Ukrainian nuclear power plans in 'unprecedented danger': IAEA chief

Ukrainian nuclear power plans in 'unprecedented danger': IAEA chief
Image via Screengrab.

Mariano Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, issued a stark warning on Tuesday that nuclear power plants throughout Ukraine are in "unprecedented danger" as Russian forces continue their freewheeling assaults on civilian targets and infrastructure.

“The military conflict is putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger. We must take urgent action to make sure that they can continue to operate safely and securely and reduce the risk of a nuclear accident that could have a severe health and environmental impact both in Ukraine and beyond,” Grossi, who will visit one such facility during his trip to Ukraine this week, said in a statement.

“Ukraine has requested our assistance for safety and security. We will now start delivering it. Ukraine has one of Europe’s largest nuclear power programs. The IAEA’s presence, where needed to ensure safety and security, is of paramount importance. We are ready to provide the necessary support now,” he said. “There have already been several close calls. We can’t afford to lose any more time. This conflict is already causing unimaginable human suffering and destruction. The IAEA’s expertise and capabilities are needed to prevent it from also leading to a nuclear accident"

Fears of reactor containment breaches resulting in radioactive contamination of surrounding regions – either by accident or deliberate attack – have spread across Europe in the weeks since Russian President Vladimir Putin's soldiers seized control of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, located on the outskirts of Pripyat, on February 25th.

Then, on March 11th, Russian units shelled the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest in Europe, situated near the city of Enerhodar. Although the damage was limited to an administrative building, the hours-long bombardment captured the world's attention and sparked concerns that Moscow could weaponize the 15 fission reactors that supply electricity to more than half of Ukraine.

The carelessness has been ongoing.

Reuters reported on Monday that Putin's battalions "drove their armored vehicles without radiation protection through a highly toxic zone called the 'Red Forest,' kicking up clouds of radioactive dust" around Chernobyl.

"A big convoy of military vehicles drove along a road right behind our facility and this road goes past the Red Forest. The convoy kicked up a big column of dust. Many radiation safety sensors showed exceeded levels," an unnamed source told the outlet.

"The Red Forest is considered so highly contaminated that even the nuclear plant workers are not allowed to go there," Reuters noted.

More disturbing still was what one employee learned from speaking to the Russian occupiers, who oversaw control of Chernobyl after its seizure.

"When they were asked if they knew about the 1986 catastrophe, the explosion of the fourth block (of the Chernobyl plant), they did not have a clue. They had no idea what kind of a facility they were at," he said. "We talked to regular soldiers. All we heard from them was 'It's critically important infrastructure'. That was it."

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