Russia’s Sergei Lavrov says his country wants to avoid nuclear war, but the fallout might literally have already emerged. Vladimir Putin’s troops may have created a new nuclear catastrophe after occupying Chernobyl, the ruins of the nuclear power plant that suffered a historic explosion and meltdown 36 years ago this month. The IAEA reports that radiation levels have spiked in the area after the “very, very dangerous” Russian occupation prompted by their attempt to seize Kyiv:
Radiation levels at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine have hit abnormal levels on the day of the anniversary of the disaster.
The head of the UN’s atomic agency says radiation levels at the former Chernobyl nuclear power station, the scene of weeks of fighting after the Russian invasion, are “abnormal”.
International Atomic Energy Agency director general Rafael Grossi told reporters Russia’s weeks-long occupation of the site was “very, very dangerous”, according to AFP.
The problem, according to Grossi, originated in the traffic through and around the facility during the Russian advance, occupation, and then retreat. Not only did the troops not comprehend the risks they were taking inside the facility, but the movement of heavy vehicles may have disrupted the shielding erected around the 10,000-year embers of the nuclear fire from 1986:
Describing radiation levels as “abnormal”, the agency’s director general Rafael Grossi said: “There have been some moments when the levels have gone up because of the movement of the heavy equipment that Russian forces were bringing here and when they left. We are following that day by day.”
He added: “The situation was absolutely abnormal and very, very dangerous,” …
Russian troops took over the former power plant on 24 February, the first day of the invasion of Ukraine, and stayed there for several weeks. Workers told the BBC they were forced to steal fuel to keep generators working and prevent a dangerous leak of radioactive material.
Thus far the situation appears under control, but only because the Russians finally left after getting humiliated in their failure to capture Ukraine’s capital. If they try to take Kyiv again, they’ll have to approach it from the north again, necessitating another trek through the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Those movements will again threaten the integrity of the shielding around the remains of the meltdown reactor, even if the Russians don’t interfere the next time with the operation of the shut-down plant.
This does, however, present a very interesting question about the readiness of the units that transited in and around Chernobyl. As we have noted before, the exclusion zone is considered so unsafe for humans that people are discouraged from transiting through it unless necessary and strongly advised not to stop for any length of time. The Russian troops that formed their northern assault forces camped out there for weeks, while radiation levels apparently rose even higher. If they got enough exposure during that time to develop any acute radiation illnesses, their readiness for future operations would be seriously suspect. That was no small excursion either, but a major assault force in an army made up mainly of seasonal conscripts in the first place.
Also, the troops that went through the exclusion zone the first time reportedly didn’t know the implications of their location. The next troops ordered to go through it might hear more from those first troops that survived the failed offensive on Kyiv about camping near the nuclear disaster. That won’t do much for esprit de corps, especially in a Russian army that seems entirely devoid of it except for its Chechen units.
Maybe Lavrov should start sharing his nuclear concerns with someone who can put an end to them. He still has access to Putin, right? He’s the man who seems to be doing his best to poison Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine with radiation and destroy the Russian military.