fbpx

War in Ukraine: Nuclear Power Is a Threat Again

The warlike conflict between Russians and Ukrainians could lead to an emergency with nuclear power plants without precedent on the planet. The best solution is the end of the war.

nuclear power plant

Photo: Unsplash

LatinAmerican Post | Christopher Ramírez

Escucha este artículo


Leer en español: Guerra en Ucrania: la latente amenaza de las centrales nucleares al medioambiente

The Russian invasion in Ukraine continues to worry hundreds of thousands of people, not only in the European country but throughout the world. What has been taken as a clear threat to the sovereignty of one country by another goes beyond the political and social sphere in many ways, to become a situation that places a very thin line between life and death for millions of people.

Whether due to the direct deaths caused by the war (until March 8 the UN had reported 474 civilian losses in Ukraine), the truth is that there is also an environmental threat that could not only end immediately with the lives of thousands of people in much of Europe, but it would be the 'chronicle of a death foretold' for several more who could suffer a long and painful agony before losing their lives.

Since the beginning of March, the world has been in suspense over what could happen in Zaporizhia, considered to be the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) , Russia would have taken control of this plant on March 4, which has increased the alarm of a possible nuclear catastrophe that would even affect Russian territory itself.

Faced with this issue, Greenpeace published a report in which it explained the global emergency that could be unleashed in the event of extreme anomalies in any (or all) of the nuclear reactors in Zaporizhia.

According to this environmental NGO, the situation at this nuclear power plant can be considered an "unprecedented nuclear threat." It should be remembered that this plant has six of the 15 nuclear reactors in Ukraine that operate with a capacity of almost 6,000 megawatts, which, according to international nuclear energy authorities, could supply electricity to about four million homes.

Thus, in percentage figures, Zaporizhia has the capacity to produce almost a fifth of the total electricity in Ukraine (19%), as well as half of the nuclear energy in that country.

“For the first time in history, a major war is being fought in a country with multiple nuclear reactors and thousands of tons of highly radioactive spent fuel. The war in the south of Ukraine, around Zaporizhia, puts all reactors at greater risk of suffering a serious accident”, said Jan Vande Putte, an expert in charge of co-leading with Greenpeace a risk analysis against what it can mean an explosion, either accidental or direct, inside this nuclear power plant.

However, an attack, provoked or derived from an accident, is not the only latent threat to the security of Zaporizhia and the Ukrainian people. It is important to bear in mind that this type of nuclear building requires a large amount of electrical energy to function properly, especially the cooling area which, in the case of this nuclear power plant, stores more than 850 tons of high-level spent nuclear fuel.

In case of not having correct cooling, this waste can overheat generating an explosion that would end up affecting territories located hundreds of kilometers away and leaving them uninhabitable for decades" , according to Greenpeace. 

On the other hand, there is also a risk of a nuclear catastrophe in the event that Zaporizhia sees a decrease in its team of technicians specialized in the maintenance and control of the reactors. Fortunately, the IAEA has reported that the personnel of this plant continue to operate in the same which significantly reduces the threat of a crisis in this area of southern Ukraine. However, the fact that the plant is under the control of the Russian military takes some of that calm away.

"In order to operate the plant safely, management and staff must be able to perform their vital functions in stable conditions, without undue external interference or pressure," added IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi.

You can also read: UN Reaches Global Agreement To End Single-use Plastics

An overly alarmist situation?

Now, what many environmental organizations and experts consider to be a clear threat to the ecosystem and to human life itself in much of Eastern Europe, for others can be branded as a false emergency. 

The European Union (EU), although it has not tacitly undermined the danger of the nuclear situation in Ukraine, had recently made a decision regarding green energy and nuclear power plants. In February of this year, the European Commission decided to give the label of renewable energies to nuclear and gas, which caused quite a controversy in the Old Continent, taking into account that "the green taxonomy" (a list of renewable or 'green' energies in Europe), has as its objective that the Investors can support companies, initiatives or projects that guarantee the minimum emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.

However, there are many NGOs that have spoken out against this ruling, considering, in the case of nuclear energy, that although it does show reductions in CO2 in its emissions, the elements it uses are highly radioactive and can cause an alarm as the one that is lived today with Zaporizhia or a catastrophe like that of Chernobyl . On the other hand, they believe that considering gas as green energy is totally "ridiculous", considering that it is a fossil fuel.

This situation has led many to think: Could this EU decision have an impact on the efforts that can be made to avoid the nuclear crisis in Ukraine?