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Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant: a Catastrophe Waiting to Happen

BY CAROL WOLMAN CounterPunch 1 May 23

A meltdown at Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant grows more likely with every passing day.  With a meltdown, radioactive water from the plant would flow into the Dnieper River, which empties into the Black Sea, and thence to the Mediterranean.  See below for map.   The consequences would be catastrophic for Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.  Clearly this is an international problem.  It calls out for an international solution.

Perhaps it is time to send in UN Peacekeeping Forces.

ZNPP has been at risk for a Fukushima-type meltdown since the Russians occupied the plant in March 2022.  It sits on the front line of the war, the south side of the Dnieper River.   The Russians quickly occupied the south side early in their invasion; the Ukrainians still occupy the north side.

The International Atomic Energy Agency was able to establish a presence at ZNPP after months of lobbying by its Director- General Mariano Grossi.  He has personally visited twice and gets daily updates from the IAEA personnel on site.  His latest report can be found here.

Grossi has been trying for almost a year to negotiate a safety zone around ZNPP.  After his visit to the plant on 3/29/23, Grossi stressed that the increasing combat makes it urgent to find a way to prevent a potentially catastrophic nuclear accident.

He complains that he is not getting support from the UN, and even from his own agency.   The EU issued a statement a few months ago but is not keeping the pressure on.  Given the potential for catastrophe, it is astounding that more attention is not being given to the need to support Grossi’s efforts.

Instead, the media publishes reassuring articles about how many safety features ZNPP has.

Safety features are useless if the cooling water stops circulating around the nuclear material.  The reactors have been shut down, so the pumps need an external power source.

The main power lines cross the Dnieper to the Ukraine energy grid on the north side of the river.  The back up lines connect to conventionally fired plants in Ukrainian territory.  They are right on the front line, and mortar fire from either side can cut them.

Since the invasion, all the external power lines to the plant- 4 major lines and 2-4 backup lines- have been cut simultaneously at least SIX times, forcing the pumps to rely on emergency diesel generators.  As Grossi says ““Each time we are rolling a dice…And if we allow this to continue time after time, then one day our luck will run out.”

Without the constant circulation of cooling water, the nuclear fuel would overheat, resulting in a chain reaction and meltdown.   This is what happened at Fukushima Daiichi 1:

; the earthquake and tsunami cut off the power and the pumps stopped working.  A huge discharge of radioactive water into the vast Pacific Ocean continued for several years, until an ice wall was built around the damaged reactors.

Within three years after the Fukushima disaster, there were massive die-offs throughout the Pacific.  Mollusks in particular suffered, and the result went up the food chain, so that sea mammals were starving and mutated.  The sea bird population was decimated.

A meltdown at ZNPP would release large amounts of radioactive water into a much smaller body of water than the Pacific Ocean.  The Dnieper River empties into the Black Sea and eventually into the Mediterranean.  All the countries which border the Mediterranean would be affected.  The consequences are unthinkable.

The circulation of cooling water could fail for another reason.  It cycles through a holding pond nearby.  Because of the constant influx of warm water from the reactors, still hot even in shutdown mode, the pond is prone to algae growth, which could clog the intake valves and stop the water flow.  It is stocked with tropical fish, which eat the algae and keep the water clear.

The cooling pond is at risk. Global warming may cause the pond to overheat this summer, killing the scavenging fish…………………………………………………

Clearly this is an international problem.  The danger of a meltdown at ZNPP is real; the consequences would be catastrophic for Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East……………………………………………………………..


May 3, 2023 - Posted by | safety, Ukraine

1 Comment »

  1. A catastrophe that has already happened, and will only get worse

    Comment by Mar Plat | May 3, 2023 | Reply

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