Second anniversary of Russia’s nuclear plant attack in Ukraine

Second anniversary of Russia’s nuclear plant occupation: Greenpeace warns about escalating Russian nuclear blackmail if reactors at Zaporizhzhia are restarted 

Kyiv, 5 March 2024, Greenpeace Germnay today warned that any plans by Russia to restart reactors at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant would be a further step closer to a potential nuclear disaster and must be stopped. The environmental organization has restated its demand for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General to state clearly to Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear corporation, that restart of any of the reactors cannot be permitted. The IAEA Director General is traveling to Moscow for meetings with Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev. On 4th March, the second anniversary of the Russian attack on the Zaporizhzhia plant, Greenpeace, together with the deputy head of the regional administration, held a press conference in Zaporizhzhia city. The focus of the event was the Zaporozhzhia nuclear plant crisis, including the reactor restart threats and nuclear emergency planning. 

“Any plans that exist to attempt to operate one or more reactors at Zaporizhzhia must be abandoned. It would be a deliberate act of escalation by Rosatom and Russian armed forces and attempt at even greater nuclear blackmail against Ukraine. It would move the nuclear crisis to a different level of risk given the disastrous state of the plant two years after Russia’s violent attack and its illegal occupation. One month ago Greenpeace Germany called on the IAEA Director General to tell Rosatom that restart was unacceptable. We are restating our request that in his meetings in Moscow the IAEA DG should be absolutely clear that any attempt to restart Zaporizhzhia reactors would dramatically increase the risk of a nuclear disaster,” said Greenpeace Germany’s nuclear expert Shaun Burnie in stated.

According to information released by Greenpeace Germany on Monday 4th of March, if Rosatom would restart one reactor, the volume of cooling water required would be around 60,000 cubic meters per hour. Currently the Russian operators have secured supply of 250 cubic meters per hour from underground wells. To secure a sufficient volume of water would only be possible by major construction work to pump water from the remaining Dnipro river channels. The Russian armed forces destroyed the Nova Kakhovka dam in June 2023, after which the massive Kakhovka reservoir emptied, removing the main source of water supply for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. An operating reactor at Zaporizhzhia would reduce the safety margins in an emergency situation, reduce the time for active intervention to prevent a nuclear reactor fuel meltdown, and increase the amount of radioactivity in the reactor core, including iodine that could be released into the atmosphere following a deliberate act of sabotage by Rosatom and the Russian armed forces. 

“We may never know how close Ukraine came to a nuclear disaster in 2022 when Russian shelling on the plant came close to damaging the main electrical power switchyard. Ever since, Rosatom and the Russian military, through intimidation, torture and violence have brought the plant closer and closer to catastrophe. All the time there is a growing threat of a deliberate act of Russian sabotage leading to potentially enormous radiation releases - the possibility of a reactor restart is major new threat. Given the violations of all nuclear safety and security principles by Rosatom it is staggering that this criminal state corporation, responsible for war crimes at both the Zaporizhzhia and Chornobyl nuclear plants, has evaded comprehensive EU sanctions. This has to change - not another year can pass without the European Union ending its nuclear trade with the criminal state corporation Rosatom, and to silence the opposition of Russia’s nuclear partners in particular France, Hungary, and Siemens of Germany, “ said Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany.

Even before Russia’s destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam in June 2023, Ukraine’s regional authorities knew that anything was possible and had evacuation plans in place. In the case of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, there is an enormous range of radiological release scenarios following a deliberate act of sabotage by Russian armed forces and Rosatom. One of the major challenges in emergency planning in the current crisis is this vast range. There is the possibility of zero to very low,  localized radioactive contamination - but also a more severe and even catastrophic radiation release, with regional, national and transboundary/international consequences.

Yevhen Myronenko, deputy head of the Zaporizhzhya regional state administration, emphasized during the press conference that 50 percent of the Ukrainian staff that worked at the plant during the last two years have been tortured, and the workers are under constant psychological pressure. The station is mined around the perimeter, and the Russian armed forces, paramilitary structures, and military equipment are present. That is why the Zaporizhzhia regional authorities have been systematically preparing for various scenarios for a long time.

"Our Civil Protection Department, together with the State Emergency Service, has developed high-quality response plans in case of a terrible tragedy. In the summer, we conducted several practical evacuation exercises, one of which was extremely large-scale and close to real events," said Yevhen Mironenko, Deputy Head of Zaporizhzhia Regional State Administration, at a press conference. "We plan to evacuate 23 settlements and about 140,000 people in the government-controlled areas of Ukraine. We have worked out this plan in detail, identified organizational shortcomings, held a number of training sessions, and identified responsible persons on the ground. 

At the same time, Myronenko emphasized the need to tell the European and international community the truth about the situation at ZNPP and to make all international efforts to ensure that the plant is immediately returned to Ukraine's control.

Since March 2022, Greenpeace Germnay has been investigating and exposing the Russian threats to Zaporizhzhya and Ukraine’s other nuclear plants. One of our main concerns is the vulnerability of the six reactors to loss of electrical power and vital water cooling function, including as much as hundreds of  tons of highly radioactive spent fuel in the Zaporizhzhia spent fuel pools. Greenpeace Germnay is continuing its investigations of Russia’s use of the plant as a launch pad for Russian missile attacks on Nikopol and other communities in southern Ukraine and the failure of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to report on Russian violations of safety and security principles. Greenpeace Germany has been exposing European nuclear trade with Rosatom, seeking to end business that directly funds Russia’s war on Ukraine.

In the middle of Russia’s illegal war, under constant attack from shelling and missiles, and when every day life is threatened and being lost, we have only the deepest respect for those in the emergency services and those responsible to protect the Ukrainian population.  We need to do everything possible to stop another nuclear disaster in Ukraine. However, as the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam by Russian armed forces showed, anything is possible, including the deliberate destruction of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant by Russia. It is vital to provide full support to Ukraine’s emergency services and authorities as they plan for a future nuclear emergency. The international community must step up its support, do everything it can to punish those responsible, including ending all cooperation with the criminal enterprise Rosatom, and to end Russia’s occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and its war against Ukraine”, said Jan Vande Putte nuclear and radiation expert at Greenpeace Belgium.

Greenpeace’s Germany major concerns include the loss of major electrical power supply to the plant. On the night of the attack on the plant, Russian shelling came close to damaging the main electrical power switchyard. On eight occasions since the Russian attack in March 2022, all off site grid connections have been lost. The most recent disruption was to the emergency back up 350kV line due to Russian shelling. Even with the reactors in shut down mode, there is an enormous amount of residual heat in the fuel core which requires continuous cooling. Without cooling, the water in the reactor core (and spent fuel pool) begins to heat. In the case of an operational reactor the heating is rapid and the water reaches boiling point in a matter of hours, and begins to evaporate, and the hot nuclear reactor fuel assemblies are at risk of being exposed to air which then would lead to a thermal reaction of the nuclear fuel assembly cladding and reactor core fuel melt. In the case of nuclear fuel in the spent fuel pool, the highly exothermic chemical reaction is called a runaway zirconium oxidation reaction or autocatalytic ignition, with resultant release of a very large volume of radioactivity.

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