Reactors in a war zone pose unimaginable risks
Beyond Nuclear joins the chorus of voices calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine, a situation that could become orders of magnitude worse should any of the country’s 15 nuclear reactors suffer major damage due to military exchanges.
We are in an unprecedented situation, with, for the first time, a war happening in a region where there are operating nuclear reactors. This presents an extreme risk to human life unlike any we have seen in previous wars, even when traditional infrastructure has been bombed and destroyed.
The humanitarian tragedy is already enormous, with people fleeing, abandoning homes and businesses, with their lives upended and their safety and survival in jeopardy. However, should a major release of radioactivity occur due to the damage or destruction of any one of the country’s 15 reactors, the scale of the disaster would escalate to unimaginable proportions, affecting populations well beyond the boundaries of Ukraine and Russia.
The 15 operating reactors — located at Rivne (4), Khmelnitsky (2), South Ukraine (3) and Zaporizhzhia (6) — are all vulnerable to catastrophic meltdown, even if they are not directly attacked or accidentally hit.
Military activity around the Chernobyl nuclear site and within the Exclusion Zone is also of great concern. Reports are coming in showing elevated rates of radiation stirred up by the presence of troops, tanks and heavy equipment moving through the highly radioactively contaminated region, which is closed to regular human habitation. In April 2020, when a major wildfire consumed the area, radiation levels rose by 16 times.
The occupation of the site by Russian military personnel, reportedly the result of a firefight at the plant site, is already a concern. This takeover has called a halt to all activities on the site, which houses a significant inventory of radioactive waste.
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