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Putin’s nuclear terrorism: Zaporizhzhia NPP

by Anastasiya Glotova  •  Aug 10, 2022

Putin, in his desire to defeat Ukraine, does not shun any means. Thus, Russian terrorists have become the first in the world to use a nuclear plant for terror.

Perhaps these days, everyone has heard of Zaporizhzhia NPP in the Ukrainian south seized by the Russian invaders. Every day we have new reports about it, and they are getting more and more alarming. 

The NPP is very valuable for the Russians both as resource and as a weapon. On one hand, they want to disconnect the plant from Ukraine and plainly steal Ukrainian electricity providing it to occupied Crimea. This is a normal tactic of Russian looters. On the other hand, they try to use the plant for blackmailing – and not so much of Ukraine as of the West. This is a normal tactic of terrorists, of the terrorist state Russian Federation

We’ve decided to collect the most important information on this topic for you to better understand the situation and its gravity.


Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) is one of the four operating Ukrainian NPPs built in 1980s. With 11,000 workers it is the largest NPP in Europe and among 10 largest in the world. It has 6 reactors fully loaded with nuclear fuel. There are also 174 concrete containers with spent nuclear fuel on site. 

The plant generates normally nearly half of the country’s electricity derived from nuclear power, and more than a fifth of total electricity generated in Ukraine. The NPP is operated by Energoatom, the Ukrainian national atomic power generating company. It is situated in southeastern Ukraine in the city of Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia region, on the eastern side of the Dnipro River. 


Seizure of the plant and making a military base out of it

On March 4, Russian troops seized Enerhodar and shelled the plant itself. The fighting near the plant lasted several hours. During that time the occupants shot several times at one of the reactors, then the training center of the plant burst into flames. The fire was extinguished. Since then, Zaporizhzhia NPP has been controlled by the Russian army and representatives of Rosatom, the Russian state atomic energy corporation.

The plant occupies a strategically important place. But because of safety reasons, any counteroffensive by Ukrainian troops to retake the area is extremely difficult.

Meanwhile, the Russians decided to make the most of the strategic importance of the facility. From the very beginning of the seizure, they have been gradually transforming the NPP into a military base with many weapons and explosives which can already be regarded as an act of “nuclear terrorism”.

By the end of May, the occupiers had deployed about 50 pieces of heavy equipment and more than 500 soldiers at the ZNPP. In fact, at the civilian nuclear facility, the occupiers have set up a military base with an arsenal of heavy weapons to use it as a human shield by shelling neighboring Ukrainian-controlled city of Nikopol, Dnipropetrovsk region.

After the seizure, Ukrainian specialists began recording large-scale violations of nuclear and radiation safety: from forcing employees to work at gunpoint to using heavy weapons at the site.


How does the plant operate now?

At the moment, two power units are in operation, two reactors are scheduled for repairs, and two are on standby. Officially, the plant is managed by the Ukrainian Energoatom. The Ukrainian workers in charge of the NPP remain there. The plant itself is still connected to the Ukrainian energy system. However, the Russian military and representatives of Rosatom are present at the plant.

The plant employees have to work under very difficult conditions. As reported previously, the Russian soldiers used to detain workers and subject them to brutal interrogations in search of possible saboteurs. According to Ukrainian officials, about 100 workers of the plant are kept in Russian captivity.

Fatal cases have also been reported. On July 03, after being beaten by the Russian occupants, a diver from the hydroprocessing department at the NPP, Andriy Goncharuk, died. 

Under these circumstances, most workers at the Zaporizhzhia power plant refuse to cooperate with the occupiers, so the Russians take workers from Rosenergoatom (the operator of Russian nuclear power plants) to the plant, as the intelligence of the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces reported. According to the plan of the Russians, all employees of the plant who do not want to cooperate with them must leave Enerhodar. 


Meanwhile, international agency officials have not had the opportunity to inspect the Zaporizhzhia NPP since the start of the war in Ukraine. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) constantly warns of threats to the plant’s safety growing every day. 

On July 5, Rafael Grossi, the IAEA director general said: “With each day that this state of affairs persists, the risk of an accident or safety violations increases.” According to him, this is because the local management and Ukrainian personnel of the nuclear power plant are under serious pressure.

Nuclear blackmail: “there will either be Russian soil here or a scorched desert”

Russia demonstrates that a nuclear plant can be an instrument of terrorism. Moreover, this is the first ever war against a country with 15 working nuclear reactors! 

In March, they seized the Chornobyl NPP for the same purpose – to blackmail Kyiv. Now Zaporizhzhia NPP is their “ace in the hole” in southern Ukraine. The main idea is that Russia’s military is using the plant’s “protected status” to launch attacks on surrounding areas without fear of retaliation. 

By controlling the NPP and blackmailing Ukraine and the entire West with its safety, the Russians are pursuing such goals:

  • To secure themselves and their positions: If Ukrainian troops launch a counteroffensive in the south, the Russians can lose control of the captured territories. In this case, they can use the NPP as a “nuclear shield”. Moreover, experts warn they can also use hostages.
  • To use its control of the facility “to play on Western fears of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine, likely in an effort to degrade Western will to provide military support to a Ukrainian counteroffensive” (report of the ISW of August 3).
  • Experts warn that the Russians could stage a terrorist attack on the NPP territory, accusing the Ukrainian side of doing this. So, they can accuse the Ukrainians of “nuclear terrorism” (their favorite “mirror game”) and thus create an artificial casus belli that would give them grounds to use nuclear weapons.

For that, they are using such means:

  • deploying of heavy artillery and large number of ammunitions on the NPP site
  • mining of its territory
  • denial of access of international inspectors
  • threats that if anything happens they will blow up the NPP
  • shelling of the NPP, allegedly by Ukrainians

The intentions of the Russians regarding the NPP were particularly clearly articulated by Major General Valery Vasilyev, head of the Russian Armed Forces’ radiation, chemical and biological protection troops, who now commands the Zaporizhzhia NPP garrison. According to Energoatom, he told his soldiers that “there will either be Russian soil here or a scorched desert”.

The Ukrainian agency quoted the Russian general: “As you know, we have mined all the important facilities of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. And we are not hiding this from the enemy. We have warned them. The enemy knows that the plant will be either Russian or no one’s. We are ready for the consequences of this step. And you, the warriors-liberators, must understand that we have no other way. And if there is going to be the toughest order, we must carry it out with honor!”

On August 3, Rafael Grossi warned that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine “is completely out of control”.

Shelling of the NPP

On August 5-6, as in fulfillment of their intentions, the Russians shelled the plant several times.

“The double shelling of the ZNPP by Russian troops from MLRS during one day, August 5, caused a serious risk to the safe operation of the plant,” Energoatom reported.

Rafael Grossi said in his statement that there had been no damage to the nuclear reactors themselves and no radiological release from Friday’s incident. “However, there is damage elsewhere on the site,” he said. 

“On the evening of August 6, Russian occupants once again fired missiles at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant site and the city of Enerhodar. They hit the ZNPP site directly next to the plant’s dry storage facility for spent nuclear fuel (SNF). Apparently, these were the SNF containers, which are stored in the open air next to the sites of the shelling, that were targeted. 174 containers, each containing 24 spent nuclear fuel assemblies,” the statement by Energoatom said.

One worker of the plant sustained shrapnel wounds as a result of the explosions. Meanwhile Energoatom emphasizes the cynicism of the Russians: “All Russian military personnel, up to 500 of whom have been on the ZNPP site since it was seized, as well as the personnel of the terrorist Rosatom, have fled in advance to the bunker rooms of the plant crisis center and technical support center.”

“This time a nuclear catastrophe was miraculously avoided, but miracles cannot last forever,” Energoatom stressed. The Ukrainian corporation believes that the purpose of the shelling of the ZNPP is to destroy its infrastructure and de-energize the south of Ukraine.

The office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine announced the start of a pre-trial investigation because of the shelling – it is being conducted on a criminal case of violation of the laws and customs of war.

At the same time, Moscow has denied targeting the plant and blamed Kyiv for the incidents. It is obviously a part of another informational and psychological operation aimed to discredit the Ukrainian military. 


The attacks show “the very real risk of a nuclear disaster that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” Rafael Grossi said on August 6.

Military action around Zaporizhzhia “is completely unacceptable and must be avoided at all costs,” Grossi said. “This must stop, and stop now.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that Russian troops had fired at the plant twice, and called for sanctions against Russia’s nuclear industry.

Since then, “we have a significant worsening of the situation around the Zaporizhzhia NPP,” he said on Saturday night in a video address. “Russian terrorists have become the first in the world to use a nuclear plant for terror.” 

On Sunday, Zelensky discussed the situation with European Council President Charles Michel and stated that sanctions should be imposed on the Russian nuclear industry and nuclear fuel.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday accused Moscow of using the plant to shield its forces

UN Secretary General António Guterres demanded on Monday to stop the shelling of the plant and access to it for international inspectors. “Any attack to a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing,” Guterres said.


A nuclear disaster?

Don’t the Russians realize that nuclear energy is not a thing to be trifled with? They do. But it is apparently too valuable weapon for them.

The actions of the Russians at the Zaporizhzhia NPP could lead to a nuclear and radiation disaster, the consequences of which would be felt by the entire continental Europe, experts say. In case of an accident, the consequences could be many times worse than those of the disasters at Chornobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011.

Experts say that in the case of significant damage to one reactor and exposure of nuclear fuel, the disaster will be comparable to the Chernobyl disaster. But in the case of a bombardment of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, more than one reactor could be damaged. 

The consequence of such an accident could be considerable pollution not only of Ukraine but also of a large part of Europe, explains Dmytro Humeniuk, the head of the Safety Analysis Department of the State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety: “It will be worse than Chernobyl, because Zaporizhzhia plant is located on the bank of Kakhovka reservoir on the Dnipro river which flows into the Black Sea. The water and everything else would be polluted, the Mediterranean and so on. So, the consequences would be bad for everyone.”

Thus, a disaster at Zaporizhzhia NPP can make uninhabitable not only the 30-km zone nearby, but also the cities downstream of the Dnipro river, the Crimea and the Black Sea as well as affect other countries and the Russian Federation itself. This would be a crime whose scale is difficult to imagine and calculate.


How to prevent it?

Thus, this is now a problem not so much for Ukraine, but for the global community. Further inaction or insufficient counteraction against the Russian Federation could lead to the formation of a ‘nuclear dump’ in the center of Europe, which would change life of whole Europe for a long time. 

The problem is that there is no legal mechanism of responsibility for such actions. No one has prepared for this. What we can say is that Russia has been violating the Article 56 of the Geneva Convention about prohibition of the seizure of nuclear power plants. At the same time, there is no document in the world that regulates the activities of occupied nuclear power plants.

The only organization that could affect the situation is the IAEA. But IAEA was not prepared for military challenges, Ukrainian specialist say. Now Ukraine is in contact with the IAEA to develop documents that would regulate the safety of nuclear power plants in time of war. However, there are no practical steps to create the documents, although the active military actions have been taking place for almost 6 months already!

Experts believe that the only effective way to protect the plant from collapse is to de-occupy it. “We need a decisive response from the IAEA management to all these facts and pressure on Russia. With de-occupation, all safety issues will be solved instantly,” Petro Kotin, president of Energoatom, says.


Thus, the Ukrainian authorities call on the IAEA and the UN to get Russia to withdraw from the nuclear power plant. “IAEA/UN must firmly demand that Russia withdraws from the nuclear power plant and place it under the control of a special commission”, Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor of the Head of the Office of the President, stressed.

Do the Russians understand that if there is an accident at a nuclear power plant, it can affect not only Crimea but also Moscow and other parts of Russia? Where will they flee to then? But, unfortunately, when it comes to Russians, we should not rely on logic and common sense.

Today it is up to the world community. Both politicians and citizens in the West must understand that the danger is closer than it seems. Now they must take more active and courageous steps in the confrontation with Russia in order to protect themselves and their countries in the first place.

Anastasiya Glotova

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