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Putin’s Game of Nuclear Chicken in Ukraine Could Start a ‘Chernobyl 2.0’

TOS-1A. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Russia, Ukraine Trade Accusations After Blast At Nuclear Power Plant – Ukrainian and Russian officials blamed each other for what each side calls acts of terror after a series of blasts rocked the Ukrainian nuclear power plant that is occupied by Russian military forces in Zaporizhzhia on the Dnieper River. 

The nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia has six reactors and generates more than one-fifth of Ukraine’s national electricity needs during normal operations. It is also Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russian forces shelled the plant and called the action “an act of terror” in a released statement on Telegram.

“This is the largest nuclear power plant on our continent, and any shelling of this facility is an open, brazen crime, an act of terror,” Zelensky said.

“Russia should be responsible for the very fact of creating a threat to the nuclear power plant,” he added.

However, The Russian military claimed a Ukrainian artillery strike was responsible, stating that Ukrainian artillery fired 20 rounds at the city of Enerhodar and the power plant. They called it an act of “nuclear terrorism.”

“Fortunately, the Ukrainian shells did not hit the oil and fuel facility and the oxygen plant nearby, thus avoiding a larger fire and a possible radiation accident,” The Russian defense ministry said, according to Reuters.

Risks of Fire Near One of the Reactors in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Complex

At approximately 2:30 p.m. on Friday, several explosions destroyed electrical transmission lines, which posed an immediate risk to the plant. Plant engineers were then forced to reduce power on one of the six nuclear reactors at the site. 

Three more explosions rocked an auxiliary building near one of the nuclear reactors a few hours later, raising the risk of hydrogen leaks and fire, Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom said.

At the time of the blasts, three of the reactors were operating, two were on standby, and one was undergoing planned maintenance and repairs, according to Ukrainian officials. Although the plant is occupied by Russian military forces, it is still run by Ukrainian nuclear engineers. 

Energoatom said that after the first attack, there were no releases of radioactive materials recorded. However, after the second attack, where explosions damaged an auxiliary building and a specialized station, the company said that the danger of fire was high. 

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was aware of the reports and gathering further information about the situation. Rafael Grossi, the head of the IAEA, said earlier this week that the plant was “completely out of control.”

Russian Forces Using Plant as a Base to Attack Ukraine: 

The Russian military has been using the nuclear power plant to stage artillery strikes on Ukrainian targets without any fear of retaliation. 

The Ukrainian military has frequently said that they cannot fire back without risk of hitting safety equipment, reactors or storage facilities for spent fuel. This was confirmed by the UK Defense Ministry in its daily intelligence assessment. The UK said that Russian forces “have likely undermined the security” of the plant and were using the area to launch attacks on the west side of the Dnieper River – taking advantage of the “protected status” of the nuclear power plant to reduce the risk of overnight attacks from Ukrainian forces.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of using the plant as a “nuclear shield” by its troops at the site. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said the “possible consequences of hitting an operating reactor are equivalent to the use of an atomic bomb.”

Russian-proxy officials in Enerhodar said Ukrainian forces shelled the plant twice on Friday “from the opposite bank of the Dnieper.”

“The second time the nationalists managed to hit the target – shells landed in the plant’s industrial site,” their statement said.

Energoatom’s statement on the Telegram channel app said that Russia was responsible for the two separate incidents. “The Russian military again resorted to provocation,” the company said.

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He served as a US Army Special Forces NCO, and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

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Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.