Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant Suffers Drone Attack


Several days ago, on 06 April 2024, there was another drone attack on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in Russian-occupied Ukraine. Both Russian and Ukrainian officials vehemently deny responsibility of the strike, subsequently accusing the other of the attack.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts investigated the plant in the aftermath of the attack for any additional harm, stating that, “While the team so far has not observed any structural damage to systems, structures, and components important to nuclear safety or security of the plant, they reported observing minor superficial scorching to the top of the reactor dome roof of Unit 6 and scoring of a concrete slab supporting the primary make-up water storage tanks.”

Ultimately, the IAEA concluded that the attack at the facility had some damage, but that it was not enough to compromise nuclear safety, nor affect workers and any surrounding occupants. However, it was confirmed that three workers at the plant tragically lost their lives during the bombing. The death toll was relatively small relative to the detrimental effects that normally occur after an attack on a nuclear station; if the station had been damaged, not only would the loss of life be greater, but there would be lasting negative impacts on both nuclear safety and the surrounding environment. 

The ZNPP is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the ten largest in the world. It currently houses six Soviet-designed nuclear reactors that were built in the 1980s and helped generate over a fifth of the total electricity generation in Ukraine prior to the war. However, the ZNPP has been one of the forefront runners in the Russo-invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The ZNPP has been under Russian control since March 2022. Right now, all but one of the reactors are in cold shutdown, meaning that is no longer in use and has cooled off.. The only one not in cold shutdown, Reactor Unit 4, is in hot shutdown, meaning that hot fuel within the reactor has not been cooled down for heating purposes.

The identity of the one responsible for the attack may be inconsequential, as the systemic failure of protection for this plant is the main subject of scrutiny in the eyes of international law. This is because nuclear power plants (NPPs) are safeguarded by the IAEA, and protected by Article 56 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1977, which designates that NPPs shall not be made the object of any attack. If Ukraine is really behind the current attacks, it failed international law. However, Russia also did so by taking over the plant in the first place.  Overall, the current Zaporizhzhia crisis underscores the pressing need for enhanced security measures and international cooperation regarding nuclear safety. With any geopolitical tensions escalation, the safety implications of nuclear energy come to the forefront, demanding meticulous policymaking and rapid response mechanisms. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant stands as a poignant reminder that the discourse on nuclear energy security is not merely theoretical but can have immediate, real-world consequences.

For instance, a 1989 study by the U.S. Department of Energy identified vulnerabilities in the type of containment structure model used at Zaporizhzhya. The containment structures of nuclear reactors are constructed from reinforced concrete with steel lining, specifically engineered to endure the impact of a small aircraft collision, thus mitigating immediate risks from minor attacks. However, the study suggested that if a fighter jet were to crash directly onto the dome, particularly where the structure is thinner, it could puncture it, causing concrete fragments and aircraft components to fall into the reactor and potentially trigger an explosion.

Additionally, nuclear reactors need coolants. These pose a more susceptible target. The continuous cooling of fuel for the reactor, even during periods of cold shutdown, remains essential to prevent the occurrence of a nuclear meltdown. From the onset of the conflict, the Zaporizhzhia plant has experienced eight instances of complete external power loss, most recently in December of the previous year, necessitating reliance on emergency diesel generators for power supply to keep cooling. Inadequate water supply or insufficient power to pump water could result in fuel meltdown, potentially leading to the release of radiation, which poses an explosion risk and health risks to the surrounding populations. 

As Russian airstrikes persist in the city of Zaporizhzha, the conflict still remains near the plant, evoking concerns reminiscent of the Chernobyl disaster. As nuclear experts assert that the magnitude of devastation witnessed following the active Chernobyl plant’s meltdown won’t recur with Zaporizhzha’s cooled reactors, the IAEA is concurrently proposing a plan to set up a safety and security protection zone around the plant with neutral forces.

Cover Image: CNN Photo of Zaporizhzhia

More from Author



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here