The risk of a catastrophe at the Zaporizhia power plant is ten times worse than Chernobyl

Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. / EFE

A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency will travel to the nuclear plant before September to carry out an in-depth inspection and verify its condition

The meeting held on Thursday in New York at the request of Moscow by the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council has given the world the idea that the situation at the Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia, the largest in Europe with six reactors in service and in the hands of the Russian Army since the beginning of March, it is “critical”.

It is therefore urgent to adopt measures to prevent armed confrontations from ending up triggering a large-scale atomic leak. However, Russia rejected most of the proposals that were put on the table, although it supported the idea that a delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) travel to the Ukrainian nuclear plant before September to undertake an in-depth inspection and check your status.

The main problem is the mysterious attacks that the facilities of the Zaporizhia plant have been suffering. kyiv maintains that they are being carried out by Russian troops with the aim of causing a nuclear accident and blaming it on the Ukrainian forces in order to justify a resurgence of military intervention, while Moscow dismisses such an accusation as “absurd”, since that it is their soldiers who occupy the plant and they are not supposed to shoot at themselves.

Catastrophe deadlier than Chernobyl

A major nuclear leak could affect, according to experts, practically all of Ukraine as a whole, the annexed Crimea, some areas of southern Russia and even countries such as Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria and Belarus. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmitro Kuleba, believes that a hypothetical catastrophe in Zaporizhia would be “ten times” more lethal than the one that occurred in Chernobyl in 1986. For his part, the Chinese representative to the UN, Zhang Jun, warned during his speech in the Security Council that “the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant is one of the largest in Europe. If a large-scale nuclear accident occurs, it may be more serious than the one that happened in Fukushima” in 2011.

The director of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, said when taking the floor that “these military actions near such a large nuclear facility could have very serious consequences.” He assured that right now “there is no immediate threat” to the safety of the plant’s operation, but warned that “this could change at any time.” In his words, “preventing a nuclear catastrophe must be a collective and global objective. I have asked both parties to cooperate with the IAEA. We are in a difficult moment, in a serious hour and the agency must be allowed to carry out its mission in Zaporizhia as soon as possible. He assured that he himself will lead the delegation.

Then the Russian representative to the UN, Vasili Nebenzia, intervened to denounce that “kyiv’s criminal attacks against nuclear infrastructure facilities are putting the world on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe comparable in scale to that of Chernobyl.” As he pointed out, the Ukrainian shelling damaged a number of important power supply devices, pipelines were destroyed, hydrogen was ignited in the distribution center, and a high-voltage power line was cut. In the course of another attack, an atomic waste warehouse, an automated monitoring panel for radiation measurement, was hit and an employee was injured. Nebenzia, however, acknowledged that “the level of radiation at the Zaporizhia plant is normal at the moment,” but warned that, if the attacks continue, “it is a matter of time before a serious accident occurs.”

controlled by Russia

The Russian diplomat described as “cynical”, “absurd” and “contrary to common sense” kyiv’s accusations that Russia is attacking the plant. “The Zaporizhia nuclear plant is controlled by the Russian Armed Forces. Elementary logic suggests that our military have no reason to bomb the plant, the city, or themselves,” he added, and ended by rejecting the proposal to demilitarize the area surrounding the atomic plant in the face of the threat of “provocations or attacks.” terrorists against a facility that we must defend ourselves.

On Thursday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for the withdrawal of Russian personnel and troops sent by Moscow from the nuclear power plant and the creation of a “demilitarized secure perimeter.” The United States immediately supported the idea as well as the Ukrainian representative, Sergei Kislitsa, who also called for Russia to dismantle the mines “placed at different points in the nuclear power plant.” Kislitsa also condemned the Russian forces bombing the cities of Nikopol and Marganets, located on the opposite bank of the Dnieper River, from the atomic plant. The Ukrainian representative assured that his country “is ready to provide the IAEA mission with all the necessary assistance and guarantee passage through the territory controlled by Ukraine (…) if Russia stops bombing Nikopol and Marganets.” In this last locality on Wednesday thirteen civilians perished due to the firing of ‘Grad’ rockets launched, according to the Ukrainian authorities, by the Russian Army precisely from the Zaporizhia plant.

The US ambassador to the UN, Bonnie Jenkins, stated that “Russia is the only one that has caused these risks by launching a large-scale invasion. And only she can eliminate the threat by withdrawing her troops from Ukraine.” In her view, “the difficult situation around the nuclear power plant is another tragic result of Russia’s aggression against an independent state (…) something for which Ukraine is not to blame.”

Create a demilitarized zone

Jenkins pointed out that Washington supports kyiv’s proposal to create a demilitarized zone around the plant and “return full control of the plant to the Ukrainians. This will allow the Ukrainian side to maintain the security and operation of the complex with all precautions, as has been the case for decades”, a possibility that Moscow has flatly rejected.

The representatives of the United Kingdom and France, as well as the delegates of other Western countries that are now non-permanent members of the Security Council, expressed themselves along the same lines as the United States. Without going into the details of who was responsible for the bombings, they insisted repeatedly that there would be no problems at the Ukrainian nuclear power plant were it not for the military operation launched by President Vladimir Putin.

The Ukrainian Minister of the Interior, Denís Monastirski, has stated that the Zaporizhia plant “is not only in the hands of the enemy, but also of unqualified specialists who can cause a tragedy with their inexperience.” In his words, «Ukrainian specialists who remain there are not allowed to access the areas where they should be while the Russian war equipment is inside the perimeter of the infrastructure. All of this has been assessed at the highest threat level.”

On March 4, the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant was hit by missiles and tank fire from Russian troops willing to put an end to a focus of resistance inside by Ukrainian soldiers. A fire broke out and one of the reactors had to be shut down. The event triggered all the world alarms due to the fear of a radioactive leak and led to a meeting of the UN Security Council. But nothing serious happened. From that moment on, the plant fell completely into the hands of Russian troops, who arrived at the site on February 28, four days after the start of the Russian invasion.

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