Ukraine: Situation at Europe's largest nuclear plant 'out of control'

World Thursday 04/August/2022 14:42 PM
By: DW
Ukraine: Situation at Europe's largest nuclear plant 'out of control'
Russia is accused of using Europe's biggest nuclear facility as a fortress

Experts say that Ukraine's occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant — Europe's biggest — is "extremely vulnerable" to meltdown after the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said all safety measures had been "violated" by Russian forces.

If the plant loses grid power due to a potential uptick of fighting in the area, backup generators and batteries are still insufficient to cool, not only the six reactors, but large pools of highly radioactive spent fuel, said Shaun Burnie, nuclear specialist with Greenpeace East Asia.

Adding to these concerns is news that Russian forces are using Zaporizhzhia as a weapons depot and a cover for launching attacks. US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said that Russia was using the nuclear site as the "equivalent of a human shield" at a UN meeting on nuclear non-proliferation this week.

Using the plant in this way violates the Geneva Convention, which states that particular care must be taken if "installations containing dangerous forces" are located near fighting. Around 500 Russian troops are reported to be currently located at the site.  

When fighting first broke out in the vicinity of the plant in early March, it was the first time in the atomic age that war had come so close to a major facility.

Once Russian forces occupied the power plant in mid-March and allowed Ukrainian staff to carry on their work, news from Zaporizhzhia, which currently operates three of its reactors, had been intermittent.

Nuclear safety 'violated' by Russian occupiers

Now, however, concern is mounting again that the plant is not being sufficiently maintained.

"[It is a] violation of every possible nuclear safety measure that you can imagine," said Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in an interview with DW on Friday.

"Is it true that there is explosives and other material stocked near the reactors?" he asked of reports that missiles and other weapons could be launched from the site, with counter-attack impossible due to the extreme threat of an accident.  

Grossi of the IAEA is also concerned that the Ukrainian staff who are under the command of the Russian occupiers at Zaporizhzhia are unable to properly carry out their duties and have faced threats of violence.

"I have been trying to put together a technical mission led by myself to go there to address a number of issues," he told DW. But access will be impossible without the accompaniment of UN peacekeepers, he said, a situation he is discussing with UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres.