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Russian Troops Activity at Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plants

Such a catastrophe will have no borders

russians in chernobyl

As the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion continues, much of the world has been focused on military activity surrounding the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant north of Kyiv and the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in south-eastern Ukraine.

The consequences of combat and environmental damage in these locations would have serious implications not just for Ukraine, but much of Europe. And, as the crisis continues, we are receiving more reports from Ukrainian sources on the front lines.

Here’s an overview of the events to date.

Activity at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

The Russian military first seized the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) on the first day of the conflict, February 24, taking staff hostage. Between then and March 26, the Ukrainian Ministry of Environment identified 31 fires in the exclusion zone and noted a significant increase in radioactive contamination.[1]

The Russian Defence Ministry said that background levels of radiation were normal.[2] Although the Chernobyl NPP is no longer operational, it requires constant management and under strict control due to this radiation.

It is reported that the Russian military had been building fortifications in the Red Forest, which is the most contaminated area in the entire nuclear exclusion zone. Reports suggest that the Russian occupiers received significant doses of radiation and panicked at the first sign of illness. A revolt broke out among the military.

The Russians have now retreated from the Chernobyl NPP due to radiation exposure.[3] An “act of acceptance and transfer” was signed on March 31, describing the Russian actions as “guarding” the NPP and transferring control back to Ukraine.[4]

It was discovered that while leaving Chernobyl, the Russians stole anything they could carry – even spoons and kettles, according to witnesses.

Response from Russia

Although we unable to verify the authenticity of this information, DonPress has reported that the response from Russia is of complete denial, particularly concerning the activity around Chernobyl.[5]

In a since deleted tweet, Vladimir Shamanov, a retired colonel general considered “the hero of Russia” remarks that the Red Forest is a lie. He notes that Russians occupied the Red Forest “during the Great Patriotic War and there was no radiation sickness.”

It is worth noting that the Great Patriotic War – better known as WWII – occurred between 1941 and 1945, some 41 years before the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986.

After Russians Left Chernobyl

The head of Energoatom Petro Kotin together with specialists visited one of the areas of the Red Forest in the exclusion zone, where the Russian military dug trenches and tried to build fortifications

Abnormally high levels of radiation were recorded at this location.

  • The rate of external exposure is 10-15 times higher than normal.
  • One of the indicators that forms the internal radiation received by the occupiers from the soil surface is 160 times higher than the norm.
  • Another factor of internal radiation is Alpha pollution, which is formed as a result of fragments of irradiated nuclear fuel, graphite masonry, etc. scattered in this area of ​​the Red Forest. These fragments are now located at a depth of 40-80 cm, the occupiers dug deeper.

Radiation sickness of varying severity awaits all occupiers who have been based and dug in the Red Forest for almost 30 days.

Activity at Zaporizhzhia NPP

Russian troops at Ukranina Nuclear Power Plant

On March 4, Russian troops began shelling the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in south-eastern Ukraine, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. According to the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate, the initial shelling damaged the structure of the Unit 1 reactor and impacted the dry type spent fuel storage facility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is aware of this and is in contact with Ukrainian authorities,[6] who are containing to work throughout the emergency situation despite ongoing combat and intimidation.

Since the first shelling, all 6 ZNPP reactors have come under fire. To put this into perspective, only one of the nuclear units failed during the Chernobyl disaster. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the actions as “nuclear terror” and called on European politicians to act.[7]

Prior to the conflict at ZNPP, 3 nuclear units were operational. However, only unit 4 is currently in operation while the others undergo scheduled repairs or are in the cooling and shutdown phase.

Nevertheless, even when not operational, each reactor is fully loaded with approximately 66 tons of nuclear fuel according to the NNEGC “Energoatom”, the Ministry of Fuel and Energy of Ukraine. Furthermore, there are also three reactor basins holding spent nuclear fuel and another 150 containers in dry storage. This is more than enough nuclear material to cause an extreme catastrophe.

In addition, there have been reports of a fire in the training building at ZNPP – the Russian occupiers denied firefighters access to control and extinguish the hazard.[8]

In response to this, the US Energy Secretary Jennifer Grenholm was among those calling out the Russians for their actions; “Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease.[9]

Widespread Consequences

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had previously ruled that any armed attack or threat to peaceful nuclear facilities, like Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia, would directly violate the principles of the United Nations.[10] More than 22,000 spent nuclear fuel elements held in storage facilities SNF-1 and SNF-2 in Ukraine total a significant amount of plutonium-239. In the hands of an aggressor, in this case the Russians, there is potential to turn this into a nuclear bomb, which would have vast humanitarian and environmental consequences.


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