Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Photo: IAEA Imagebank
Amidst accusations from that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine has been wired for detonation or could be deliberately attacked during the current war there, one absolute truth remains: nuclear power plants are inherently dangerous, stresses Linda Pentz Gunter, an editor and curator of Beyond Nuclear International.org and the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear.
Each nuclear reactor contains a lethal radioactive inventory, in the reactor core and also in the fuel pools into which the irradiated fuel is offloaded and, over time, densely packed. Casks also house nuclear waste offloaded from the fuel pools.
Zaporizhzhia is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe with at least 2,204 tons of highly radioactive waste within the reactors and the irradiated fuel pools.
Amidst the confusion and unreliability of any pronouncements uttered through the “fog of war”, there remain several unanswered questions that have led to heightened rumor and speculation:
- Has the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in fact been wired for detonation and whose interests would be served by blowing up the plant?
- Will the sabotage of the downstream Kakhovka dam that resulted in catastrophic flooding, also lead to an equally catastrophic loss of available cooling water supplies for the reactors and fuel pools?
If the uranium fuel in the Zaporizhzhia reactors or irradiated fuel storage pools overheats and ignites, it could then heat up the zirconium cladding around it, which would ignite and burn fiercely as a flare at temperatures too hot to extinguish with water.
The resulting chemical reaction would also generate an explosive environment. The heat of the release and any subsequent detonations could breach concrete structures, then loft radioactive gas and fallout into the environment to travel on the weather.
As we have learned from the Chornobyl fallout, this is an enduring harm that enters the food chain and human bodies and remains harmful in the environment indefinitely, as exemplified by the 1,000 square mile Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.
While Europe allows an already too high 600 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) of radioactive cesium in food, contaminated food supplies from Ukraine that read at higher levels after a nuclear disaster could be exported to countries with even weaker standards, including the US where the limit is an unacceptable 1200 Bq/kg. But will those consuming such foodstuffs be counted among the victims of such a nuclear disaster? Likely not.
To suggest that a major nuclear disaster at Zaporizhzhia would be “not nearly as bad as Chornobyl” is too broad and speculative without looking at the specifics.
Zaporizhzhia is in the news almost every day. The propaganda may be deliberately alarmist, but the basis for the alarm is very real or it would not be in the headlines in the first place.
It is time to see sense. Calling for a no-fire zone around Zaporizhzhia is not enough. We must call for no nuclear power at all, Linda Pentz Gunter proposes.
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