Russia may be plotting to blow up Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Kiev has warned, after explosions at a large dam and hydroelectric plant caused massive flooding in the Kherson region and sparked a humanitarian disaster.
The Zaporizhzhia power plant is the largest nuclear power facility in Europe and is located approximately 80 miles down the Dnieper River from the Kakhovka dam, which was badly damaged by the June 6 explosions.
Since Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February 2022, fears of a nuclear disaster have been raised several times when the plant was bombed and temporarily disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid about six times.
Those fears were raised again when Ukrainian officials said the Zaporizhzhia power plant could be affected by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, whose water provides vital cooling for nuclear reactors.
Ukraine’s state nuclear company, Energoatom, later assuaged those fears when it declared that the Zaporizhzhia facility’s cooling pond was full and had enough reserves to manage.
But Zelensky’s top security official, Oleksiy Danilov, later said Putin’s next move could be to attack the Zaporizhzhia plant, which could have catastrophic nuclear consequences.
With the help of Darya Dolzikova and Jack Watling from the RUSI think tank, MailOnline examines whether Russia could or would risk destroying Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
A view shows the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the course of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine on the outskirts of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region.
The Zaporizhzhia power plant is the largest nuclear power facility in Europe and is located approximately 80 miles on the Dnieper River from the Kakhovka dam, which was badly damaged by explosions earlier this week.
Could Russia blow up the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant?
Yes. The power plant, the largest in Europe, is located on land that is currently occupied by Russia and its troops are stationed at the plant. It is believed that they mined it and stored ammunition and explosives in and around the reactor buildings.
In April this year, a Russian mine exploded near the engine room of the fourth nuclear reactor, according to Ukraine’s nuclear power agency.
As the Ukraine prepared for its counter-offensive, more Russian units were moved into the plant and defensive positions were built on the roof. There are currently more troops at the plant than civilian personnel.
Therefore, Russian forces could trigger a deliberate or accidental explosion at the site.
Would Russia blow up the plant?
Potentially. Russian officials responsible for the occupation of Ukraine do think in these terms, have discussed it, and might offer them some value.
The fact that it would cause suffering to Ukrainian civilians, to Russian soldiers at the plant, and potentially to consequences within Russia itself should not be seen as a deterrent.
Russian authorities have repeatedly warned about the risks of a dirty bomb attack in Ukraine or false flag attacks at the plant, creating a pretext to blame Kiev for any disaster.
There is no indication that Moscow has decided whether or not to sabotage the plant, but it does indicate that the Kremlin’s military planners are keeping the option on the table.
The power plant, the largest in Europe, sits on land that is currently occupied by Russia and its troops are stationed at the plant.
Why would Russia blow up the plant?
If Ukrainian troops were to break through Russian defensive lines in the south, sabotaging the plant could help slow or halt the advance.
Blowing up the plant would force Ukrainian troops to deal with the fallout, which would almost certainly affect several major cities, rather than continue their attack.
The effects of the fallout could also deny Ukrainian troops a path of advance for future attacks.
Or Russia could stop before causing an explosion.
Setting events in motion that would lead to disaster, such as turning off power to refrigeration systems, would force Ukrainian troops to divert to face it, slowing them down.
Russia may also reason that threatening to destroy the power plant may be enough to force Ukraine to modify its battle plans to avoid the area.
Moscow could use the threat of a disaster at the plant as a way to put pressure on Ukraine’s Western allies, without resorting to nuclear weapons.
The possibility of Russia fabricating a radiological incident at the power plant to botch a Ukrainian offensive should not be ruled out.
What would be the consequences of the disaster?
While the Chernobyl nuclear disaster looms large in people’s minds, the effects of a disaster in Zaporizhzhia would likely be in line with what happened in Fukushima.
In that incident, an earthquake and tsunami caused several reactors at the Japanese plant to melt down and an explosion that ruptured one of the containment buildings.
Although not on the scale of the 1986 Chernobyl explosion, it did result in the evacuation of 100,000 as a result of radioactive contamination in the areas around the reactor.
In the case of Zaporizhzhia, the nuclear plant is located less than 10 miles from the city of Nikopol, which before the war had a population of 115,000 and would almost certainly be affected.
The city of Zaporizhzhia itself is less than 35 miles away and was home to 750,000 people before the war, while Dnipro and Kryvyi Rih, which together accounted for around 1.5 million people, are within a radius of 70 miles.
Experts previously warned that prevailing winds at the plant could easily carry the fallout to Russian-occupied areas and potentially Russia itself.
I am Rakesh Sharma, I associated with Elite News as an Editor, since 2021. I take care of all the news operations like content, budget, hiring and policy making.