Australian news, and some related international items

The Most Immediate Nuclear Danger in Ukraine Isn’t Chernobyl

The Most Immediate Nuclear Danger in Ukraine Isn’t Chernobyl,    Even though an accident is unlikely, Russia must take exceptional measures to avoid a nuclear catastrophe. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,  James M. Acton 24 Feb 22,

……………The most immediate nuclear danger, however, comes from Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. …………  the bigger risk comes from the potential for fighting around Ukraine’s four active nuclear power plants, which contain fifteen separate reactors and generated over half of the country’s electricity in 2020..

Chernobyl is inside a large exclusion zone, and the uninhabited space would mitigate the consequences of a second nuclear accident there. Ukraine’s other reactors are not similarly isolated. Moreover, much of the fuel in these other reactors is substantially more radioactive than the fuel at Chernobyl. To put it simply, nuclear power plants are not designed for war zones. It seems exceedingly unlikely that Moscow would authorize deliberate attacks on these facilities, but they could nonetheless become targets in a war that will, in any case, disrupt their operations.

For Ukrainian nuclear power plant staff, merely traveling to work may be a dangerous act—making it potentially challenging to ensure the reactor can be operated safely. In the event of an accident, backup personnel, such as firefighters, may not be able to reach the plant—not least because they could be involved in civilian relief efforts

Moreover, nuclear power plants might be targeted inadvertently. These facilities use power from the state’s electricity grid to help cool the reactor in the event it is forced to shut down. While backup power systems, such as diesel generators, are available, the power grid is one important line of defense. There is a very real risk of such power being lost in Ukraine if Russian forces attack the country’s electricity infrastructure—as NATO forces did against Serbia during the 1999 Kosovo War and Russia itself did against Ukraine in 2015 using cyber tools.

Even if Moscow doesn’t authorize direct attacks against nuclear power plants, such attacks might occur anyway. A weapon aimed at a nearby target could hit a nuclear power plant if its navigation system failed. If Russian forces believed that Ukrainian defense forces were inside a nuclear power plant, they could call in an airstrike, perhaps in contravention of an order not to attack nuclear power plants. This concern isn’t hypothetical: In 2017, U.S. special operation forces in Syria called in an attack against a dam that was on a “no strike” list. The resulting damage almost caused the dam to fail, which would likely have led to the drowning of tens of thousands of civilians.

The CEO of the company that operates Ukraine’s nuclear power plants has stressed that they are designed to withstand an aircraft crash. However, munitions are often designed to penetrate thick layers of protective concrete. One particularly serious risk is that a direct attack might drain the pools in which spent fuel is stored, often in large amounts. Without cooling, this fuel could melt, releasing very large quantities of radioactivity. This kind of accident was the “worst-case” outcome envisioned by officials as the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident in Japan unfolded in 2011.I set out these scenarios with some hesitation. The likelihood of a serious nuclear accident is probably quite small……………..

Nonetheless, even if a nuclear accident is still quite unlikely, its effects could be severe and would add significantly to the long-term consequences  of this invasion for Ukraine’s population. Moscow will be directly responsible for any nuclear accident that is caused, directly or indirectly, by its aggression. If it doesn’t want such an accident to be added to its growing list of crimes, it must take exceptional measures to avoid one.

February 26, 2022 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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