Amsterdam – Vladimir Putin’s military invasion of Ukraine poses an unprecedented nuclear threat, with the country’s 15 commercial nuclear reactors, including the largest nuclear plant in Europe, at risk of potentially catastrophic damage that could render vast areas of the European continent, including Russia, uninhabitable for decades, new analysis shows.
At the Zaporizhzhia plant, which produced 19% of Ukraine’s electricity in 2020 and where Russian troops and military hardware are within kilometres, there are six large reactors and six cooling pools with hundreds of tons of highly radioactive nuclear fuel. Three reactors are currently operating and three have been shut down since the start of the war.
The assembled research by specialists for Greenpeace International concludes that the safety of Zaporizhzhia is severely compromised by the war. In a worst-case scenario, where explosions destroy the reactor containment and cooling systems, the potential release of radioactivity from both the reactor core and the spent fuel pool into the atmosphere could create a disaster far worse even than the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe of 2011, with areas of land hundreds of kilometres from the reactor site potentially becoming inhospitable for decades. Even without direct damage to the plant, the reactor’s rely heavily on the electric grid for operating cooling systems, on the availability of nuclear technicians and personnel and access to heavy equipment and logistics.
Jan Vande Putte, co-author of the risk analysis, said:
“To add to the horrific events of the last week there is a unique nuclear threat. For the first time in history a major war is being waged in a country with multiple nuclear reactors and thousands of tons of highly radioactive spent fuel. The war in southern Ukraine around Zaporizhzhia puts them all at heightened risk of a severe accident. So long as this war continues the military threat to Ukraines nuclear plants will remain. This is one further reason, amongst so many, why Putin needs to immediately cease his war on Ukraine.”
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Greenpeace International has been closely monitoring the implications for the nuclear installations throughout the country. Today, Greenpeace International has published a technical analysis on some of the major risks at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.
In the case of an accidental bombing and certainly in case of a deliberate attack, the consequences could be catastrophic, well beyond the impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. Because of the vulnerability of the nuclear power plants, its dependency on a complex set of support systems, and the long period of time it takes to bring the power plant into a more passive safety level, the only way to substantially reduce the risks is to halt the war.
Greenpeace wishes to express its deep respect and appreciation to all the workers at the nuclear power plant sites in the Ukraine, including Chornobyl, who are working under extreme conditions to maintain the stability of nuclear power plants. They are not only protecting the safety of their own country but also of a large part of Europe.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors held an emergency session Wednesday 2 March to discuss the Ukraine nuclear crisis.
. “The vulnerability of nuclear plants during military conflict Lessons from Fukushima Daiichi Focus on Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine”, Jan Vande Putte (radiation protection advisor & nuclear campaigner, Greenpeace East Asia & Greenpeace Belgium) and Shaun Burnie (senior nuclear specialist, Greenpeace East Asia) https://www.greenpeace.org/international/nuclear-power-plant-vulnerability-during-military-conflict-ukraine-technical-briefing/ – key findings listed below.
 Local reports on 2 March suggested that thousands of civilians in Enerhodar, the host town of the Zaporizhzhia reactors, were attempting to block the advance of Russian troops to the nuclear plant.
Video from the town’s mayor: https://twitter.com/ignis_fatum/status/1498939204948144128?s=21
 Jan Vande Putte is a radiation protection advisor and nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace East Asia & Greenpeace Belgium
 Chornobyl is the Ukrainian spelling of Chernobyl
 The IAEA was notified by the Russian government on 1 March 2022 that Russian military forces had taken control of the territory around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant – https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/update-6-iaea-director-general-statement-on-situation-in-ukraine
Shaun Burnie, [email protected]
Jan Vande Putte, [email protected]
Greenpeace International Press Desk: [email protected], +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)
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Key findings of the Greenpeace analysis are:
- The Zaporizhzhia plant, like all reactors, with hot highly radioactive fuel, requires constant electrical power for cooling even when shut down. When the electricity grid fails and the reactor is in a station black out, there are backup diesel generators and batteries, but their reliability over a longer period of time cannot be guaranteed. There are unresolved on-going issues with the Zaporizhzhia emergency diesel generators, which have an estimated fuel stock on site for only seven days.
- Official data from 2017 reported that at Zaporizhzhia there were 2,204 tons of high level spent fuel – 855 tons of which were in highly vulnerable spent fuel pools. Without active cooling, they risk overheating and evaporating to a point where the fuel metal cladding could ignite and release most of the radioactive inventory.
- Zaporizhzhia, like all operating nuclear power plants, requires a complex support system, including the permanent presence of qualified personnel, power, access to cooling water, spare parts and equipment. Such support systems are severely compromised during a war.
- The nuclear reactor buildings of Zaporizhzhia have a concrete containment protecting both the reactor core, its cooling system and the spent fuel pool. However, such containment cannot withstand the impact of heavy munitions. The plant could be hit accidently. It seems unlikely that the plant would be targeted deliberately, given that the nuclear release could severely contaminate neighbouring countries including Russia. Still, this cannot be entirely ruled out.
- In the worst-case scenario, the reactor containment would be destroyed by explosions and the cooling system would fail, the radioactivity of both the reactor and the fuel pool could then freely escape into the atmosphere. This risks making the entire plant inaccessible because of the high radiation levels, which could then lead to a further cascade of the other reactors and fuel pools, each spreading large quantities of radioactivity into different wind directions over several weeks. It could make a large part of Europe, including Russia, uninhabitable for at least many decades and over a distance of hundreds of kilometres, a nightmare scenario and potentially far worse than the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011.
- It takes a long time to bring a power plant in operation into a stage of passive safety which does not require further human intervention. When a reactor is shut down, the residual heat from the radioactivity decreases exponentially, still it remains very hot and requires cooling over a period of 5 years before it can be loaded into concrete dry storage containers which remove their heat through natural circulation of the air outside the container. Shutting down a reactor might progressively decrease the risks over time, but it does not solve the problem.
I agree the threat of nuclear disaster for Europe is very real. This is why Ukraine should stop shelling the facility then screaming Russia did it. Publicly as an influence operation, I get it. This is an effective stratedgey. But in the end a lot of people will be killed.
Does Russia really want the potential of such a disaster, or is it just insane leadership? Why such intense desire to conquer additional territory? Is Russia's situation that bad?
Greenpeace censors the page and removes comments they don't like. The fact, that Europe doesn't have a sufficient amount of nuclear plants, serves Russia well as we are dependent on gas instead. And it is hurting the environment as well as we have to go for gas + OZE while nuclear + OZE is much more nature friendly. There are plenty of lies around nuclear that rise fear based on myths rather than facts. Global warming going down and being independent of Russia's fossils will come only if we'll invest more in nuclear and shut down gas & coal.
Dear Karo, thank you for your comments. Greenpeace does not censor comments. However, our system doesn’t automatically approve them to avoid phishing attempts, spam and the use of any language that goes against our community guidelines, so there is always a delay for comments to show up. I hope you can understand that. Now, regarding your comment on nuclear energy. The world already has the technology and solutions to phase out fossil fuels without the need for expensive and risky nuclear energy. However, companies and governments keep acting short-term and procrastinating meaningful climate action, which continues to make the world dependent on dirty energy sources. There have been 26 UN Climate Conferences, world leaders have known about the climate crisis for years. Yet we're still pumping more and more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Dealing with radioactive materials is a risk to human safety, health and to the environment. After disposed of, nuclear waste remains dangerous for thousands of years, and as we're seeing in the horrific events this past week, an accident in a nuclear facility caused by the war in Ukraine could have catastrophic consequences.
I have seen my comment already, but when I return to the page it was gone, hence, my second comment about censoring it. Not sure what happened. Nuclear waste from 50 years fits into one basement and in modern reactors, it can be actually re-used, so in fact, nuclear should be also considered renewable. Radioactive waste is also not a domain just for nuclear, but also for the coal industry and the latter produces much more of it. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste/ I'm fully supporting renewables whenever they make sense, but they will be not sufficient to support all needs, especially if you include rising energy needs in developing countries. We have to find a way to bring down global warming but not at the cost of stopping all humanity from reaching decent levels of life. And not by introducing more greenhouse gas & dependency on countries that have rich deposits of it. We have also to calculate waste from renewals, which is quite often omitted and available space. How much area do you need with photovoltaic panels to cover the needs of a medium city with photovoltaic? And how much space do you need for the nuclear plants which will cover the needs of many cities? Taking into consideration the fact that waste management is in fact well organized nowadays (not like in the past) what will turn better for the environment? We are already taking too many areas from nature for agriculture, housing, etc. About the war situation, it makes sense to take over energy plants in occupied countries, no matter which kind they are. Destroying reactors, which might cause catastrophic effects, is not easy - definitely not with the standard weapons of mass destruction or direct fire. Accidents caused by war are related to supporting facilities. Ukraine, which I fully support, cries for help also by bringing attention to unlikely scenarios related to the power plant.
Thank you, Karo, to bring the problem with comments disappearing to my attention. You have uncovered a bug in our platform! I am looking into why this is happening and what we can do to fix it. Please bear with us while we work on resolving this issue.
https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/update-11-iaea-director-general-statement-on-situation-in-ukraine?fbclid=IwAR15_nvRKrx84xmW473fG17LHuwPdP0uOdnoWVVZXJfuG_uIve41Fdk42eg Nuclear power is necessary to bring global warming down together with OZE. Fukushima's disaster has been largely exaggerated and its effects on the environment as well. Not to mention that there are plenty of lies showing ex. the map of the tsunami as nuclear effects to rise fear. Fighting nuclear out of fear without knowledge means humanity will need more gas. It serves Russia well.
Russia is bombing the plant.