Russian Attack on Chernobyl Worries Scientists

Ukrainian forces lose control of nuclear disaster site in battle
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 24, 2022 3:31 PM CST
Russian Attack on Chernobyl Worries Scientists
A shelter covers the exploded reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in April 2021.   (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)

It was among the most worrying developments on an already shocking day, as Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday: warfare at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, where radioactivity is still leaking 36 years after history's worst nuclear disaster. Russian forces took control over the site after a fierce battle with Ukrainian national guards protecting the decommissioned plant, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told the AP. The condition of the plant's facilities, a confinement shelter, and a repository for nuclear waste is unknown, he said. An official said Russian shelling hit a radioactive waste repository, and an increase in radiation levels was reported. The increase could not be immediately corroborated.

A senior American intelligence official said the US believes Russian forces at Chernobyl were aiming to push to Kyiv, about 80 miles south of the plant, to link with other Russian forces. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a 1,000-square-mile swath of forest surrounding the shuttered plant, lies between the Belarus-Ukraine border and the Ukrainian capital. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian officers fought to defend it "so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated." He called it a "declaration of war against the whole of Europe." Podolyak said "it is impossible to say that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe." He warned that Russia could blame Ukraine for the damage or stage provocations from the site.

A Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser warned that any attack on the waste repository could send radioactive dust over "the territory of Ukraine, Belarus, and countries of the EU." The International Atomic Energy Agency appealed for restraint to avoid any action that may put Ukraine's nuclear facilities at risk. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington said he is most worried about spent fuel stored at the site. If power to cooling pumps is disrupted or fuel storage tanks are damaged, the results could be catastrophic, he said. Reactor No. 4 at the power plant exploded and caught fire on April 26, 1986, shattering the building and spewing radioactive material high into the sky.

(More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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