the Ukrainian electricity grid to the Russian one, as Ukraine says Moscow intends to do, according to the Washington Post.
“If there is a problem at that moment, Ukraine will be completely dependent on diesel generators” to keep the plant cool, Acton said.
Both Ukraine and Russia have expressed their readiness in recent days to facilitate the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the site, according to “AFP”.
But Russia has rejected calls from the United Nations to establish a demilitarized zone around the station, saying it would make the facility “more vulnerable”. disaster will not be repeated.” According to “Reuters”.