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Huge 1.5 million litres of radioactive water with tritium leaks from nuclear power plant

 Xcel Energy said they are cleaning up the leak of 400,000 gallons (1.5
million litres) of tritium-contaminated water from its Monticello nuclear
power plant in Minnesota.

 Mirror 18th March 2023


March 20, 2023 Posted by | incidents, USA | Leave a comment

400,000 gallons of radioactive water leaked from a nuclear plant in Minnesota


ST.. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota regulators said Thursday they’re monitoring the cleanup of a leak of 400,000 gallons of radioactive water from Xcel Energy’s Monticello nuclear power plant, and the company said there’s no danger to the public.

………………… While Xcel reported the leak of water containing tritium to state and federal authorities in late November, the spill had not been made public before Thursday. State officials said they waited to get more information before going public with it.

…………………….. The Monticello plant is about 35 miles (55 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis, upstream from the city on the Mississippi River.

………………. Xcel said it has recovered about 25% of the spilled tritium so far, that recovery efforts will continue and that it will install a permanent solution this spring.

…………… Xcel Energy is considering building above-ground storage tanks to store the contaminated water it recovers, and is considering options for the treatment, reuse, or final disposal of the collected tritium and water. State regulators will review the options the company selects, the MPCA said.

March 17, 2023 Posted by | incidents, USA | Leave a comment

Lessons from Chernobyl and Fukushima: Is Europe prepared for another nuclear disaster?

By Camille Bello  •  Updated: 11/03/2023 – 15:29

Exactly 12 years ago, a massive earthquake and tsunami caused the second-worst nuclear accident in history at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

The anniversary of the catastrophic meltdown that displaced 160,000 people and cost the Japanese government over €176 billion should itself be enough of a reminder of the potential threat of a nuclear spill, but a number of recent events have also raised the alarm in Europe.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has repeatedly knocked out the country’s electricity grid, causing blackouts at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, where power is needed to prevent the reactors from overheating like in the 1986 Chernobyl radiation disaster.

Meanwhile, Europe’s other nuclear reactors are ageing – they were built on average 36.6 years ago – and recent checkups in France have found cracks in several of them.

Some energy experts have warned that the extreme weather events brought on by climate change could pose a serious threat to the EU’s 103 nuclear reactors, which account for about one-quarter of the electricity generated in the bloc.

Jan Haverkamp, a senior nuclear energy and energy policy expert for Greenpeace, said the chances of Europe seeing a large accident like Fukushima were now “realistic” and “we should take them into consideration”.

“We are not properly prepared,” he told Euronews Next

March 12, 2023 Posted by | EUROPE, safety | Leave a comment

Nuclear research center reiterates need for separate regulatory body

Business World, March 12, 2023,

THE creation of a new agency that will oversee nuclear power will assure objective regulation of the development of the industry, especially in the areas of safety and security, the head of a nuclear research institution said.

Responding to claims that a separate regulator is unnecessary, Carlo A. Arcilla, director of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), told BusinessWorld by phone: “You don’t normally want to have a situation where a body will regulate itself.”

The PNRI is an arm of the Department of Science and Technology tasked with conducting research into the safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy in the Philippines. Mr. Arcilla said that transferring regulatory powers to a different agency would help avoid conflict of interest.

The House nuclear energy committee is currently discussing a bill proposing to create the Philippine Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority or PhilATOM, which will take on the regulatory functions that the PNRI currently holds.

A science advocacy organization has called the bill unnecessary, calling instead for the expansion of the PNRI’s powers……………….

The proposed agency will be headed by a director general and deputy director-general, who will be appointed by the President of the Philippines.

Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, the group that opposed the bill, also said that nuclear waste disposal could affect the safety of nearby communities. …….

March 12, 2023 Posted by | Philippines, safety | Leave a comment

Nuclear crash exercise beset by blunders, says UK’s Ministry of Defence

Rob Edwards March 12, 2023

An exercise testing emergency responses to a nuclear bomb convoy crashing,
exploding and spreading a cloud of radioactive contamination was plagued
with “errors” and “confusion”, according to official assessments by
the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

There were shortages of vital medical
equipment, “poor” arrangements for casualties and multiple mistakes in
radiation monitoring. One set of radiation readings was wrong “by a
factor of 1,000 times”. At one point MoD firefighters ran out of water,
and at another an MoD commander refused help from the civil fire service.
There was no official assessment of whether or not the crash was caused by
a terrorist.

The Ferret 12th March 2023

March 12, 2023 Posted by | safety, UK | Leave a comment

Britain’s Office for Nuclear Regulation warns on the need for a safety case, as EDF wants to extend the life of 2 nuclear power Stations

A spokesperson for the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) said: “We are
aware of EDF’s announcement today (9 March 2023) of its intention to extend
the operating life of Heysham 1 and Hartlepool Power Stations.

“Although a plant life extension decision does not require formal regulatory
assessment or approval by ONR, it is a requirement of the site licence that
operations be carried out at all times under a valid safety case. “A
number of the current safety cases for the stations will need to be updated
to achieve EDF’s stated ambitions, together with investment in plant to
sustain equipment reliability, all while ensuring that the necessary people
and skills are on site.

“The ongoing safety of operations will need to be
fully demonstrated to us as part of the ongoing regulation of the sites in
Lancashire and Teesside, which will be informed though our extensive
inspection and assessment regime. “Once we receive them, the safety cases
from EDF will be thoroughly assessed by our team of expert inspectors.

ONR 9th March 2023

March 12, 2023 Posted by | safety, UK | Leave a comment

EDF ordered to inspect 200 nuclear pipe weldings after more cracks discovered

By America Hernandez and Forrest Crellin, 10 Mar.

PARIS, March 10 (Reuters) – France’s nuclear safety watchdog ASN has ordered energy utility EDF (EDF.PA) to inspect about 200 pipe weldings across its 56-nuclear reactor fleet after discovering three additional cracks this week, the regulator said on Friday.

In addition to a major corrosion-related crack on the Penly 1 reactor in Normandy revealed on Tuesday, which the watchdog attributed to faulty welding, two fissures on EDF’s Penly 2 reactor and the Cattenom 3 reactor in Moselle were disclosed on Thursday.

An EDF spokesperson declined to comment on ASN’s criticism, but said the two newer cracks were due to “thermal fatigue”, which happens when very hot and cold water meet inside pipes, causing the steel to dilate, contract and become more fragile over time.

EDF regularly inspects pipes via ultrasound for this phenomenon during maintenance, the spokesperson added.

The latest defects and watchdog scrutiny come as France and the Britain announced a new energy partnership on Friday to strengthen cooperation on nuclear power, including construction of power stations, innovation and safety.

Neither French President Emmanuel Macron nor British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak mentioned the nuclear operator’s latest setbacks after a bilateral summit.

“You are helping us secure our supply of nuclear power thanks to EDF’s incredible work,” Sunak told Macron.

EDF is building a new nuclear plant in Britain, Sizewell C, which has suffered from cost overruns and construction delays. A second plant, Hinkley Point C, is also in the works.

The utility’s Penly 2 and Cattenom 3 in France are part of a group of 16 reactors flagged by EDF as being susceptible to corrosion-related cracks due to a design flaw, and prioritised for checks in its inspection and maintenance plan.

That plan is now being updated to accommodate the additional check of 200 weldings, and will be published “in coming days”, EDF has said.

European forward-curve power prices rose sharply on Friday following the announcement of new cracks, after French nuclear output in 2022 fell to a 34-year low while EDF scrambled to fix stress corrosion issues at several sites.

“Some market participants may be worried that the issues with corrosion are trickier than first anticipated, and that EDF will struggle both long- and short-term to fix it and bring generation back to pre-2022 levels,” Rystad analyst Fabian Ronningen said.

March 12, 2023 Posted by | France, safety | Leave a comment

“Thermal fatigue” is causing flaws in the cooling pipes of France’s nuclear reactors

Electricite de France SA discovered new defects at two of its nuclear
reactors that were halted for maintenance and repairs, raising fresh
concerns that its electricity output will remain largely constrained this
year after plunging in 2022.

Flaws tied to so-called thermal fatigue have
been found on the pipes of the Penly-2 and Cattenom-3 reactors, the utility
said in a statement. The pipes have been replaced as part of broader
repairs related to “stress corrosion” cracks — a different type of
faults — that are affecting emergency cooling pipes of some of the EDF’s
atomic plants, according to the nuclear safety authority.

The nuclear giant has been forced to halt more than a dozen of its 56 reactors for months of repairs since it first found signs of such stress corrosion phenomenon in
late 2021. The announcement comes just days after the country’s nuclear
safety authority asked EDF to revise its program of reactor checks
following the utility’s discovery of a “significant” stress corrosion
crack earlier this year on its Penly-1 reactor. EDF said it will propose an
update of its reactor check strategy to the watchdog in the coming days.

The fresh setbacks could force EDF to carry out more extensive checks on
its atomic plants, reviving concern that France will have to import large
amounts of power this year. Last year, worries about electricity shortages
combined with dwindling deliveries of Russian gas pushed European energy
prices to records.

Bloomberg 10th March 2023

March 10, 2023 Posted by | France, safety | 1 Comment

Nuclear reactor: a deep crack discovered at Penly 1 risks destabilizing EDF

Nuclear reactor: a deep crack discovered at Penly 1 risks destabilizing
EDF. A new “stress corrosion” problem found by the the company on a
shutdown reactor in Seine-Maritime could have significant repercussions,
due to its size and location.

The discovery could have serious consequences
for EDF. The company detected a major crack on a weld of an emergency
circuit of a shutdown reactor, Penly 1, in Seine-Maritime, a new problem
for the energy giant whose nuclear fleet is heavily disturbed since 2021 by
these phenomena.

In a note, which went unnoticed until its media coverage
on Tuesday by the Context site , EDF mentioned having detected a
“significant stress corrosion defect” on an emergency pipe used to cool
the reactor in an emergency. For Yves Marignac, ” the fact that larger
cracks are possible raises the question of keeping the 6 reactors of the
same type P’4″ in operation while awaiting their preventive repair” ,
announced in December by EDF for the current year 2023.

Liberation 8th March 2023

March 10, 2023 Posted by | France, safety | Leave a comment

The narrow field of options for safely managing Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

By Mark Hibbs | March 10, 2023 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,

One year after Russia’s assault and takeover of the Zaporizhzhia plant, Russians and Ukrainians face decisions about the operation status of the six reactors that will significantly impact nuclear safety and security. Decision makers might mothball the reactors, or instead elect one or more of a range of modes for operating them, on a scale from cold shutdown to resumed criticality and low-power operation…………………………………………………………………………………………..

 the safest option for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant would be to shut all reactors down, depressurize the circuits, and remove their fuel until the end of the war. As an IAEA peer reviewer in one European country with similar reactors said: “There would be no heat, no pressure, no radioactivity, and no severe accident.”

But the plant’s fuel inventory is another key consideration in decisions about how or if the Zaporizhzhia reactors are to be run. If removed from reactor cores, hot, highly radioactive fuel must be safely stored and contained. 

Ukraine regulations require that the spent fuel storage pool at each reactor accommodate a full core of fuel in an emergency. As part of EU post-Fukushima upgrades, Zaporizhzhia reactors were outfitted with portable equipment to supply water in an emergency to spent fuel pools and to reactor cores. But moving a core of fuel into a pool would significantly increase the heat load, and safe storage margins might be limited following previous re-racking to pack more fuel in the pools.

Safety authorities may ultimately decide that the fuel would be better protected if left in the reactors, since they were designed to protect and cool the fuel including in an emergency. Separately, the owner/operator may not want to undertake prolonged outages of de-fueled reactors in the interest of limiting restart authorization requirements…………………………………

March 10, 2023 Posted by | safety, Ukraine | Leave a comment

Crack in piping of Penly nuclear reactor further complicates EDF’s situation.

Unlike the microcracks detected on other reactors (such as those of Chooz,
in the Ardennes, and Civaux, in Vienne, 1,450 MW, the most powerful and
most recent), the defect observed at Penly is described as particularly

the ASN describes a crack extending over 155 millimeters (mm),
“that is approximately a quarter of the circumference of the piping”.
The nuclear policeman adds that its maximum depth is 23 mm, for a pipe
thickness of 27 mm.

Although the Penly 1 reactor had already been
identified as being among the most sensitive to the phenomenon of stress
corrosion, this portion of the circuit in particular was considered
“non-sensitive” by EDF, due to its geometry. The licensee, like ASN,
considers that the presence of corrosion could be explained by the double
repair to which the piping was subjected during the construction of the

 Time News 8th March 2023

March 10, 2023 Posted by | France, safety | Leave a comment

Why are the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the corporate media ignoring the safety problems of Holtec’s thin-walled nuclear waste canisters?

Koeberg Thin Walled Holtec Nuclear Waste Canister In S. Africa Leaked After 17 Years, More Holtec Canister Problems That Threaten Massive Radiological Releases, Explosion & Criticality Risks From Holtec Canisters, Potential Canister Problem At Diabalo Canyon After 2 Years.

Title ( (

List of other thin walled nuclear canisters vendors who threaten life on Earth listed at in addition to Holtec. Where is the media? The vaunted “free press”?

NRC ignores Holtec design problem that gouges walls of all San Onofre nuclear waste canisters | San Onofre Safety (

All Holtec nuclear waste thin-wall canisters likely damaged from inferior Holtec downloading systems | San Onofre Safety (   

               NUREG-2224 High Burnup Fuel Storage and Transport | San Onofre Safety ( Explosion & Criticality  Risks From Holtec Thin Walled Canisters, Potential Diabalo Canyon Nuclear waste Canisters After 2 Years

March 9, 2023 Posted by | safety, USA | Leave a comment

Evacuation plans still missing around 6 nuclear power plants

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, March 6, 2023

Six of 15 locations with nuclear power plants, excluding those in Fukushima Prefecture, have not compiled sufficient emergency plans, including wide-area evacuations, in the event of a serious accident.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pushed a policy to “return to nuclear power,” but disaster prevention challenges remained unresolved, and local people have expressed concerns.

The emergency plans were deemed necessary after the March 2011 nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant.

Niigata Prefecture hosts TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, one of the largest in the world.

On Feb. 7, disaster prevention officials of municipal governments in the prefecture held an annual meeting online in Niigata with staff of TEPCO and members of the Cabinet Office in charge of nuclear emergency preparations.

One theme at the meeting was whether people could safely flee if a severe accident were to occur at the plant on a day with heavy snow.

“For our residents, heavy snow is a threat much closer than terrorism, and it could cause tremendous anxiety and risk,” said a Nagaoka city government official, urging the prefectural government to examine evacuation plans in heavy snow.

Municipal governments within a radius of 30 kilometers of a nuclear power plant are required to draw up evacuation plans for severe nuclear accidents and discuss emergency procedures with the central government.

These plans are then supposed to receive approval at a nuclear emergency preparedness meeting chaired by the prime minister.

But there are no such plans in place in the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa area, where 437,000 people live.

Local officials said they are stumped over how to plan an evacuation in heavy snow.

On Dec. 18, snow started falling in the city of Kashiwazaki, where the nuclear power plant is located.

The Hokuriku Expressway that runs through the city was closed for up to 52 hours. National road No. 8, which runs parallel to the expressway, was shut down for 38 hours, and stranded vehicles formed a 22-km line in the snow.

The Kashiwazaki city government estimates that about 60,000 of the 79,000 or so residents would evacuate westward in the event of a nuclear power plant accident.

Any evacuation plan in the city would be severely hampered if the Hokuriku Expressway and national road No. 8 were unusable.

On Feb. 10, the Cabinet approved Kishida’s green transformation policy, marking a dramatic shift in the government’s post-3/11 stance on nuclear power.

The new policy allows the construction of new nuclear reactors and extending the maximum life of existing units beyond 60 years.

Operations of 10 reactors have already resumed.

Seven other reactors, including the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, are scheduled to restart in or after this summer.

Kishida said the central government “will be out in front and take any and every step” to push the policy, an unprecedented remark for a prime minister concerning nuclear energy.

TEPCO is seeking to resume operations of the No. 7 reactor at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in October.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has issued a de facto ban on operations of the No. 7 reactor because of the utility’s blunders related to anti-terrorism measures, but the ban may be lifted in spring.

Once the ban is lifted, the remaining conditions for the reactor restart will be obtaining consent from local people and setting up a wide-area evacuation plan.

As of Feb. 11, TEPCO had held explanatory meetings on its reactor resumption plans to local residents at five locations in the prefecture.

A total of 71 people asked questions during the process.

A woman who made the last comment to TEPCO at the meetings said, “If you can’t protect people who can’t evacuate because of heavy snow, I don’t want you to resume the operation.”

Masaya Kitta, who heads TEPCO’s Niigata headquarters, replied: “An evacuation plan is not something we make. It may appear that we are leaving it to someone else, but we, as a plant operator, are doing our best to increase the evacuation plan’s effectiveness as much as possible.”

Of the seven reactors that the Kishida administration plans to restart in or after this summer, two are located in plants lacking local government evacuation plans: the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant and Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

In August 2022, Ibaraki Governor Kazuhiko Oigawa said the Tokai No. 2 plant “is located in an extremely densely populated area,” and the prefectural government “has been in an extremely difficult situation and faced enormous problems in making an effective and sensible evacuation plan.”

Around 940,000 residents live within 30 km of the Tokai No. 2 plant and would be subject to an evacuation in a nuclear disaster. That is the largest such figure in Japan.

Disaster prevention officials have had difficulties securing routes and transportation means for many people to evacuate all at once.

In a wide-area evacuation plan designed by the Ibaraki prefectural government, residents are supposed to leave in their own cars.

The prefecture will ask bus companies for cooperation to evacuate senior residents and disabled people.

The prefectural government estimates that more than 400 buses will be needed for the task, and it does not know how it can secure that many buses.

One guiding principle of the nuclear emergency preparedness was created in response to the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Until then, the areas required to have an evacuation plan in place were located within 8 to 10 km of nuclear plants.

But the Fukushima accident showed how radioactive materials could spread to wider areas.

The central government expanded the radius to 30 km and required municipal governments within the areas to compile evacuation plans.

The central government also set up a group to discuss nuclear-related disaster-prevention measures in normal times.

But more than 10 years have passed since then. And many of the populated areas still do not have evacuation plans.

(This article was written by Yasuo Tomatsu and Shiki Iwasawa.)

March 6, 2023 Posted by | Japan, safety | Leave a comment

Belgian nuclear regulator tells govt not to extend oldest reactors

BAmerica Hernandez and Charlotte Campenhout, BRUSSELS, March 6 (Reuters) – Belgium’s nuclear regulator has advised the government against a life extension of the country’s three oldest reactors, despite the risk of a gap in electricity supply over the next two winters.

Instead, it proposed adjusting the life extension plans of two newer reactors so that safety upgrades are staggered, keeping the power on during the coming crunch period.

The proposal was in a written opinion submitted to the government by the regulator and seen by Reuters on Monday. The document has not been made public yet but the regulator, FANC, confirmed its authenticity to Reuters……………………………….

March 6, 2023 Posted by | EUROPE, safety | Leave a comment

The Nuclear “War” in Ukraine May Not Be the One We Expect

It’s not just Zaporizhzhia we have to worry about: There are 14 other nuclear power plants in the war zone. By Joshua Frank , TOMDISPATCH, February 28, 2023

In 1946, Albert Einstein shot off a telegram to several hundred American leaders and politicians warning that the “unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” Einstein’s forecast remains prescient. Nuclear calamity still knoc

“………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. here’s the true horror story lurking behind the war in Ukraine. While a nuclear tit-for-tat between Russia and NATO — an exchange that could easily destroy much of Eastern Europe in no time at all — is a genuine, if frightening, prospect, it isn’t the most imminent radioactive peril facing the region.

Averting a Meltdown

By now, we all ought to be familiar with the worrisome Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex (ZNPP), which sits right in the middle of the Russian incursion into Ukraine. Assembled between 1980 and 1986, Zaporizhzhia is Europe’s largest nuclear-power complex, with six 950-megawatt reactors. 

…………………….  In September 2022, due to ongoing shelling in the area, Zaporizhzhia was taken offline and, after losing external power on several occasions, has since been sporadically relying on old diesel backup generators. (Once disconnected from the electrical grid, backup power is crucial to ensure the plant’s reactors don’t overheat, which could lead to a full-blown radioactive meltdown.)

However, relying on risk-prone backup power is a fool’s game, according to electrical engineer Josh Karpoff. A member of Science for the People who previously worked for the New York State Office of General Services where he designed electrical systems for buildings, including large standby generators, Karpoff knows how these things work in a real-world setting. He assures me that, although Zaporizhzhia is no longer getting much attention in the general rush of Ukraine news, the possibility of a major disaster there is ever more real. A backup generator, he explains, is about as reliable as a ’75 Winnebago.

“It’s really not that hard to knock out these kinds of diesel generators,” Karpoff adds. “If your standby generator starts up but says there’s a leak in a high-pressure oil line fitting, it sprays heated, aerosolized oil all over the hot motor, starting a fire. This happens to diesel motors all the time. A similar diesel engine fire in a locomotive was partly responsible for causing the Lac Megantic Rail Disaster in Quebec back in 2013.”

Sadly enough, Karpoff is on target. Just remember how the backup generators failed at the three nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. Many people believe that the 9.0 magnitude underwater earthquake caused them to melt down, but that’s not exactly the case.

It was, in fact, a horrific chain of worsening events. While the earthquake itself didn’t damage Fukushima’s reactors, it cut the facility off from the power grid, automatically switching the plant to backup generators. So even though the fission reaction had stopped, heat was still being produced by the radioactive material inside the reactor cores. A continual water supply, relying on backup power, was needed to keep those cores from melting down. Then, 30 minutes after that huge quake, a tsunami struck, knocking out the plant’s seawater pumps, which subsequently caused the generators to go down.

“The myth of the tsunami is that the tsunami destroyed the [generators] and had that not happened, everything would have been fine,” former nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! “What really happened is that the tsunami destroyed the [sea] pumps right along the ocean… Without that water, the [diesel generators] will overheat, and without that water, it’s impossible to cool a nuclear core.”

With the sea pumps out of commission, 12 of the plant’s 13 generators ended up failing. Unable to cool, the reactors began to melt, leading to three hydrogen explosions that released radioactive material, carried disastrously across the region and out to sea by prevailing winds, where much of it will continue to float around and accumulate for decades.

At Zaporizhzhia, there are several scenarios that could lead to a similar failure of the standby generators. They could be directly shelled and catch fire or clog up or just run out of fuel. It’s a dicey situation, as the ongoing war edges Ukraine and the surrounding countries toward the brink of a catastrophic nuclear crisis.

“I don’t know for how long we are going to be lucky in avoiding a nuclear accident,” said Rafael Grossi, director general of the IAEA in late January, calling it a “bizarre situation: a Ukrainian facility in Russian-controlled territory, managed by Russians, but operated by Ukrainians.”

Bad Things Will Follow

Unfortunately, it’s not just Zaporizhzhia we have to worry about. Though not much attention has been given to them, there are, in fact, 14 other nuclear power plants in the war zone and Russia has also seized the ruined Chernobyl plant, where there is still significant hot radioactive waste that must be kept cool.

Kate Brown, author of Plutopiatold Science for the People last April:

“Russians are apparently using these two captured nuclear installations like kings on a chessboard. They hold Chernobyl and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power reactor plants, and they are stockpiling weapons and soldiers there as safe havens. This is a new military tactic we haven’t seen before, where you use the vulnerability of these installations, as a defensive tactic. The Russians apparently figured that the Ukrainians wouldn’t shoot. The Russians noticed that when they came to the Chernobyl zone, the Ukrainian guard of the Chernobyl plant stood down because they didn’t want missiles fired at these vulnerable installations. There are twenty thousand spent nuclear fuel rods, more than half of them in basins at that plant. It’s a precarious situation. This is a new scenario for us.”

Of course, the hazards facing Zaporizhzhia and Chernobyl would be mitigated if Putin removed his forces tomorrow, but there’s little possibility of that happening. It’s worth noting as well that Ukraine is not the only place where, in the future, such a scenario could play out. Taiwan, at the center of a potential military conflict between the U.S. and China, has several nuclear power plants. Iran operates a nuclear facility. Pakistan has six reactors at two different sites. Saudi Arabia is building a new facility. The list only goes on and on.

Even more regrettably, Russia has raised the nuclear stakes in a new way, setting a distressing precedent with its illegal occupation of Zaporizhzhia and Chernobyl, turning them into tools of war. No other power-generating source operating in a war zone, even the worst of the fossil-fuel users, poses such a potentially serious and immediate threat to life as we know it on this planet.

And while hitting those Ukrainian reactors themselves is one recipe for utter disaster, there are other potentially horrific “peaceful” nuclear possibilities as well. What about a deliberate attack on nuclear-waste facilities or those unstable backup generators? You wouldn’t even have to strike the reactors directly to cause a disaster. Simply take out the power-grid supply lines, hit the generators, and terrible things will follow. With nuclear power, even the purportedly “peaceful” type, the potential for catastrophe is obvious.

The Greatest of Evils

In my new book Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, I probe the horrors of the Hanford site in Washington state, one of the locations chosen to develop the first nuclear weapons for the covert Manhattan Project during World War II. For more than 40 years, that facility churned out most of the plutonium used in the vast American arsenal of atomic weapons.

Now, however, Hanford is a radioactive wasteland, as well as the largest and most expensive environmental clean-up project in history. To say that it’s a boondoggle would be an understatement. Hanford has 177 underground tanks loaded with 56 million gallons of steaming radioactive gunk. Two of those tanks are currently leaking, their waste making its way toward groundwater supplies that could eventually reach the Columbia River. High-level whistleblowers I interviewed who worked at Hanford told me they feared that a hydrogen build-up in one of those tanks, if ignited, could lead to a Chernobyl-like event here in the United States, resulting in a tragedy unlike anything this country has ever experienced.

All of this makes me fear that those old Hanford tanks could someday be possible targets for an attack. Sabotage or a missile strike on them could cause a major release of radioactive material from coast to coast. The economy would crash. Major cities would become unlivable. And there’s precedent for this: in 1957, a massive explosion occurred at Mayak, Hanford’s Cold War sister facility in the then-Soviet Union that manufactured plutonium for nukes. Largely unknown, it was the second biggest peacetime radioactive disaster ever, only “bested” by the Chernobyl accident. In Mayak’s case, a faulty cooling system gave out and the waste in one of the facility’s tanks overheated, causing a radioactive blast equivalent to the force of 70 tons of TNT, contaminating 20,000 square miles. Countless people died and whole villages were forever vacated.

All of this is to say that nuclear waste, whether on a battlefield or not, is an inherently nasty business. Nuclear facilities around the world, containing less waste than the underground silos at Hanford, have already shown us their vulnerabilities. Last August, in fact, the Russians reported that containers housing spent fuel waste at Zaporizhzhia were shelled by Ukrainian forces. “One of the guided shells hit the ground ten meters from them (containers with nuclear waste…). Others fell down slightly further — 50 and 200 meters,” alleged Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official there. “As the storage area is open, a shell or a rocket may unseal containers and kilograms, or even hundreds of kilograms of nuclear waste will be emitted into the environment and contaminate it. To put it simply, it will be a ‘dirty bomb.’”

Ukraine, in turn, blamed Russia for the strike, but regardless of which side was at fault, after Chernobyl (which some researchers believe affected upwards of 1.8 million people) both the Ukrainians and the Russians understand the grave risks of atomically-charged explosions. This is undoubtedly why the Russians are apparently constructing protective coverings over Zaporizhzhia’s waste storage tanks. An incident at the plant releasing radioactive particles would damage not just Ukraine but Russia, too.

As former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges so aptly put it, war is the greatest of evils and such evils rise exponentially with the prospect of a nuclear apocalypse. Worse yet, a radioactive Armageddon doesn’t have to come from the actual detonation of nuclear bombs. It can take many forms. The atom, as Einstein warned us, has certainly changed everything.

March 1, 2023 Posted by | safety, Ukraine | Leave a comment