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DETERIORATING SITUATION AT THE ZAPORIZHZHIA NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

Matthew Bauer, Elvire Vérant, Peter Roberto, EUCOM

Claudia Santillan-Vazquez, Deepankar Patil, Editors; Manja Vitasovic, Senior Editor

August 22, 2022


Russian Soldier in front of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant[1]


Geographical Area | Eastern Europe

Countries Affected | Ukraine


The risk of a nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (Zaporizhzhia NPP) has grown because of increased shelling directed at the plant, the use of the site as weapons storage for the Russian military, and increased tensions between Russian soldiers and the plant’s Ukrainian staff. The nuclear plant contains six pressurized reactors and stores nuclear waste, making nuclear waste leakage a large concern for surrounding civilians, water systems, and nations on the Black Sea.[2] As Russia and Ukraine continue to blame each other for the power plant attacks, the attention of the international community is drawn to the situation, and Russia will likely use it for a political bargain. A deterioration of nuclear safety at the Zaporizhzhia NPP is likely increasing the possibility of a nuclear accident or disaster.

Areas of High Security Concern: Shelling near the Zaporizhzhia NPP and the barring of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts from visiting the site[3] will very likely lead to deterioration of the structural and operational integrity of the plant. Nuclear waste from the plant will very likely spread throughout the Dnipro River into the Black Sea, likely impacting Ukraine, Russia, and EU member states. The nuclear waste spread will almost certainly impact the health of civilians in Ukraine as radioactive emissions will likely pollute nearby water and make air dangerous to breathe. This will very likely spur a new wave of refugees from Ukraine to avoid the health hazards. The new wave of refugees will almost certainly increase the EU refugee crisis, likely additionally straining the available resources.

Current Claims: Ukraine; Russia; UN; IAEA; Energoatom power company

Groups Involved in Conflict: Ukrainian military; Russian military; Zaporizhzhia NPP staff

Current Conflicts: Fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces near the Zaporizhzhia NPP increases the risk of a nuclear disaster occurring at the site. Russia is allegedly using the site as a sanctuary for its troops,[4] which has led to it being a target of the Ukrainian military artillery strikes.[5] Russian forces are also accused to use Zaporizhzhia NPP as a base to launch attacks against Ukrainian civilians.[6]

Major Capital Industries: Ukrainian nuclear energy industry; water industry

Potential Industry Concerns: Tensions and violence will likely increase at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, likely damaging the nuclear facility, through the severing of electric lines connected to Ukraine’s energy grid. Energoatom, the public Ukrainian nuclear power company that manages Zaporizhzhia NPP, will likely lose profit, as it will almost certainly produce less electricity to sell to Ukrainian civilians. A nuclear accident will very likely contaminate Ukrainian water systems, specifically the Dnipro River, likely reducing the amount of clean water available to Ukrainian civilians. Employees of water companies will very likely work to decontaminate the water from the Dnipro River to make it usable for Ukrainians, likely increasing their exposure to nuclear waste and contamination. This will very likely increase radiation sickness among water companies' employees.


Areas of Caution:

  • Geopolitical: Ukraine and Russia have been blaming each other over recent strikes that have hit the Zaporizhzhia NPP. Russia-Ukraine discussions about creating a demilitarization zone around the NPP are expected to become more difficult without third-party discussion mediation. IAEA officials and UN members have called for military operations to stop and for the increase of nuclear safety at the Zaporizhzhia NPP, but Ukraine and Russia have not obliged,[7] likely indicating a disregard for nuclear safety policies.

  • Military: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Ukraine will target Russian soldiers who shoot at the NPP or use it as cover to attack Ukrainian forces.[8] Fighting escalation and accidental damage around the nuclear plant are likely. Russian forces are allegedly using the nuclear plant as a military base for around 500 soldiers and military weapons.[9]

  • Emergency Management: Fighting near and attacks on the plant threaten the structural and operational integrity of the plant. If a nuclear disaster occurs, nuclear management teams will be placed on the scene of the Zaporizhzhia NPP and the surrounding communities. The nuclear response team will be exposed to radiation during the cleanup, increasing radiation sickness and risking their safety and lives.

  • Infrastructure: Ukraine is heavily dependent on nuclear energy, as it makes up around 54% of the country’s electricity, with the Zaporizhzhia NPP being the largest.[10] Increased violence surrounding the site will damage the plant, through the severing of electrical lines connecting the nuclear plant to the power grid, reducing the amount of electricity available to the Ukrainian people. A reduction of available electricity will reduce the energy available for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) infrastructure in commercial buildings and homes.

  • Health: The risk of a nuclear accident or disaster has grown. If a disaster occurs at the plant, nuclear waste and radiation will increase in the surrounding communities, causing radiation sickness and casualties among Ukrainian civilians, forces, plant staff, and nearby Russian forces. Nuclear waste will get into the Dnipro River and the Black Sea, damaging wildlife, neighboring countries along the Black Sea, and vegetation along the Dnipro River.

Predictive Analysis: Fighting and shelling around the Zaporizhzhia NPP will very likely cause a nuclear disaster. A nuclear disaster will almost certainly spread nuclear waste throughout Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

  • Who: Ukrainian and Russian forces will very likely continue fighting at the Zaporizhzhia NPP, almost certainly damaging the structural integrity of the plant. The damage will likely lead to a nuclear disaster, very likely impacting the local and regional environment, especially civilians in Ukraine and neighboring EU member states.

  • What: Damage to the nuclear power plant will likely result in radiation leaks in Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe. Increased fighting around the nuclear plant, and Russia’s very likely use of the plant as a military base and for a political bargain, almost certainly threatens nuclear safety policies, likely inspiring similar actions in future conflicts.

  • Why: Although the Russian government recently accepted to facilitate IAEA inspection inside the plant,[11] the IAEA team will likely encounter difficulties reaching the site because of the war. The lack of independent oversight leaves the structural and operational integrity of the plant uncertain as Ukrainian forces shell the area. This will likely result in a nuclear accident or disaster.

  • When: The absence of a ceasefire, or establishment of a demilitarized zone, in the immediate area of the Zaporizhzhia NPP will likely result in damage to the plant within the next few weeks.

  • How: A nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia NPP will likely spread nuclear material throughout local waterways. Nuclear waste will almost certainly contaminate local drinking water, likely increasing migration away from the Zaporizhzhia region as drinking water becomes scarce. A nuclear disaster at the plant will likely cause electricity loss throughout Ukraine. The loss of power in Ukraine will very likely increase internal displacement.

The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends Russia and Ukraine create a demilitarization zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to reduce accidental strikes on it. This should include an agreement from Ukraine to refrain from firing at Russian forces near the nuclear plant. CTG recommends the UN security council mediate talks between Russia and Ukraine regarding nuclear safety, including discussions over adding a statute to the Geneva Convention to prevent the use of a nuclear power plant as a military base. These talks should include an agreement between Ukraine and Russia to ensure the safety of plant staff, to keep the plant operational, prevent staff from leaving their jobs, and to prevent mistakes caused by the stress of surrounding violence. CTG recommends that the US and UK increase the release of intelligence about the structural integrity and operations of the plant and attacks on the plant to ensure factual reporting amid false claims by both parties. CTG recommends Ukraine refrain from firing at Russian forces near the nuclear plant to prevent compromising the structural integrity of the plant, which would likely lead to a leak of nuclear waste or radiation. CTG Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crimes, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H) Officers will continue to monitor the deterioration of nuclear safety and structural integrity of the Zaporizhzhia NPP and will continue to publish reports on its evolution.


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[1]Zaporizhzhia nuclear workers: We're kept at gunpoint by Russians” by Just Click's With A Camera licensed under Public Domain

[2] Zaporizhzhia: Real risk of nuclear disaster in Ukraine - watchdog, BBC, August 2022 ​​https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-62449982

[3] Russia: Too dangerous for IAEA to go through Kyiv to visit Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Reuters, August 2022 https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-too-dangerous-iaea-go-through-kyiv-visit-zaporizhzhia-nuclear-plant-2022-08-15/

[4] Russia Seen Using Ukraine Nuclear Plant as Shield for Troops, Bloomberg, August 2022 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-08-18/russia-is-seen-using-ukraine-nuclear-plant-as-shield-for-troops

[5] Ukraine targets Russian soldiers threatening Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, CNBC, August 2022 https://www.cnbc.com/2022/08/14/ukraine-targets-russian-soldiers-threatening-nuclear-power-plant.html

[6] Zaporizhzhia: Russian rockets damaged part of nuclear plant, Ukraine says, BBC, August 2022 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-62432873.amp

[7] UN demands end to military activity at Ukraine nuke plant, AP News, August 2022 https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-united-nations-moscow-16f6b7b32c609985d3bf6dfb92f8de2d

[8] Ukraine targets Russian soldiers threatening Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, CNBC, August 2022

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/08/14/ukraine-targets-russian-soldiers-threatening-nuclear-power-plant.html

[9] Zaporizhzhia nuclear workers: We're kept at gunpoint by Russians, BBC News, August 2022

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-62509638

[10] Factbox: Ukraine has one of Europe's largest nuclear power sectors, Reuters, March 2022 https://www.reuters.com/world/ukraine-has-one-europes-largest-nuclear-power-sectors-2022-03-04/

[11] Russia says it will facilitate IAEA visit to Ukrainian nuclear plant, Reuters, August 2022 https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-will-facilitate-iaea-mission-ukrainian-nuclear-plant-foreign-ministry-2022-08-15/

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