Russian Takeover of Chernobyl
Poses Grave Health Threat
Karl Grossman, Christie Brinkley and Joseph Mangano / CounterPunch
(March 2, 2022) — The takeover of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant site by Russian military forces poses a threat to safety and health unprecedented in the atomic era.
For the first time, a war is being fought in a nation with nuclear power reactors.
Ukraine is home to the Chernobyl Reactor No. 4, which underwent a disastrous meltdown in 1986. Although the plant is no longer operating, a massive amount of radioactive waste is contained in a concrete building (called the New Safe Confinement) subsequently built over it.
Chernobyl’s reactors #1 to #3 remained operational until they were shut down in the 1990s, but still store enormous amounts of waste. Consisting mostly of Cesium-137, Strontium-90, and Plutonium-239, the waste will remain radioactive for thousands of years.
The environment for miles surrounding the Chernobyl site is still highly contaminated from the meltdown’s releases. Since Russian troops took it over, spikes in airborne radioactivity levels are being reported. The increase in radiation, according to Reuters, has been attributed to “military activity causing radioactive dust to rise into the air.”
Aside from Chernobyl, there are 15 nuclear power reactors at four plants still operating in Ukraine. Zaporozhye is home to six of the reactors, making it the largest nuclear plant in Europe and one of the 10 largest in the world. It is located in eastern Ukraine, the area closest to the border with Russia.
Each reactor, at Chernobyl and elsewhere in Ukraine, contains enormous amounts of radioactive high-level nuclear waste. A loss of cooling water would cause a massive discharge of radioactivity into the air, water and food supply.
Large-scale meltdowns at nuclear plants have occurred at Chernobyl and more recently, in 2011, at Fukushima, Japan. The health consequences have been tragic.
Over 100 radioactive chemicals only created in nuclear weapons explosions and nuclear reactor operations were unleashed into the environment. Each of these radioactive chemicals increase the risk of cancer and other diseases. The fetus, infants and young child are especially vulnerable.
In 2009, the New York Academy of Sciences published a book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. A team of European scientists led by Dr. Alexey Yablokov, former environmental advisor to Russian Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev, assembled over 5,000 research studies, most written in Russian and not previously published.
The results were staggering. Yablokov’s team estimated that just in the first 20 years after the Chernobyl meltdown, some 986,000 deaths attributable to it occurred, many in parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. The percent of children living in these areas considered in good health plunged from 80% to 20%. Rates of certain cancers soared, including childhood thyroid cancer in Ukraine (20 times higher) and Belarus (200 times higher). Rates of disease in covering many organs in the body all increased in areas closest to Chernobyl.
Yablokov’s team indicated that the number of casualties would continue to grow, well after publication of the book.
The meltdowns at Chernobyl and Fukushima were accidents. The Chernobyl disaster occurred due to human error. The Fukushima catastrophe resulted from severe weather conditions. These events were in facilities manned by scientists who desperately tried to stop the spread of radioactivity.
The current situation is different. The takeover of Chernobyl by hostile military forces shifts the chain of command in reactor management away from scientists, whose constant presence is required. CNN reports that Russian soldiers are holding the Chernobyl staff hostage.
Moreover, the Chernobyl site is now in a war zone. Russian troops moved into the Chernobyl site because it represents the shortest route from Russia to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, from the north.
What would be the result of exchange of fire at Chernobyl? The puncturing of the containment over Reactor No. 4 alone could unleash significant amounts of radioactivity, as would any breach of water-cooled waste storage at Reactors 1-3.
Leaders must make all deliberate efforts towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine, which would include an end to military control of Chernobyl and other nuclear power plants in the country, so dangerous radioactivity can be secured. Avoidance of another massive release of these toxic chemicals is the highest priority, not just for Ukraine but Europe and the world, and must be avoided at all costs.
Karl Grossman and Christie Brinkley are Board members of the New York-based Radiation and Public Health Project research group; Joseph Mangano is Executive Director.
Fire Extinguished at Ukraine
Nuclear Plant after Russian Attack
(March 3, 2022) — A fire that erupted in a training building at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant amid heavy Russian shelling was extinguished, authorities said Friday.
The State Emergency Service of Ukraine said in a statement that there were no victims in the blaze, according to an NBC News translation. Ukrainian officials said the fire ignited at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant after Russian troops opened fire on it.
“Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe,” the foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said earlier on Twitter. “Fire has already broke out.”
Kuleba added that if the plant, which holds six of the country’s 15 reactors, explodes, it will be far worse than the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
In a video posted on Telegram, Andriy Tuz, a facility spokesperson, demanded that Russia stop shelling the plant and said there was a “real threat of nuclear danger,” according to the Associated Press.
Speaking on local television, Tuz said that shells had set fire to one of the facility’s six reactors, the AP reported. The unit is under renovation but has nuclear fuel inside and had been inaccessible to firefighters because they were being shot at, Tuz said, the AP reported.
The country’s emergency services department later said there was a fire in a training building behind the plant, and the International Atomic Energy Agency said no “essential” equipment had been damaged.
The agency added that there was no change in radiation levels at the site.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with President Joe Biden and European leaders about what he described in a Telegram post as the potential “nuclear catastrophe” that the shelling could unleash.
“If there is an explosion it is the end for all of us,” he said. “The end of Europe. ”
In a summary of their call released by the White House, Biden urged “Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site.”
The development came one day after Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he was “gravely concerned” about the invasion of Ukraine.
“It is the first time a military conflict is happening amidst the facilities of a large, established nuclear power program,” he said.
“I have called for restraint from all measures or actions that could jeopardize the security of nuclear and other radioactive material, and the safe operation of any nuclear facilities in Ukraine, because any such incident could have severe consequences, aggravating human suffering and causing environmental harm.”
Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said it was “astonishing” that troops would apparently shell the facility, which has six reactors and spent fueling rods that need to remain cool.
A fire that damages the plant’s electrical distribution system could impair its cooling systems and potentially trigger a meltdown — “what we saw at Fukushima,” he said.
That process wouldn’t be sudden, Lyman added, and emergency personnel might be able to halt potential damage. If fuel melted, it could trigger chemical reactions — including explosions — and breach the facility, prompting a release of radiation into the environment.
The site features diesel generators that could provide backup power to its cooling systems.
If those were not able to be operated and the site was in a total blackout, mobile fire trucks could be used to inject water into the core — something that was tried at Fukushima, Lyman said.
Lyman said that nuclear power plants — including those in Ukraine — have addressed vulnerabilities that were exposed by the 2011 disaster on Japan’s northern coast.
While there’s “certainly a lot of radioactive material” at the plant, Lyman said, it differed in key ways from Chernobyl, which blew off its confinement and sent radiation high into the atmosphere. Graphite at the site burned for days.
The reactors at the Zaporizhzhia plant are a different design, have a stronger confinement and don’t feature graphite. An “accident sequence” likely wouldn’t “be as bad” as Chernoybl, he said.
For live updates of the situation in Ukraine, follow here.
Nuclear Ukraine in a Russian War Zone
(March 2, 2022) — There are more ways to trigger a nuclear catastrophe in Ukraine than mainstream media is currently reporting. For this Nuclear Hotseat SPECIAL, we have three interviews with genuine experts. Each knows the nuances of nuclear issues and covers the nightmare variants of possible Armageddon that we currently face. They also provide some positive steps we can take at this dangerous moment towards ridding the planet of all nukes.
THIS WEEK’S FEATURED INTERVIEWS:
- Arnie Gundersenis a nuclear engineer, a licensed nuclear reactor operator and expert witness, as well as the Chief Engineer for Fairewinds Associates
- Karl Grossmanis host of the television program Enviro Close-Up with Karl Grossman, a professor at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and author of six books – so far. He has been covering nuclear issues for more than 50 years.
- Dave Kraftis Executive Director of Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), base in Chicago, and a 40+ year veteran of anti-nuclear work.
- Dave Kraft‘s article on theNEIS website: When Nuclear Power Meets War.
- Articleon 4th quarter power earnings, containing this quote:
“There’s a realization that Europe has to move away from dependency on Russian oil and gas and one way to achieve that is renewables,” Deepa Venkateswaran, an analyst at Bernstein Autonomous, tells Bloomberg. “Now it’s not just about decarbonization, but also about security of supply.”
- Article byBennett Ramberg: A Russian invasion raises questions about the country’s 15 nuclear reactors and the dangers they pose
- Article byTilman Ruff of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW.org) – The Ukraine crisis could trigger a nuclear catastrophe