It was an act of sheer madness. On March 4, 2022, Russian ground forces participating in the invasion of Ukraine attacked the Zaporizhzhia power plant in the southwestern city of Enerhodar, setting it ablaze.
Russian President Vladimir Putin must order his forces to immediately halt the attack, extinguish the fires, and restore the damaged sections of the power plant to their original condition.
The Zaporizhzhia power plant is the largest of Ukraine’s four nuclear power complexes in active service. It has six Russian-designed VVER pressurized water reactors, each producing one million kilowatts (one megawatt) of electrical power.
According to a source with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), multiple Russian tanks and infantry units smashed barricades to force their way into the facility. Onsite videos captured flashes of light and smoke rising in the vicinity of the power plant.
As of around noon on March 4, there had been no confirmed reports of an increase in the level of radiation in the area. It appears that the damaged area was not part of the core facility. Nevertheless, such a physical attack on a nuclear facility and adjacent areas is an extremely dangerous act of barbarism.
Although the VVER reactors at Zaporizhzhia were built during the era of the Soviet Union, they are equipped with containment vessels on a par with those in Western countries. Nonetheless, if these reactor containment vessels are destroyed by bombs or other weapons and radiation is leaked, winds could carry cesium, strontium, and other nuclear fission products far and wide, contaminating all of Europe.
The Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols also strongly prohibit attacks on nuclear power installations in order to prevent civilian casualties.
Russian tanks and Russian boots rode roughshod over this accepted international norm. As supreme leader of Russia, Putin should be held responsible for this war crime.
Why Would Russia Attack a Nuclear Power Plant?
The objective of the attack on the Zaporizhzhia power complex appears to be the destruction of Ukraine’s electrical power infrastructure, since Ukraine ranks number two in Europe in terms of dependency on nuclear power.
Since February 24 the Russian military has been in control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which is 110 kilometers north of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Its four reactors are still in the process of being decommissioned.
President Putin has repeated on several occasions his threat to use tactical nuclear weapons. Making these two nuclear power facilities military objectives brings the possibility of the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons onto the battlefield ever so close.
Putin has planted his foot on a line that should never be crossed.
We have just reached the point where the use of nuclear power to generate electricity has come to be viewed as an important strategy in the creation of a decarbonized society. We should not let Russia’s actions prevent the healthy trend of returning to the use of nuclear power for our energy needs.
The question is: When will President Putin come to his senses?
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(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun