Russia pursues North Korean arms deal as fighting around Ukrainian nuclear power plant risks disaster
When Russian forces launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin was obviously hoping for a quick takeover. But Ukraine’s military have turned out to be much more skillful and determined fighters than Putin anticipated, and after more than six months, the conflict is showing no signs of letting up.
U.S. President Joe Biden has been adamant in saying that while the United States is glad to give weapons to the Ukrainian military, there will be no American “boots on the ground” in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Russian government is, according to a New York Times source, turning to communist North Korea for help.
North Korea is known for being the world’s most oppressive communist dictatorship, and according to the Times’ source —a U.S. official interviewed on condition of anonymity — the fact that Putin is willing to do business with a pariah state like North Korea underscores Putin’s desperation and “indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages in Ukraine, due in part to export controls and sanctions.”
Politico’s Lara Seligman, in an article published on September 6, reports, “Russia is purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use in the Ukraine conflict, according to a U.S. official, citing newly downgraded intelligence. The news comes a week after Kyiv began a major counteroffensive in the south of the country to take back territory Moscow captured in its initial invasion. Since the operation began, Ukraine has recaptured several settlements in the mostly Russian-occupied region of Kherson.”
The Russian government’s decision to turn to North Korea for weapons comes at a time when the United States’ European allies are sounding the alarm about the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. Zaporizhzhia (sometimes spelled “Zaporizhzhya”) is located outside the city of Enerhodar in an area of Ukraine that Russian forces captured back in March, and European officials are worried about the fact that so much fighting and shelling has been going on in an area with a major nuclear power plant.
To fully understand how potentially catastrophic the situation with Zaporizhzhia is, it helps to know some things about the history of problems that have occurred with nuclear power plants. Back in 1979, the U.S. had a major scare when an accident occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania only about ten miles from Harrisburg and about 95 miles from Philadelphia — and ironically, that accident occurred not long after the release of the movie “The China Syndrome” (starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon). “The China Syndrome” depicted a fictional nuclear power plant that was in danger of a full meltdown, and it was playing in theaters in Philly when the Three Mile Island crisis occurred. Ticket sales soared, as did the nerves of Pennsylvania residents.
But the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl seven years later in 1986 was considerably worse than Three Mile Island, and Zaporizhzhia is, according to the plant’s supervisors, six times larger than the Chernobyl plant. Three Mile Island was the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history; Chernobyl was the worst nuclear accident in the history of the world. But a Zaporizhzhia meltdown, according to nuclear experts, could dwarf even the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.
According to reporting by the Associated Press’ Hanna Arhirova on Tuesday, September 6, “Fears grew Tuesday for Europe's largest nuclear power plant as shelling around it continued, a day after the facility was again knocked off Ukraine's electricity grid and put in the precarious position of relying on its own power to run safety systems. Repeated warnings from world leaders that fighting around the Zaporizhzhia plant has put it in an untenable situation that could lead to a nuclear catastrophe have done little to stem the hostilities. Russian-installed officials accused the Ukrainian forces of shelling the city where the plant is located on Tuesday, hours after the Ukrainians said Kremlin forces attacked a city across the river.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Russian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told the Associated Press, “There are Russian troops now who don’t understand what’s happening, don’t assess the risks correctly. There is a number of our workers there, who need some kind of protection, people from the international community standing by their side and telling (Russian troops): ‘Don’t touch these people, let them work.’”
Mycle Schneider, an expert on nuclear energy based in Canada, told AP that the Zaporizhzhia plant is likely in “island mode,” meaning that it is producing only enough electricity for its own operations. According to Schneider, “Island mode is a very shaky, unstable, and unreliable way to provide continuous power supply to a nuclear plant.”
On September 6, according to Reuters, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report on the conditions at Zaporizhzhia. IAEA warned, “Ukrainian staff operating the plant under Russian military occupation are under constant high stress and pressure, especially with the limited staff available. This is not sustainable and could lead to increased human error with implications for nuclear safety."
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