Lost in all the war news from Ukraine is an ongoing, slow-motion catastrophe unfolding at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Enerhodar. Russia seized the plant in March and kind of, sort of, mostly forgot to help the mostly Ukrainian staff maintain it.
Now, Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is trying to sound the alarm, but to no avail.
“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” at the plant, he told the Associated Press. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous.”
Grossi is urging Russia and Ukraine to cease hostilities in the area to prevent the irradiation of the world’s breadbasket. Putin may not care since Russia is self-sufficient in food, but he can’t be certain that fallout from a major accident at the plant wouldn’t impact Russia.
Grossi cited many violations of the plant’s safety, adding that it is “in a place where active war is ongoing,” near Russian-controlled territory.
The physical integrity of the plant hasn’t been respected, he said, citing shelling at the beginning of the war when it was taken over and continuing information from Ukraine and Russia accusing each other of attacks at Zaporizhzhia.
There is “a paradoxical situation” in which the plant is controlled by Russia, but its Ukrainian staff continues to run its nuclear operations, leading to inevitable moments of friction and alleged violence, he said. While the IAEA has some contacts with staff, they are “faulty” and “patchy,” he said.
Grossi says the supply chains to the plant have been disrupted, and with little contact with workers on the inside, it’s difficult to ascertain the state of the plant. The IAEA must also perform inspections to ensure all the nuclear material is accounted for.
“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.” The IAEA barely got to Chernobyl in time.
Now, Russia is using the Zaporizhzhia plant as a shield, shelling Ukrainian military positions without fear that Kyiv will fire back.
“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, saying that it “is the height of irresponsibility.
There is no safety infrastructure as there was in Chernobyl in 1986 when that accident happened. There are no firemen ready to give their lives to put out the fires, and not enough medical personnel to treat the sick and dying. Even the administrative backup that would position resources and people in order to contain the damage as much as possible is lacking.
You have to think that as long as the plant is a military asset for the Russians, the situation will get worse.