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Nuclear Ukraine? Amid ‘concerns’ over alleged Russian threat, the world overlooks the real danger

on February 19, 2022, before the start of Russia’s special military operation, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky announced at the Munich Security Conference that Ukraine has the right to abandon the Budapest Memorandum, which proclaimed the country’s nuclear-free status. By Olga Sukharevskaya, ex-Ukrainian diplomat 6 Jan 23 Kiev is capable of building an atomic device, and its leaders often outline such thoughts.

Last year, Western media and high-ranking politicians actively discussed the possibility of Russian troops using atomic weapons in Ukraine. There has even been speculation on the likelihood of a nuclear war breaking out. However, it could be said that the risk is probably a lot higher on the other side of the barricades. 

Ukraine’s Atomic History

Ukraine was a nuclear state after the collapse of the USSR, when 1,700 active atomic warheads remained in the country. Its politicians of that time had the prudence to abandon this status. The weapons were taken to Russia under international control, and their means of delivery were destroyed. Ukraine’s missile silos, with the exception of one which is now a museum near Kiev, were blown up, while its strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons were either transferred to Russia or destroyed.

Despite this, there were still many nuclear specialists in Ukraine, as research into nuclear fission has been conducted in Kharkov since the 1930s. In addition, five nuclear power plants were built in Ukraine during the Soviet years: Zaporozhye, Rovno, Khmelnitsky, and South-Ukrainian, as well as the infamous Chernobyl, where an accident involving a power unit led to an explosion that spewed radioactive fallout throughout Europe.

In addition, uranium is extracted at a deposit in Ukraine’s Kirovograd Region and enriched at a plant in the city of Zheltye Vody. In the 2010s, there were plans with Russia’s Rosatom to build a plant in Ukraine that would produce fuel for nuclear power stations. However, these were abandoned after the Maidan coup in 2014, when the country adopted an adversarial stance towards Russia.

At present, three of Ukraine’s five original nuclear power plants remain under its control. Chernobyl, which continued to generate electricity even after the 1986 accident, was finally decommissioned in 2020, while Zaporozhye, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, has been guarded by Russian troops since last year. It is currently being run by Rosatom but does not produce electricity, largely for safety reasons. This is due to regular rocket and artillery attacks by Ukrainian troops, which have damaged numerous pieces of auxiliary equipment.

Push to Reobtain Nuclear Weapons

It should be noted that not everyone in Ukraine was happy that the country gave up its nuclear weapons. Ukrainian politicians have often failed to hide the fact that their dream of reobtaining nuclear weapons is not so much connected with their country’s security, as the desire to dictate their will to the rest of the world. Radical Ukrainian nationalists were particularly dissatisfied with the abandonment of the country’s nuclear status, and many of their manifestos contain a clause calling for it to be restored.

For example, “the return of nuclear weapons” is specifically cited as a goal in paragraph 2 of the Military Doctrine section in the program statement of the Patriot of Ukraine organization, while paragraph 7 of its Foreign Policy section reads: “The ultimate goal of Ukrainian foreign policy is world domination.” Patriot of Ukraine was created in 2014 by the notorious Andrey Biletsky, who formed it based on the ideology of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and had dreamed of Ukraine possessing nuclear weapons as far back as 2007.

In 2009, the Ternopil Regional Council, which was then dominated by Oleg Tianibok’s neo-Nazi Svoboda Party (called the Social-National Party until 2004), demanded that Ukraine’s president, prime minister, and head of the Verkhovna Rada “terminate the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 and retore Ukraine’s nuclear status.”

Ukraine’s longing for an atomic bomb especially increased after February 2014. In an interview with USA Today in March of that year, Ukrainian MP Pavel Rizanenko called Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons a “big mistake.” And that was not just the opinion of one MP. Just a few days later, representatives of the Batkivshchyna party, headed by ex-Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, and UDAR, headed by Kiev’s current mayor, Vitaly Klitschko, including the secretary of the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense, Sergey Kaplin, submitted a bill on withdrawing from the non-proliferation treaty. Kaplin claimed that Ukraine could create nuclear weapons in just two years because it already had almost everything necessary: The fissile materials, equipment (except centrifuges), technology, specialists, and even means of delivery. In September of the same year, Ukraine’s minister of defense, Valery Geletey, also expressed the desire to develop nuclear weapons.

In December 2018, the former representative of the Ukrainian mission to NATO, Major General Pyotr Garashchuk, announced the real possibility of Ukraine creating its own nuclear weapons. In 2019, Aleksandr Turchinov, who usurped power in Ukraine in February of 2014, called Ukraine’s renunciation of nuclear weapons a “historic mistake.” Following him, in April 2021, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andrey Melnik, stated that if the West did not help Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia, the country would launch a nuclear program and create an atomic bomb. And on February 19, 2022, before the start of Russia’s special military operation, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky announced at the Munich Security Conference that Ukraine has the right to abandon the Budapest Memorandum, which proclaimed the country’s nuclear-free status.

Perhaps the most striking statement by a Ukrainian politician was made by David Arakhamia, the head of the Ukrainian parliament’s ruling parliamentary faction, Servant of the People. “We could blackmail the whole world, and we would be given money to service (nuclear weapons), as is happening in many other countries now,” he said in mid-2021.

Range of Possibilities

Is Ukraine technically capable of creating an atomic bomb? Absolutely. Yes, enriching uranium-235 to the purity necessary to set off a chain reaction would cost a lot, primarily to create centrifuges for separating isotopes. However, though this may be the most effective way to separate isotopes, it’s not the only one. The first American bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were created without the use of this technology.

In addition, it should not be forgotten that there are not only uranium, but also plutonium bombs. Breeder reactors are used to synthesize this chemical element, most often using heavy-water reactor technology, and research reactors are capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. There is presently a nuclear research installation at the Kharkov Institute of Physics and Technology, and a VVR-M reactor suitable for plutonium production at the Institute for Nuclear Research of Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences in Kiev. ………………………………………..

Nuclear Power on the Brink of Disaster

Just as dangerous is the nuclear power policy pursued by the Ukrainian government.

Ukraine inherited five nuclear power plants with 18 active reactors from the USSR. Three of them located at the Chernobyl NPP were decommissioned by 2000. Five of the six reactors at the Zaporozhye NPP, three of the four reactors at the Rovno NPP, one of the two reactors at the Khmelnitsky NPP, and all three reactors at the South Ukraine NPP have exceeded their original lifespans and received extensions of their operating lives for another 10 to 15 years. 

 The license extensions have sometimes been granted with violations of existing regulations since, after 2015, Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate stopped cooperating with Russian vendors and has not overhauled reactor vessels, which become brittle after prolonged exposure to neutron radiation. Back in 2015, independent experts noted the critical condition of Reactor 1 of the South Ukraine NPP, which, nevertheless, has had its service life extended until 2025.

Ukraine’s Union of Veterans of Nuclear Energy and Industry sent a warning letter to the government in April 2020, arguing that the country’s nuclear energy sector was faced with a “threatening situation,” which, according to the authors of the letter, could well result in “a new Chernobyl.……………..

That fuel assemblies fabricated by Westinghouse tend to malfunction in Soviet-designed reactors was not a revelation. They have repeatedly caused emergencies at NPPs in Finland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, but that did not deter the Ukrainian leadership. Not even losses of around $175 million caused by using non-standard assemblies persuaded Ukraine against conducting risky experiments with its nuclear assets………….

Emergencies at Ukrainian NPPs became a routine event, and yet Westinghouse assemblies accounted for 46% of all nuclear fuel used in Ukraine by the end of 2018………………………………………………………….

Provocation for Nuclear Escalation

After Russian forces assumed control of the Zaporozhye NPP, it became a target for incessant Ukrainian shelling, sometimes with the use of Western-made multiple launch rocket systems, heavy artillery, and attack drones. The plant sustained significant damage and was forced to stop generating electricity due to the destruction of auxiliary equipment and the threat to the reactors themselves. At the same time, an IAEA mission “was unable” to establish who was firing on the nuclear site, where Russian soldiers were present.

As the Western media was busy whipping up hysteria over the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia in Ukraine, it transpired that Ukraine was allegedly plotting a provocation of exactly that nature. According to Russian intelligence services, in October 2022, the Eastern Mining and Enrichment Combine in the town of Zheltye Vody and the Kiev Institute for Nuclear Research were in the final stages of developing a dirty bomb on the orders of the Ukrainian government. A missile plant in Dnepropetrovsk built a mock-up of the Russian Iskander missile, which was supposed to carry a radioactive charge and be “shot down” over the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The goal was to accuse Russia of using nuclear weapons and push NATO to retaliate in kind. In other words, to start a nuclear war in Europe.

All these facts mean that present-day Ukraine is arguably  a real threat to nuclear security not just in Europe, but on a global scale. It has everything it would take, from irresponsible people in charge of safety and security at nuclear sites, to the technical capabilities.


January 7, 2023 - Posted by | safety, Ukraine, weapons and war

1 Comment »

  1. The ukrainians have been accused of diverting hi level radionuclides to make dirty nuclear bombs for 30 years

    Comment by Clarinsky | January 8, 2023 | Reply

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