Explainer: What is the risk of disaster at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine?

Military activity near the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine has recently become increasingly concerning as cases of shelling have increased and experts have warned that the risk of a serious nuclear accident is very real. is causing

UN Secretary-General António Guterres: “Any attack on a nuclear power plant … is suicidal” Said Last week, he asked inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to grant him access to the site.

Moscow and Kyiv have exchanged denunciations of the strike.

Ukrainian official Said Last week, 14 people were killed in one attack near the factory. damaged pump stations and radiation sensors.Russia is defendant Kyiv in “Nuclear Terrorism”.

Why is the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant important?

The Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, located on the Dnipro River, is the largest nuclear power plant of its kind in Europe and one of the ten largest nuclear power plants in the world.

institution being It has been under Russian military control since it was seized by Russian forces in March, but is still operated by engineers from the Ukrainian state-owned nuclear power company Energoatom.

Enagoatom Said Last week, the Russian military prepared to connect power plants to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, and damaged them by diverting power generation. About 200 kilometers from Crimea, the power plant has six of his 15 nuclear reactors in Ukraine and can power four million homes.

What is the current situation?

The plant has six reactors, but only two are currently in operation. Energoatom in Ukraine Said Early this month. The IAEA said it had not been able to visit the plant since before the war began, Confirmed Two reactors are currently connected to the grid.

Ukraine is Said Three power lines at the facility were damaged, and “the factory is running only one production line, which is a very dangerous way of working.”

Russia is defendant Use a nuclear power plant as a shield by deploying 500 soldiers and placing rocket launchers in the area.Recent footage apparently released by an investigative journalist show A military vehicle is being driven inside the complex.

A Moscow-installed official in the Zaporizhia region has repeatedly said that the Ukrainian military is responsible for the attack on the factory.

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the pro-Russian local administration, said: Said On Friday, the factory had to cut production and could come to a halt if the shelling continues.

On the same day, Rogoff Said A Ukrainian rocket landed 10 meters from the nuclear waste depot, but the factory was not seriously damaged.

Authorities set up by Russia on Monday Proposed A ceasefire in the surrounding area.

What would a nuclear accident look like?

The situation in Zaporizhia brought back memories of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Soviet Ukraine. It was There were casualties and radioactive contamination spread across Europe.

Similarly, nuclear energy experts warn that a nuclear accident will affect not only Ukraine, but also neighboring countries, including Russia. Moldova, Belarus, Romania and Bulgaria.

Andrei Ozarovsky, a nuclear waste safety expert at the Russian Socioecological Union, said the fighting could result in damage to critical infrastructure, including nuclear reactors.

“In the case of an external force, such as an intentional or unintentional missile attack, the primary circuit of a nuclear power plant can be damaged,” he said, adding that that type of damage would affect the reactor pressure vessel. , adding that it could lead to an explosion.

“In the event of an explosion, given the fact that the plant is near a river, the release of radioactivity could extend to hundreds of kilometers around the plant,” Ozharovsky told the Moscow Times by phone. said.

But radiochemistry expert Boris Zuykov says a disaster of the scale of Chernobyl is unlikely.

“Deliberately destroying a reactor is very difficult. You have to hit the same place repeatedly, but the scale of the catastrophe is still different,” said Zhuikov.

“The Zaporizhia power plant has increased protection and currently has only two reactors in operation. These factors reduce the potential risk. But of course, a missile attack would lead to a serious accident. It’s possible,” he said. “The scale of that accident will depend on many factors, including how the accident unfolds, how plant staff react, and how quickly residents evacuate.”

“The question is not whether it is radioactive. [elements] get into the air or water. An increase in the radiation background for a limited time poses no danger. The question is what kind of radioactivity and how much radioactivity, ”he added Zhuikov.

Is nuclear waste stored at nuclear power plants?

Yes, this poses another risk. Experts say a massive leak could occur if the nuclear waste stored at the Zaporizhia plant were hit by artillery fire.

“If a missile strike hits a nuclear waste depot, [nuclear] Pollution can spread through air and water,” said Ozarowski.

Ukraine warned Earlier this month, the factory stored 1,200 tons of nuclear fuel and was labeled as “polluting. [in the event of an explosion] It can be quite expensive. ”

What about the international reaction?

More than 40 countries are calling on Russia withdrawal Release that force from the power plant and allow the UN nuclear oversight agency to carry out the verification process.

The IAEA says it has received conflicting information from Ukraine and Russia about the condition, operation and damage of the facilities.

The International Nuclear Observatory has repeatedly called He called on both sides to suspend all military activities on the ground, adding that there was “no imminent threat to nuclear safety” but that the situation “could change at any moment.”

“We ask that both sides of this armed conflict cooperate with the IAEA to allow a mission to the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant as soon as possible.” Said “Time is of the essence,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi last week. Explainer: What is the risk of disaster at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine?

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