Earlier this month, Russia declared the occupation of the area of Zaporizhzhia, home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. The threat of a nuclear disaster due to Ukraine’s war is at the forefront of political discussion. Fears of Putin bombing central power plants, as well as some power plant inactivity, fuel speculation. The control of nuclear power plants has become a powerful tool in geopolitical conflicts, with far-reaching consequences beyond Ukrainian borders. What are these threats, exactly? The population’s health is on the front lines of this war; the danger of an explosion may not be the most urgent issue, and we may all have to face the consequences of what is happening in Zaporizhzhia.
1. Potential threats to population health
For several weeks, Ukrainian nuclear power plants have been the subject of heated debate because they could pose a risk to the citizens’ health. If one of the power plants detonated, it would cause an explosion followed by a cloud of radioactive dust spreading throughout the area, destroying everything in its path.
A similar disaster occurred in Ukraine in April 1986 at Chornobyl. The results were devastating, with radiation killing many and leaving them traumatized.
Today, the most talked-about nuclear power plant is Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Because of its strategic location, the Russians have occupied this power plant since March. The site is very close to the demarcation line between Kyiv-controlled and Moscow-controlled territories. On October 5, it was even claimed as Russian territory.
To explain, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant produces half of Ukraine’s nuclear energy and provides 6000 MW of electricity to more than 4 million households. Even though it is no longer in use, the Ukrainian government is concerned about the risk of radioactive spraying.
Faced with this threat, and while waiting in fear, people try to find ways to reduce their risk of contamination with radioactive materials. Iodine tablets, for example, are distributed to the people of Zaporizhzhia to try to protect them from radioactive iodine.
2. Bombing dangers
The risk of bombing, on the other hand, is not so present. The Russian goal was to seize control of the site rather than bomb it. The West has made it clear that there will be enormous consequences if any bombing occurs in a radioactive environment. As for now, Russia’s depriving Ukraine of its resources is its focus.
In the meantime, Ukraine cannot afford to risk bombing this power plant. This would put citizens in grave danger. The Ukrainian government can only hope they will receive help from the international community to regain control over this facility, restarting its operations as soon as possible.
3. Europe and Ukraine were deprived of their main nuclear central
The Russian militarization of the plant is a powerful pressure tool on Ukraine, whose people will be the first to suffer. Indeed, the last reactor was turned off this month, denying Ukraine and Europe access to this energy source. The lack of electricity has severe consequences in the face of the impending winter.
The Kremlin well-thought the electricity reduction strategy; after all, Ukraine is a cold country with several months of negative temperatures. Without this electricity, families will not be able to heat themselves adequately this winter. All of this can have severe consequences and almost certainly result in the death of some people.
On the European side, this scenario is less dramatic but will still deprive many households of using the same amount of electricity as in previous years.
To summarize, the Zaporizhzhia power plant plays a central role in this conflict. Pressing issues, including the citizens’ health and some countries’ being left without enough electricity for this winter, create fear in the population. And while the risk of a nuclear reactor exploding is not the most likely scenario, Russia will still have to face legal consequences for its actions in the future. Indeed, international humanitarian law, intended to protect civilians from hostilities, prohibits militarizing civilian nuclear power plants. Putin’s deliberate actions to maintain his power over the European population are practical, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be held accountable for his war crimes.
Featured cover image: Wikipedia