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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 »

  1. The mess that is the nuclear imperialist USa

    JPMORGAN SAYS OIL PRICES WILL AVERAGE $110 IN SECOND QUARTER. Wheat is peaking in Chicago at the prospect of war w Russia and
    From the Ukrainian fiasco.

    Most Americans are up to their necks in debtnl from covid, bad economy, 2008 banking bailouts and previous war. . the us govt is 30 trillion in debt . now the rightwingers and rightwing centrists and military industrial complex want a war, even it it is nuclear
    The Nazis and stupids in the USA want a civil war.which will lead to the same thing. Seems like the centrist Democrats do too.

    Propaganda wants total control. And those who believe it want 100% validation. They cannot tolerate one dissenting opinion.

    No one should trust Congress or biden or the trump naxis now the billionaire have spent over 30 billion dollars to own them.
    All bought and paid for by billionaire and dark money.. The media, Facebook, repuklicans and democraps and Nazi trumpists are all bought and paid for . Most people in America are going against their self interest. Many to the point, of dying from not being vaccinated. Many not giving a darned about the nuclear war threat and, many nuclear catastrophes that can and will occur in the Ukraine if total war starts. The trump Nazis want a civil war which will lead to the same thing.

    If the Biden right-centrist-media msnbc CNN, time newsweek were completely correct (they are not) there would be total war. they already have all the dummies and morons and media in the USA saying the stuff they want said. And the rest of crazy America goes w the trump Nazis and fox news. No mention of the Ukrainian being neo Nazis no mention of the old beat up nuclear power plants in Ukraine controlled by insane Nazis. The so-called independent liberal  (billionaire controlled msnbc, CNN time Newsweek and all the rightwing bs media etc , Wal street liberal media) .
    The trump nazis  use the most vicious divide and conquor techniques to leverage control in a dividing fashion
    The few
    Rational people are stuk in the middle.

    The billionaire media misinforms for war and war profits and they seemingly don’t care about the trump Nazis, anymore.
    Why is it like boiling water drops on their skin if they don’t get their way that is the warmongers and media and nazis, what will happen if a few voices aren’t saying this already maxed out message. What are these people, afraid will happen if all people don’t start yelling all the same things.
    What will happen if some  of the billionaire media outlets like msnbc , CNN, time, Newsweek, marching minions on Facebook and twitter the rightwing, and centrist warmonger blogosphere and propaganda outlets don’t get their ways .

    What will happen if The trump nazis, the war mongers and  know-it-alls don’t get their way and truth comes out. They will start a civil war they say

    People will stop watching bs tv news bullshit. Listening to superficial celebrity gossip, churning for civil war and more USA war. People will Stop reading bs Twitter and Facebook manipulations. the billionaires and warmongers won’t keep getting richer off of the marching morons.

    The Nazi truckers are heavily armed and funded

    Biden is at war

    There will be a confrontation and shootout and probable state of emergency delcared from the trucker ralley. it will the the start of a civil war I’m almost a professional historian and I know it’s true like I said about Jan 6
    Biden is at war . the old idiot Democrats  will have to do something.  I know several christian idiots who carry guns now

    Afclf hard money

    A rowdy convoy of truckers is descending on the Beltway outside of Washington, D.C., presenting itself as an organic reaction to mask and vaccine mandates. But the official group bankrolling all that diesel is far from a grassroots organization devoted to truckers.

    As of Wednesday, the conservative dark-money organization American Foundation for Civil Liberties and Freedoms had raised $464,731 for “the People’s Convoy”—as the protesters have branded themselves. That amount has nearly tripled over the last few days, and is expected to climb significantly over the coming weeks.

    According to the AFCLF, which has also pushed false claims about the 2020 election and raised money for election deniers, “100% OF THE DONATIONS GO TO SUPPORTING THE CONVOY!”

    “Convoy up, America — the donate button is going toward the funding of the ride to Freedom: we are going to take back our country for ourselves and future generations!” the site says.

    The money will “reimburse fuel and hard costs of the trucker,” the group notes, adding that “the fund is being handled by volunteer accountants and overseen by a law firm.”

    Better yet, because the group is a nonprofit organized under section 501(c)3 of the tax code, all gifts are tax-deductible—and donors can remain anonymous.

    Reached for comment, AFCLF chair Chris Marston did not explain how the funding would work, or how participants would qualify for and access money, saying everything came together too quickly to establish rules.

    “Trucker leaders are on finance committee to determine where needs are but methods depend on the nature of expense,” Marston said over text message. “This all came together too fast to have pre determined rules so we setup a committee with Lawyer, account, and trucker oversight.” [sic]

    Marston said the funds wouldn’t cover return trips after the rally, and inserted a flake of distance between his group and the event itself.

    “We don’t have agreements with truckers on destination plans,” Marston explained. “We are supporting fuel, food, signage and basics for their journey,” he said, adding that his group had also “coordinated with local authorities along the path to be cooperative.” He did not clarify which authorities they were, or their jurisdictions.

    In addition to the fundraising, Marston said, the AFCLF would also provide “guidance on how to stay peaceful and be unified in messaging,” and would coordinate volunteers.

    “That’s the gist,” he said.

    But in its first year of operation, AFCLF has already developed an ominous reputation.

    Last July, Marston’s group hosted a fundraiser to support Matt DePerno, a Michigan attorney who was referred to authorities just weeks earlier for allegedly scamming donors to his outlandish legal effort to overturn the 2020 election results.

    But while AFCLF self-identifies as “trans-partisan”—and Marston claims its membership includes many Democrats—the top issues on its website read like a MAGA voter’s dream platform: grievances about the 2020 election, critical race theory, cancel culture, big tech, school boards, and forced vaccinations.

    In an interview last summer Marston told The Daily Beast that the AFCLF had “probably 100” members, and had been seeking to convince local elections boards around the country to take steps against alleged voter fraud. He also suggested he knew of “game-changing” evidence that could delegitimize the 2020 election and have a “brain-splattering effect” on public trust.

    (After the election, Marston claimed on social media that he was a “liberal” and called ex-President Donald Trump “an asshole” multiple times.)

    Marston created AFCLF’s twin nonprofits last May, after the election denial movement had made clear on Jan. 6 that it has a tendency towards spasmodic political violence. And many extremism experts today warn that those same social and cultural forces are animating the convoy movement—a warning that recently proved true in Canada’s convoy protests.

    “This feels like the culmination of everything that’s happened since Jan. 6th,” one extremism researcher told NBC News, pointing to virulent anti-vaxxer and QAnon contingents within convoy groups.

    Trucker protests disrupting supply chain ‘not good for anybody’: Expert

    And thanks to that constituency, as well as the recent violence in Ottawa, the question of peacefulness will be at the top of the bill.

    Truckers in the Canadian anti-vaccine mandate protest set the example for the People’s Convoy, creating economic havoc with their blockades. The demonstration also attracted white supremacists and anti-government groups, and turned violent. When the chaos dissolved, Canadian law enforcement had arrested nearly 200 protesters.

    But a People’s Convoy press release from Feb. 20 describes its mission as a “peaceful and law-abiding transcontinental journey” aimed at overturning the national vaccine mandate. The convoy departed from Adelanto, CA, on Wednesday afternoon, and plans to hit D.C. 10 days later, on March 5.

    The central grievance in the press release appears to be economic.

    “The average American worker needs to be able to end-run the economic hardships of the last two years, and get back to the business of making bread – so they can pay their rents and mortgages and help jumpstart this economy,” the release says, claiming that “COVID is well-in-hand now, and Americans need to get back to work in a free and unrestricted manner.”

    Neither of those last two claims appear to be strictly true.

    While the deadly Omicron wave has begun to subside in many parts of the country, the United States has still averaged nearly 2,100 daily deaths over the last two weeks, according to data from The New York Times.

    And as for Americans getting “back to work,” the country has over the last year posted record employment gains, adding another 467,000 new jobs in January. The unemployment rate has trended steadily downward since April 2020, and currently sits around 4 percent.

    But the convoy itself will strain the financial resources of its participants, especially with donor funds only available for the 10-day journey east, not the return trip.

    At today’s gas prices, an 18-wheeler averaging a generous eight miles per gallon would burn around $1,200 in diesel fuel along the 2,500-mile one-way trek from Adelanto to the Beltway—and that’s before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine increases gas prices more.

    It’s also before any decisions payment processors or law enforcement might make to cut off fundraising channels, as happened recently in Canada when extremists joined anti-mandate convoy demonstrations.

    But the People’s Convoy says that, unlike the Ottawa protests it cites as inspiration and precedent, its members will not engage in blockades—and won’t even enter Washington, D.C. (The Beltway briefly passes through D.C., over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.)

    “The People’s Convoy will abide by agreements with local authorities, and terminate in the vicinity of the DC area, but will NOT be going into DC proper,” the group’s press release says, without enumerating those agreements.

    It’s unclear if the group has contacted any D.C.-area authorities. Marston indicated that the “agreements” in the press release referenced local jurisdictions .

    Comment by Terry Southards | February 24, 2022 | Reply

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