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Putin’s Next Crisis: Could Russia Start Another Chernobyl in Ukraine?

Ukraine
TOS-1 firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant — Europe’s largest — was taken by Russian military forces in early March after they invaded Ukraine. Since then, it is reportedly still run by Ukrainian officials but under Russian control.

Rafael Grossi, the UN’s Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the Associated Press in an interview that the nuclear power plant has become more dangerous with each passing day and that the situation has gotten “completely out of control.”

“The situation is very fragile. Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” at the nuclear production center, he added.

Russian forces that are stationed around the nuclear power plant reportedly fired 60 rockets at Nikopol, just across the Dnieper River. About 50 residential buildings were damaged in the city of 107,000.

The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War stated in its latest report that the Russian shelling “puts Ukraine in a difficult position.”

“Either Ukraine returns fire, risking international condemnation and a nuclear incident, or Ukrainian forces allow Russian forces to continue firing on Ukrainian positions from an effective ‘safe zone,’” the Institute said.

Grossi said there are many violations of the plant’s safety, adding that it is “in a place where active war is ongoing.”

Grossi said the physical integrity of the plant hasn’t been respected, pointing to the shelling at the beginning of the Russian invasion. Each side has accused the other of conducting attacks on the facility.

He characterized “a paradoxical situation” where the plant continues to operate with Ukrainian workers, although it is controlled by Russia. He added that incomplete contact between the IAEA and the workers was “faulty” and “patchy.”

Grossi said the equipment and spare parts supply chain has been interrupted, “so we are not sure the plant is getting all it needs.” He added that the IAEA needs to perform some very important inspections to ensure that nuclear material is safeguarded.

“When you put this together, you have a catalog of things that should never be happening in any nuclear facility,” Grossi said. “And this is why I have been insisting from Day One that we have to be able to go there to perform this safety and security evaluation, to do the repairs, and to assist as we already did in Chernobyl.”

“While this war rages on, inaction is unconscionable,” Grossi said. “If an accident occurs at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, we will not have a natural disaster to blame – we will have only ourselves to answer to. We need everyone’s support.”

Blinken: Russia Using a “Nuclear Shield” At the Plant:

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said earlier this week at the UN’s 10th annual Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference that the situation in Ukraine as well as other places around the world had reached a “critical moment.”

“We’re deeply concerned about the fact that Russia has taken over nuclear facilities in Ukraine, particularly in Zaporizhzhia, one of the largest nuclear facilities in Europe,” Blinken said.

“There are credible reports, including in the media today, that Russia is using this plant as the equivalent of a human shield, but a nuclear shield in the sense that it’s firing on Ukrainians from around the plant and of course, the Ukrainians cannot and will not fire back lest there be a terrible accident involving a nuclear plant,” Blinken added, characterizing Moscow’s actions as “the height of irresponsibility.”

Grossi told the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger that his organization needs to get to the nuclear plant to investigate whether the claims that Russian forces are storing ammunition there are true.

“We can’t afford faulty communication with the plant in areas relevant to safety. We know of allegations that live ammunition is stored in the plant and that there are attacks on the power plant,” he said.

“Frankly, I can’t determine that if I don’t have access. There are contradictions between the accounts of the Russian and Ukrainian sides. I receive information, I also mention it in my situation reports, but I have no way of determining whether it corresponds to the facts.”

If Russian forces are using the power plant in this way, and there are reportedly 500 troops stationed in and around the plant, it violates the Geneva Convention, which states that particular care must be taken if “installations containing dangerous forces” are located near the fighting.

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 19fortyfive.com and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com 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 PatsFans.com and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

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