Russian troops pose a major risk to Chernobyl and could set off a nuclear disaster, experts have warned.
We're now 23 days into Vladimir Putin's 'special military operation'. While shelling and warfare in cities across Ukraine continue to take the lives of civilians and troops, Russian forces are still in control of the infamous plant, ground zero of the worst accident in the history of nuclear power.
Olena Pareniuk and Kateryna Shavanova worked at Chernobyl prior to Russia's invasion, studying microorganisms in the exclusion zone. In an interview with TIME, they discussed the plant, the fallout of any accidents and the dangers of the Russian occupation.
"The vital need is to rotate the staff of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The staff, who are still at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, came in on February 23," they said.
"The enemy has not allowed any opportunity to change the staff, who are psychologically and physically exhausted due to the lack of rotation and the constant pressure caused by armed people.
"This can lead to loss of control over the safety of the facility and the inability to respond to internal and external initial events such as fire, which in turn can lead to severe radiation effects."
This echoes the concerns of an official in-charge of an exclusion zone around the plant, who warned staff being held hostage are on the edge of their 'human capabilities due to physical and emotional exhaustion', as per The Independent.
"The main risk of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is not radiation, but Russian troops," Pareniuk and Shavanova said.
They went on to explain how a 'complete power outage' could result in 'disabling the safety of important systems and equipment, in particular: ventilation, heat dissipation, technological, and radiation control systems'.
Inside Chernobyl, 200 staff are now hostages: toiling round the clock at gunpoint on the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.— Joe Parkinson (@JoeWSJ) March 15, 2022
They are exhausted, hungry and want to go home. And they are starting to defy their Russian captors.
This is their storyhttps://t.co/13Q7dXJ4Sk pic.twitter.com/ucRgSRfalA
"There are long-lived radionuclides in the spent nuclear fuel storage, which in case of an accident can get into the Kakhovka Reservoir, and further along the Dnipro river into the Black Sea.
"A huge area would be contaminated by radiation for thousands of years. If there is an accident with one power unit or one container for spent fuel, depending on the direction of wind the radioactive cloud will affect Russia, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and other border countries."
There's also the matter of the nuclear reactors at the Zaporizhzhya power plant and the city of Energoda, which are also under Russian control.
"There are seven nuclear sites at Zaporizhzhya: six nuclear power units and a spent nuclear fuel storage facility are equivalent to about 20 Chernobyls," they said.
All safety systems at #Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant remain functional, #Ukraine told the IAEA today. 2 of 6 reactors are operating, and they had decreased their power generation to half of maximum capacity after a break in an on-site power line. https://t.co/4MmNHxKVao pic.twitter.com/0VBpnENhNJ— IAEA - International Atomic Energy Agency (@iaeaorg) March 17, 2022
"This is a huge amount of nuclear material, which is now out of [Ukraine’s] control, [and] even of the International Atomic Energy Association. This is a danger not only for Ukraine, but to nearby countries."
Pareniuk and Shavanova believe both areas are under direct threat. "Russian troops continue to grossly violate the requirements of radiation safety and security, which worsens the radiation situation and contributes to the spread of radioactive contamination outside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone," they said.
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