Nuclear Fallout – Weaponizing the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #152)

For the first time in military history, we have a nuclear hostage situation unlike anything ever seen before. Instead of a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb, the nuclear terrorists are Russian soldiers who are holed up at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is located on the Dnipro River’s left bank in south-central Ukraine. The power plant made news early in the war when Russian forces successfully attacked it. They did so with little regard for the catastrophic effect a direct hit on one of the reactors or the area where nuclear waste is stored might have on releasing radiation. This could cause a catastrophe as bad or worse than Chernobyl. Fortunately, the recklessly directed artillery fire from Russian artillery fire only caused limited damage. In the near term, there was a sense of relief in both Ukraine and the international community that disaster had been avoided. Unfortunately, the Russians occupied the facility and have held the Ukrainians who operate the power plant hostage. There have been reports of Ukrainian personnel being treated badly, but at least the plant has continued to function without any major incident so far. That might be about to change.

Nuclear terrorism – Russian soldier standing guard at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

Beyond Control – A Meltdown Waiting To Happen
Ukrainian military forces have the plant in their gun sites, but they dare not attack it directly. In a normal tactical situation, the Ukrainians would attack the entrenched Russian forces and destroy or push them out of the area. The situation at Zaporizhzhia is anything but normal. If the Ukrainians unleashed their full military capabilities to dislodge the Russians, they would likely succeed in taking the facility back. Unfortunately, that would also mean upsetting the delicate nuclear balance at the plant, where one round of misfired artillery could lead to the spread of radiation that would contaminate parts of Ukraine and possibly other part of Europe, Russia and Central Asia. Though Ukraine now fields precision artillery donated by their western allies, no reasonable military commander is going to chance a full-scale attack on the facility for fear of the consequences.

This has brought about a strange tactical situation. While the Ukrainian forces occupy the right bank of the Dnipro River and the city of Nikopol, they can only look across the river and wonder how they can dislodge the Russian forces. Meanwhile, they spend time dodging artillery strikes coming from Russian forces in and around the nuclear power plant. The closest any Ukrainian strike has been to one of the facility’s six reactors was one hundred meters. They dare not chance anything closer. The Russians are keenly aware of this. That is why they stationed their Grad rocket launchers between the reactors. Knocking out the launchers would require a breathtaking amount of precision with disastrous consequences if any shot was off target. While the reactors are covered by a thick concrete shell, they still could not survive a direct hit intact. The same protective concrete cover kept one of the reactors from being damaged by shrapnel from a Russian strike that struck it not long after war started. A direct hit would be a much different story. That is a chance the Ukrainian military is not willing to take.

Occupational hazards – Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

Without Precedent – Sabotaging Zaporizhzia
It is extremely worrisome that the Russians have made the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant a fortified position. Dislodging them from it will take months and would require an airtight siege, surrounding the facility in order to starve them out. The Russians would also have the advantage of being able to continue shelling Ukrainian forces from the facility, just as they are doing now at Nikopol. For the immediate future, the nuclear facility will likely remain in Russians hands, as it has since they occupied it on March 4th. If the Russians are forced to retreat from the plant at some point, there is a chance that they might try to destroy one or more of the reactors which would prove catastrophic.

There is no precedent for sabotaging a nuclear facility. Earlier in the war, the Russians occupied Chernobyl. Though they were none too friendly with the staff they decided to leave the facility alone. The greatest damage the Russian forces did was too themselves, by digging entrenchments in contaminated soil and churning up dust with their heavy tracked vehicles. The ignorance they showed in such a sensitive, highly contaminated environment does not bode well for when their military forces occupy a nuclear site.

Zaporizhzhia could easily become a disaster if the Russians do not take the correct precautions. They are taking a huge risk by placing weapons so close to the reactors. Even if the Ukrainians do not target the Russian positions, there is still a chance the Russians might do something that would cause a meltdown or disturb the concrete canisters in which nuclear waste is stored at Zaporizhzhia. The Russian military has shown a willful disregard for international norms in war zones. Entrenching forces at Europe’s largest nuclear plant is a terrible idea. Then again, the Russian forces have shown a disregard for their own self-preservation during the war and have the casualties to show for it. That does not bode well for the potential of a nuclear accident at Zaporizhzhia.

Trouble on the horizon – Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

Malevolent Negligence – The Potential For Meltdown
In yet another example of the Russian military’s mismanagement and negligence, their forces have reportedly mistreated the Ukrainian personnel running the facility so badly that this threatens an accident as well. The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi stated in an interview this week that the situation at the Zaporizhzhia worsens by the day. He stated that violations of nuclear safety protocol are ongoing. The power plant personnel are forced to work extremely long hours under the most stressful conditions. Allegations of beatings and torture of staff have been made. This serves no tactical or strategic doctrine other than to showcase brutality and a lack of respect for people who might just be saving the Russian soldiers from themselves.

Atomic energy and its management are best left to the experts. While Russia has sent some of their own nuclear power experts to Zaporizhzhia, it is unclear if they have the will or ability to overrule soldiers who have their fingers on the proverbial trigger. There have already been two nuclear close calls in the war with the occupation of Chernobyl and the shrapnel hit on Zaporizhzhia. It is sheer luck that something worse has not happened yet. In the coming months, we can only hope that luck does not run out. The ramifications would dwarf anything that has happened in the war so far. The fallout, both literally and figuratively, would prove deadly. Weaponizing the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant could lead to a dire situation or worse. That is the situation which faces not only Ukraine and Russia, but also the world.

Click here for: Inviting Destruction – Nuclear Nightmare In The Ukraine-Russia War (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #153)

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