'Don't want another Chernobyl': Ukrainian nuclear power plant employees face 'a Catch 22 for the ages'

'Don't want another Chernobyl': Ukrainian nuclear power plant employees face 'a Catch 22 for the ages'

Half a year has passed since Russian forces, on orders from President Vladimir Putin, launched a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine — and neither side is showing any signs of giving up. Putin is obviously determined to proceed with the invasion despite all the Russian fatalities, but Ukrainian forces and Russian President Volodymyr Zelensky are obviously determined to keep fighting and resisting.

One of the greatest safety concerns during the war has been the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, which is located outside of the city of Enerhodar, that Russian forces captured back in March. Kremlin officials have promised that Russian forces are committed to protecting the plant’s safety, but the United Nations has been warning that the situation at the plant is incredibly dangerous. A disaster at Zaporizhzhya could prove hazardous not only for Ukraine, but for Europe in general — and the Daily Beast’s Asmaa Waguih addresses the worries of the plant’s operators in an article published on August 24.

“Employees at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya power plant in Ukraine, one of the biggest nuclear facilities in the world, are facing an impossible decision,” Waguih explains. “Do they hold on to their critical jobs and work under daily bombardment — or do they pack up their lives and flee to safety, despite the risk of an imminent nuclear catastrophe? Escalating attacks on the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhzhya plant is located, have sparked global panic — and for good reason.”

READ MORE: Russian general threatens to bomb nuclear power plant

Waguih continues, “Ukraine has accused Russia of shelling the city from the plant grounds. Ukrainian soldiers say they shoot at Russian positions in the town, but not the direction of the plant. In an alarming warning this month, the United Nations nuclear watchdog announced that the situation at the plant has reached a ‘grave hour.’ Meanwhile, the workers needed to keep the plant safe and operational are left caught in the crossfires of a Catch 22 for the ages.”

A Daily Beast source described by Waguih as an Enerhodar-based “power plant specialist” and interviewed on condition of anonymity discussed the dangers that the situation at Zaporizhzhya poses.

That source told the Beast, “I’m staying because I don’t want another Chernobyl. The difference is that Chernobyl was six times smaller than the power plant we now have. Should something happen to this one, it will be a disaster for the whole world. Work is work, and I feel responsible. Ukrainians must do their job.”

The dangers of a nuclear plant disaster were dramatically illustrated in the 1979 film “The China Syndrome,” starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon. Critics of the fictional story, which depicted a nuclear power plant that was in danger of a full meltdown, dismissed it as hysterical, over-the-top propaganda — then, not long after the film’s release, came the crisis at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Three Mile Island was only about ten miles from Harrisburg and about 95 miles from Philadelphia, where ironically, “The China Syndrome” was still playing in the theaters during the crisis. Philadelphians were buying tickets to see “The China Syndrome” in Center City theaters when they were on pins and needles over Three Mile Island.

READ MORE: State Department 'urges' Americans to leave Ukraine: 'Conditions may deteriorate without warning'

Then, seven years later in an area of Ukraine that was part of the Soviet Union at the time, came the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl — which was considerably worse than Three Mile Island. And as the Beast’s source pointed out, Zaporizhzhya is a much larger facility than Chernobyl.

The Beast source said of Enerhodar, “The place is becoming unsafe. We are sending our families to safer places, but the men must stay behind.”

But another Beast source, unlike that one, is choosing to get out of Enerhodar and take refuge in Kyiv. That source, identified by Waguih as a 30-year-old “engineer and electricity specialist at the plant” named Serhii, told the Beast, “The shelling has become much worse, and it is no longer safe to stay for me and my family. Some workers have worked in the plant for generations, like their fathers and grandfathers. They can’t imagine their lives without it. But I will not return unless the place is free from occupation.”

The Beast also interviewed a schoolteacher and mother who is leaving Enerhodar for Kyiv. Interviewed on condition of anonymity, she told the Beast, “It was a tough decision for us to leave after such a long time. I was always confident that the city would be protected because it has the nuclear plant… (but then) I saw the Russians from my window while they were shelling into the city from residential buildings. When artillery shells and bombardment became frequent, we became very scared.”

READ MORE: 'We have the protective suits': Kremlin propagandist says forces will fight through a nuclear disaster

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