Gulp: Russians force Chernobyl off the grid, threaten new nuclear catastrophe

(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Will Russia create yet another nuclear disaster at the site of their most destructive? Russian attacks forced the Chernobyl nuclear reactor complex off the national grid and out of the IAEA monitoring system that keeps a close eye on the infamous reactor that imploded less than forty years ago. Without that connection, Ukraine’s foreign minister warned, the plant could fall back into a new disaster:

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Ukraine has warned of dangerous radiation leaks from the Chernobyl power station unless Russia allows an urgent ceasefire for crews to reconnect it to the national power grid.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday the power plant would be connected to back-up diesel generators after officials said it was disconnected from the national power grid due to Russia’s military actions.

However, he said this was only a temporary solution and warned that a failure to fully reconnect the site could lead to the release of radioactive substances.

And the clock is ticking, Kuleba warns:

Many people do not know that Chernobyl still operates the other three reactors at the facility — which use the same design as the failed reactor that imploded in 1986. ITV’s James Mates reminds viewers of that fun fact, and gives them a thumbnail description of the crisis at hand in a power loss:

Just how dangerous could this be? Mates’ report makes it sound slightly less acute than Kuleba’s warning, and NPR’s science editor Geoff Brumfiel also offered a somewhat optimistic take on Twitter that the nuclear materials could still be contained if power failed entirely. But for how long?

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In other words, there likely won’t be a disaster in the 49th hour. However, that doesn’t mean a disaster won’t happen at all. The work crews at Chernobyl are trapped and have had no relief since the invasion started. Mistakes can start getting made as those workers tire out, and those mistakes can have devastating consequences — across all of Europe, as we discovered in April 1986.

The IAEA is also concerned about their loss of supervision, calling it “an extremely dangerous situation“:

The International Atomic Energy Agency says it has lost contact with monitoring systems that transmit data on nuclear material from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog’s director general “indicated that remote data transmission from safeguards monitoring systems installed at the Chornobyl NPP had been lost,” the IAEA said in a statement Tuesday.

“The Agency is looking into the status of safeguards monitoring systems in other locations in Ukraine and will provide further information soon,” it added.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted Wednesday that the IAEA had “unexpectedly lost connection” with the monitoring systems, calling it an “extremely dangerous situation.”

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An impending nuclear disaster created by the Russian military in Chernobyl might force a change in the calculus for NATO. The nuclear reactor in Zaporizhzhia may be too far away to impact the rest of Europe in a failure (although that may be only a matter of degree), but we already know how a Chernobyl meltdown can impact Europe. It would create nuclear fallout traveling west-northwest, impacting the Scandinavian countries most — just as it did in 1986. Belarus would get the worst of it, of course, but apparently Vladimir Putin’s not concerned about it; one has to wonder whether Aleksandr Lukashenko is as sanguine about the domestic impact of turning his country into a fallout zone.

Deliberate sabotage of Chernobyl could be an act of war against NATO on that basis. Putin has to know that, though, and given his military incompetence thus far, he can’t be too anxious to test Western reaction to such a provocation. The problem is that the Russians turned out to be incompetent at handling Chernobyl in a completely unintentional crisis in a peacetime environment, and thus far nothing they’ve done in this invasion suggests any better expertise during war. It’s a terrible development for all sides, and unless Russian forces back away from Chernobyl, every outcome looks like a catastrophe from this point.

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John Stossel 12:00 AM | June 21, 2024
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