Ukraine Reactors Threatened by Occupations, Rockets, Wildfires

March 24th, 2022 - by Beyond Nuclear

Unexploded “Smerch” Rocket
Threatens Ukrainian Nuclear Facility

Beyond Nuclear

(March 23, 2022) — Combat operations continue in the area of the NSI “Neutron Source” facility. Upon examination of the facility in Kharkiv, personnel found what looks like an unexploded rocket of the multiple launch rocket system 9K58 “Smerch”. The presence of this ordnance poses danger of a new explosion in the immediate vicinity of the nuclear installation.

Work to disarm the rocket is impossible due to the ongoing hostilities in the area. As the examination of the circumstances was in its final stage, the site was shelled again.

Damage to  “the off-site power supply system, the air conditioning systems of the linear electron accelerator cluster gallery, and buildings (such as the nuclear installation building, pumping, and cooling towers buildings, isotope laboratories)” was sustained from bombing and shelling earlier in March and has not been repaired.

According to the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) “…the NSI “Neutron Source”, as well as any other nuclear installation, is not designed for use in conditions of combat operations. Continuation of bombing can lead to severe radiation consequences and contamination of the surrounding territories.”

The Chernobyl Tinderbox: War Increases Fire Risks

Beyond Nuclear

(March 23, 2022) — Forest fires have again erupted around the defunct and radioactively-contaminated Chernobyl nuclear power facility. Forest fires reloft and redistribute radionuclides trapped in soil and the forest litter, which is taking much longer to decay than it should, providing further fuel for fires.

When one reactor core of the 4-reactor Chernobyl complex melted down and exploded in 1986, it showered large swaths of land across the Former Soviet States with long-lived man-made radionuclides, fallout which also extended to Europe.

Although reports claim the most recent fires closest to the site have been extinguished, controlling the creation and extinguishing of these fires — which often spring up this time of year — is made more difficult by the occupation of Russian military forces. The cause of these latest fires is unclear, although the Ukrainian Parliament claims “armed aggression of the Russian federation” is probably to blame.

Areas contaminated by the ruined reactor, including the red forest, have been ablaze a number of times: 1992, 2002, 2008, 2010, 2015 and 2018. Under ever more extreme climate conditions, wildfires will get larger and more frequent.

In 2020, a forest fire, reportedly the result of arson, set the Chernobyl Zone ablaze, coming within one kilometer of the facility, which stores radioactive waste not only from normal reactor operation, but also the ruined fuel from the 1986 meltdown and explosion.

But the Chernobyl site itself doesn’t have to catch fire to set aloft the radioactivity trapped in the area. During just three fires in the Zone in the early 2000s, eight percent of the original cesium 137 released was redistributed. And during the 2020 fire, radiation levels increased to 16 times higher than they had been previously.

Each time a fire ignites, it threatens people within and around the Zone, particularly firefighters, who have exhibited acute radiation exposure symptoms such as a tingling of the skin, and may be exposed to more radiation than the current Chernobyl workers themselves.

The climate crisis and improper forest litter decay increase the probability of stronger fires in the contaminated area. The Chernobyl Zone is a tinder box already. War clearly raises the risk of fires even further.

Chernobyl Shift Change,
But Some Workers Don’t Leave

Beyond Nuclear

(March 23, 2022) — Some Chernobyl workers at the nuclear plant now occupied by Russian forces have finally been allowed to go off shift, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, but other staff apparently refused to leave.

After working for almost one month straight, since the February 24 occupation by Russian military began, “a partial rotation of operational personnel” was allowed, according to the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU).  Staff could rotate out, go home and rest, says a Reuters story, but “Thirteen staff members and most Ukrainian guards declined to leave the site,” the article said.

However, the regulator also says that day-time and repair personnel have not been on the site under the occupation. This means that “Scheduled activities, maintenance, and repair of systems and equipment of the Chornobyl NPP facilities, which must be performed by day-time personnel, are not carried out,” SNRIU says.

Nine of the country’s operating reactors appear still to be running.

Fire triggered by Russian attack on Zaporizhzhia plant.

The Current Situation at Zaporizhzhia

Beyond Nuclear

(March 16, 2022) — While the situation at Chornobyl remains precarious, given the absence of shift changes and the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine’s (SNRIU) total loss of contact with the staff there, the situation at Zaporizhzhia seems a little more transparent, although fraught with risk.

As the SNRIU points out, the presence of ROSATOM personnel there is not viewed at supportive or reassuring. Here its the March 16 SNRIU report:

Zaporizhzhia NPP and the Enerhodar city are under the control of Russian military units since 4 March 2022.

The current state of the power units remains unchanged: two units are in operation; two units are under repair (units 1 and 6); the rest are in the shutdown mode.

Two 750 kV high-voltage lines (Zaporizhzhia and South-Donbas) are still not connected.

The independent regulatory oversight over nuclear and radiation safety directly at the ZNPP site is currently not carried out, but the SNRIU remains in constant contact with the ZNPP.

According to information received from the ZNPP management:

  • operational personnel continue monitoring the state of power units and ensuring their safe operation in accordance with the requirements of the operating procedures;
  • the rotation of both operational and day-time personnel is ensured;
  • the search for hazardous items that appeared on the site and at the adjacent territory as the result of the ZNPP shelling by the Russian military continues;
  • no changes in the radiological situation at the NPP site or in the control area and observation area have been registered.

Representatives of the State Atomic Energy Corporation of the Russian Federation “Rosatom” are still present at the ZNPP site. Reliable information on the purpose and plans of Rosatom’s civilians’ stay at ZNPP is currently missing. The NPP operation is carried out exclusively by Zaporizhzhia NPP personnel.

We emphasize that Ukraine has not made any request for advisory, technical, or any other support from the Russian Federation. The presence of Rosatom’s representatives on the territory of the ZNPP is illegal and in no way is related to the nuclear and radiation safety assurance. Zaporizhzhia NPP is staffed with highly qualified personnel to ensure the safe operation of the NPP using its own resources. On the contrary, the uncontrolled presence of outsiders, including nuclear experts, at the ZNPP site poses a direct threat to the safety of the facility, personnel, the public, and the environment.

Cruise Missiles Hits Near Rivne Reactor

Beyond Nuclear

(March 21, 2022) — Russia’s defense ministry has said it hit a Ukrainian military installation in the northwestern city of Rivne with cruise missiles on Monday, raising fears for the safety and security of Rivne’s four-reactor nuclear power plant, the second largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine and the biggest power station of any kind in western Ukraine.

As many of us have warned for weeks, nuclear plants are not built to sustain hits from protracted military assaults. The six-reactor Zaporizhzhia site in southeastern Ukraine has already narrowly escaped disaster when it was attacked by Russian military on March 4. Russian forces remain in full control of that site, as well as the closed Chernobyl nuclear site, where staff are working under fear and duress, lack of breaks and exhaustion, according to the Ukrainian nuclear regulator.

A television tower in Rivne, Ukraine was shelled last week by a Russian cruise missile, resulting in at least 20 casualties and the loss of television transmission in the region.

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