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Ukraine! How Did We Get Here? and The US Played Its Last Cards

February 24, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why nuclear risk from war in Ukraine isn’t missiles, but accidental hits on reactors

“In case of the total destruction of the power plant, I think the consequences would be so much worse than at Fukushima and Chernobyl together,” Mr Gumenyuk said. “If speaking about consequences of this war situation, Europe will be totally contaminated.”

Why nuclear risk from war in Ukraine isn’t missiles but accidental hits on reactors, Kyiv safety expert warns, By Isabella Bengoechea   i ,   23 Feb 22

  Kyiv nuclear safety expert Dmytro Gumenyuk told i while a direct attack is unlikely, military invasion raises the risk of possible accidental hits from missiles or artillery   

 Ukraine’s nuclear power plants would pose a risk of radioactive pollution in Europe if caught in the crossfire of a Russian invasion, a Kyiv safety expert has told i.

The chance of a direct military attack on such facilities would be highly unlikely but a lack of high-precision weapons in the occupied Donbas suggests there could be an increased chance of sensitive facilities being hit accidentally.

If this happens, radiation could contaminate air, soil and waterways, affecting not only Ukraine but also Russia and much of Europe, according to Dmytro Gumenyuk, head of safety analysis at the State Scientific and Technical Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, a body within the state nuclear inspectorate.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors in four power plants, which provide 52 per cent of the country’s electricity: Khelnitsky and Rivne in the northwest, and Zaporizhzhia and the South Ukrainian plants in the west and south respectively.

Some facilities including a nuclear waste storage site in the exclusion zone at Chernobyl – where in 1986 catastrophic failure at the power plant resulted in the worst nuclear disaster in history – lie close to the country’s borders, where Russia has amassed nearly 200,000 troops.

The plant at Zaporizhzhia is only about 150 miles from the front line in Donetsk, while the South Ukrainian plant is about another 160 miles further west.

While a direct attack is unlikely, military invasion raises the risk of possible accidental hits from missiles or artillery. On Tuesday the thermal power station at Shchastya, near the conflict line in Luhansk, caught fire amid shelling, leaving 40,000 residents without electricity.

Mr Gumenyuk said: “Our NPP [nuclear power plant] wasn’t designed for military protection. Of course it wasn’t designed against tanks, bombs, missiles and so on.

“In case of a military attack it is not a long time for getting from Dontesk to Zaporizhzhia NPP, and of course taking into account the small distances from the Russian Federation, we could suppose that our power plants are not fully protected from military attack from our neighbour.”

A direct attack by Russia is unlikely. Lada Roslycky, founder of the Ukraine-based Black Trident defence and security group, said: “From a military perspective and a defence perspective it would be an idiotic action.”

However, she pointed out the separatists’ lack of high-precision weapons in conflict in the occupied Donbas does raise the chance of sensitive facilities being hit accidentally.

She also suggested that this could be part of a Russian strategy of fomenting uncertainty through psychological warfare, by holding out the threat of attacking such facilities. “I really don’t think they would do it [attack nuclear facilities] but it’s possible … it’s such a wonderful, brilliant instrument,” she said.

The Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) said it is “right to be concerned about Ukraine’s 15 ageing Soviet-design nuclear reactors”.

“The three reactors at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant and the six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant are the two sites most likely to be affected by a Russian invasion,” the observatory added.

The VVER 1000 pressurised water reactors at Zaporizhzhia each contain 163 assemblies – or structured groups of fuel rods. Each assembly contains about 500kg of uranium dioxide, making the total fuel inside one reactor about 80 tonnes.

After the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan, Ukrainian nuclear authorities implemented extra safety measures to make their reactors safer, and protect against accidents such as fires and flooding.

However, Mr Gumenyuk warned that were the plant to be attacked, in the worst-case scenario, the consequences would be devastating.

“In case of the total destruction of the power plant, I think the consequences would be so much worse than at Fukushima and Chernobyl together,” Mr Gumenyuk said. “If speaking about consequences of this war situation, Europe will be totally contaminated.”

Soon after the disaster, radioactive rain began falling across northern Britain. In Cumbria detectors showed background radiation 200 times higher than normal. In Scotland two months later it was 4,000 times. Sheep in North Wales, Cumbria, and Scotland were found to have increased levels of caesium-137, prompting temporary restrictions on meat sales for 7,000 farms.

A nuclear disaster at Zaporizhzhia would contaminate the water, entering the Dneiper River and travelling down into the Sea of Azov, the Black Sea and then out into the Mediterranean.

In the event of a meltdown, radiation could contaminate the air where, depending on weather conditions, it could spread across Europe, as happened after the Chernobyl accident, when radiation spread as far as Sweden and the UK.

“But this is if all the units are totally destroyed,” said Mr Gumenyuk. “We do our best to prevent this situation. I hope in most cases our power units would survive even in single hits. Our nuclear reactors have containment to protect against the different impacts, including an air crash for example.”

Chernobyl’s nuclear waste

Ukraine’s nuclear waste storage facilities, including in the exclusion zone at Chernobyl, 70 miles south of the Belarussian border, also pose a radiation risk.

Last year Energoatom, the state nuclear operator, announced that Ukraine’s new Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility, in the exclusion zone at Chernobyl, was almost ready to begin operating. Spent fuel will be transferred to the new facility from where it is currently stored at power plants.

At present Russia has about 30,000 troops stationed in Belarus, apparently for joint military exercises, which are armed with short-range missiles, rocket launchers and Su-35 fighters. Leaders including Boris Johnson have suggested that Russia is planning at attack from Belarus, “coming down from the north, coming down from Belarus, and encircling Kyiv itself”. The route could take Russian troops through the exclusion zone.

According to CEOBS: “Decommissioning of the [Chernobyl] site and the packaging of waste is ongoing and will continue for decades. The site is under constant management and monitoring and the disruption caused by a conflict would impact the ongoing work to reduce the risks it poses. It seems likely that foreign companies would withdraw staff in the event of an invasion, impacting activities at the site.”

There are 22,000 assemblies of spent nuclear fuel at the storage site, kept in special casks to protect them.

However, Mr Gumenyuk pointed out that these were not protected against military firepower: “In case of the destruction of these casks, radioactive materials could be released and transferred to Ukraine and other European territories. This is a very dangerous situation.”

While some experts say any disruption to the site would be localised, Mr Gumenyuk said: “I disagree, the number of the fuel assemblies is very big and if all the casks were destroyed it would not only be the problem of Ukraine, maybe not all Europe, but many countries.”

Cyberattacks are another possibility. Last week Ukrainian government websites and banks were shut down by a wave of distributed denial of service attacks, thought to have been carried out by Russian hackers.

In 2015 the country’s energy sector was attacked by the BlackEnergy computer virus that caused a blackout of 800,000 households across 103 towns.

The next year, on the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, Ukraine’s then-President Poroshenko said: “If the BlackEnergy virus was used for attacks on our power distributors, there is no guarantee that such technology will not threaten our nuclear plants”.

“Chernobyl is already volatile,” said Ms Roslycky. “Cyberattacks against Chernobyl call for attention… whether attacking kinetically or through cyber, when that happens this is something that would threaten global security.”

Accident, terrorism or sabotage

Direct attacks on the plants at Zaporizhzhia and South Ukraine are also unlikely, not least because Russia is not far from the power plants, and any radioactive contamination would affect Russia as well as Ukraine.

However, the possibility of an accident, terrorism or sabotage is somewhat higher. According to the Nuclear Security Index for 2020, Ukraine scores highly on global norms for nuclear materials security and implementing international commitments, with 94 and 78 out of 100 respectively.

However, under ‘risk environment’, which considers factors including political stability, effective governance, pervasiveness of corruption, and illicit activities by non-state actors, Ukraine scores 14.

A 2016 report by the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium drew attention to the illicit trafficking of radioactive materials in the DPR, LPR and unrecognised Transnistria in Moldova. “The armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and its related threats are dramatically influencing the nuclear security conditions in the country,” it said.

“Political and social instability amplifies the motivation of criminal or terrorist groups or organisations for illegal business related to the distribution of radioactive materials that are out of regulatory control.”

The danger of these armed insurgencies was highlighted most dramatically in 2014 when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Donetsk in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists, killing all 298 on board. The Dutch-led investigation into the incident concluded that the plane was shot down with a Buk missile supplied by the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Russian Federation. Those responsible may have believed they were shooting down a Ukrainian military aircraft………………………………………….

February 24, 2022 Posted by | safety, Ukraine, weapons and war | 1 Comment

Britain’s nuclear submarine base at risk from climate change

 The United Kingdom’s nuclear military bases are being threatened by climate change, according to a recent report from the Nuclear Consulting Group. Paul Dorfman, the report’s author, said that the U.K.’s coastal nuclear infrastructure is vulnerable to flooding, due to rising sea levels and more frequent and severe storms.

“All of the models or predictions, all of the analysis, all of the data has really begun to run hot,” Dorfman told CNBC. “It’s good that people are taking notice, but it’s bad that this new data is showing us that we really do need to get our acttogether.”

The report also found that coastal flooding frequency is estimated to increase by between 10 and more than 100 in several European locations. In the United States, “the Pentagon has recently reported that
79 nuclear military bases will be affected by rising sea-levels and frequent flooding,” Dorfman added.

 CNBC 21st Feb 2022

February 24, 2022 Posted by | climate change, UK, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Putin says that Ukraine is a nuclear threat

Vladimir Putin labels Ukraine a nuclear threat, says he’s prepared to use force, THE AUSTRALIAN, 23 Feb 22, JACQUELIN MAGNAY, EUROPE CORRESPONDENT@jacquelinmagnay

Russian president Vladimir Putin has announced he would use military force “depending on the situation on the ground” to defend the rights of people in the separatist regions Donetsk and Luhansk.

After receiving approval from the Russian parliament to deploy troops abroad into Ukraine, Mr Putin labelled Ukraine a nuclear threat, telling the Russian people it wanted to lose its neutrality, join NATO and that it received military shipments from the West. Mr Putin also claimed that citizens in the Donbas region were being “abused”.

Crucially, Mr Putin recognised the independence of the entire Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and its broader territorial ambitions, not just the area controlled by Russian backed separatists.

About two-thirds of this area, known broadly as the Donbas, is currently in Ukrainian control.

Mr Putin said Ukraine was being “armed to the teeth” and that its nuclear threat was a strategic issue. He said Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky’s remark that he regretted Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons in 1994 was targeted directly at Russia.

“We have taken a note of them,” Mr Putin said………………….

Mr Putin said that Russia recognised the territory was now independent and warned the border region had been a threat to the Russian Federation……………………….

February 24, 2022 Posted by | safety, Ukraine | Leave a comment

Activist groups to rally against plutonium disposal project at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Adrian HeddenCarlsbad Current-Argus 23 Feb 22,
A plan to dilute weapons-grade plutonium and then dispose of it at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an underground repository for low-level nuclear waste near Carlsbad, drew concerns from around New Mexico amid fears transporting this stream of waste could risk public safety.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced in 2020 a plan that would ship the plutonium from the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas to Los Alamos National Laboratory where it would be chemically diluted.

The waste would then head to the DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina for packaging before the final shipment to WIPP in southeast New Mexico.

This would mean the 34 metric tons of the waste on the way to its final resting place at the WIPP site could pass through New Mexico three times.

Cynthia Weehler, co-chair of Santa Fe-based activist group 285 All said this creates an unacceptable risk for local communities in New Mexico and 11 states she said the waste would travel through.  

285 All advocates for issues throughout New Mexico, focusing on U.S. Highway 285 which stretches from the mountains in northern New Mexico down into the high desert and oilfields of the southeast region, crossing into West Texas.

That’s why Weehler and a consortium of groups critical of WIPP and nuclear activities in New Mexico planned to deliver a petition to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham next week, asking the state’s highest government leader to oppose the plutonium project.

“Unless New Mexico says NO to WIPP expansion, other disposal locations will not be developed, and WIPP will always be the only dump site, which is not fair. New Mexico never agreed to bear the burden of being the only site,” read a portion of the petition.

Weehler said the petition has about 1,140 signatures as of Monday and is being distributed in the Santa Fe area and to communities along the transportation routes.

The petition will be delivered to the State Capitol at 11:30 a.m., March 1 during a press conference on the east side of the Roundhouse.  

“We don’t expect an accident to happen every week or every community, but when you increase the time and the shipments, we just see this as an inevitability over the time frame,” Weehler said. “It’s going to be a huge increase in shipments and it’s going to last almost this whole century.”

Weehler said Lujan Grisham should cite the legal agreement between the State and DOE that defines WIPP’s mission: to dispose of low-level transuranic (TRU) waste at the site near Carlsbad, streams she said were pre-determined by the agreement and should not be expanded.

If the DOE’s plutonium plan moves forward, Weehler said it would amount to an “expansion” of WIPP both in its mission and the volume of waste it would accept.

“The waste would be plutonium-contaminated material, contaminated during the production of nuclear weapons,” Weehler said. “This is something different (than TRU waste).”

WIPP officials said this was not the case…………………………….. 

The plutonium would be “down blended” meaning its level of radioactivity would be lowered so that the waste would qualify as TRU waste and could be disposed of at WIPP without adjusting federal policy.

“In order for it qualify, they’re having to dilute it. They’re having to adulterate it,” Weehler said. “This will never be acceptable. For them to say that is just unbelievable to me.” ………..

February 24, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, opposition to nuclear, USA | Leave a comment