RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE

Warfare at the Chernobyl nuclear plant no-go zone, targeted as Russia invades Ukraine

Feb 24, 2022, 5:56 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:39 pm
CHORNOBYL', UKRAINE - AUGUST 19:  In this aerial view two partially-constructed and abandoned cooli...
CHORNOBYL', UKRAINE - AUGUST 19: In this aerial view two partially-constructed and abandoned cooling towers stand as the new enclosure built over stricken reactor number four is seen in the distance behind at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on August 19, 2017 near Chornobyl', Ukraine. On April 26, 1986 reactor number four exploded after a safety test went wrong, spreading radiation over thousands of square kilometers in different directions. Ukraine and Belarus are still challenged by the consequences of the accident, with huge swaths of territory that remain uninhabitable as well as ongoing health effects for their populations. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — It was among the most worrying developments on an already shocking day, as Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday: warfare at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, where radioactivity is still leaking from history’s worst nuclear disaster 36 years ago.

Russian forces took control over the site after a fierce battle with Ukrainian national guards protecting the decommissioned plant, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told The Associated Press. The condition of the plant’s facilities, a confinement shelter and a repository for nuclear waste is unknown, he said.

An official familiar with current assessments said Russian shelling hit a radioactive waste repository at Chernobyl, and an increase in radiation levels was reported. The increase could not be immediately corroborated.

A senior American intelligence official said the U.S. believes Russian forces at Chernobyl were aiming to push to Kyiv, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of the plant, to try to link with other Russian forces throughout Ukraine. The officials were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the sensitive matter.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a 2,600-square-kilometer (1,000-square-mile) zone of forest surrounding the shuttered plant, lies between the Belarus-Ukraine border and the Ukrainian capital.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian officers fought to defend it, “so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated.” He called it a “declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”

Adviser Podolyak said that after an “absolutely senseless attack … it is impossible to say that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe.” He warned that Russian authorities could blame Ukraine for damage to the site or stage provocations from there.

Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Herashenko warned that any attack on the waste repository could send radioactive dust over “the territory of Ukraine, Belarus and countries of the EU.”

Russian officials, who have revealed little of their operations in Ukraine and not revealed their goals, did not publicly comment on the battle.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said it is following the situation in Ukraine “with grave concern” and appealed for maximum restraint to avoid any action that may put Ukraine’s nuclear facilities at risk.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the IAEA’s general director, said Ukraine has informed the Vienna-based agency that “unidentified armed forces” have taken control of all facilities at the plant and that there had been no casualties or destruction at the industrial site. Grossi said it is “of vital importance that the safe and secure operations of the nuclear facilities in that zone should not be affected or disrupted in any way.”

PRIPYAT, UKRAINE - AUGUST 18:  Rooms in an abandoned hotel decay in the ghost town of Pripyat not far from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on August 18, 2017 in Pripyat, Ukraine. On April 26, 1986 reactor number four exploded after a safety test went wrong, spreading radiation over thousands of square kilometers in different directions. The nearby town of Pripyat, which had a population of approxiamtely 40,000 and housed the plant workers and their families, was evacuated and has been abandoned ever since. Today tourists often visit the town on specially-organized tours from Kiev.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) PRIPYAT, UKRAINE - AUGUST 18:  A Geiger counter shows a reading of 679,000 counts per minute near a metal claw contaminated with radioactivity in the ghost town of Pripyat not far from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on August 18, 2017 in Pripyat, Ukraine. On April 26, 1986 reactor number four exploded after a safety test went wrong, spreading radiation over thousands of square kilometers in different directions. The nearby town of Pripyat, which had a population of approxiamtely 40,000 and housed the plant workers and their families, was evacuated and has been abandoned ever since. Today tourists often visit the town on specially-organized tours from Kiev.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) CHORNOBYL, UKRAINE - AUGUST 17:  The new, giant enclosure that covers devastated reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant stands at twilight on August 17, 2017 near Chornobyl, Ukraine. An estimated 900 stray dogs live in the CHORNOBYL exclusion zone, many of them likely the descendants of dogs left behind following the mass evacuation of residents in the aftermath of the 1986 nuclear disaster at CHORNOBYL. Volunteers, including veterinarians and radiation experts from around the world, are participating in an initiative called The Dogs of CHORNOBYL, launched by the non-profit Clean Futures Fund. Participants capture the dogs, study their radiation exposure, vaccinate them against parasites and diseases including rabies, tag the dogs and release them again into the exclusion zone. Some dogs are also being outfitted with special collars equipped with radiation sensors and GPS receivers in order to map radiation levels across the zone.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) PRIPYAT, UKRAINE - AUGUST 19:  In this aerial view, a ferris wheel stands in the ghost town of Pripyat not far from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on August 19, 2017 in Pripyat, Ukraine. On April 26, 1986 reactor number four exploded after a safety test went wrong, spreading radiation over thousands of square kilometers in different directions. The nearby town of Pripyat, which had a population of approxiamtely 40,000 and housed the plant workers and their families, was evacuated and has been abandoned ever since.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) PRIPYAT, UKRAINE - AUGUST 19:  In this aerial view a Soviet-era hammer and sickle stands on top of an abandoned apartment building in the ghost town of Pripyat not far from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on August 19, 2017 in Pripyat, Ukraine. On April 26, 1986 reactor number four exploded after a safety test went wrong, spreading radiation over thousands of square kilometers in different directions. The nearby town of Pripyat, which had a population of approxiamtely 40,000 and housed the plant workers and their families, was evacuated and has been abandoned ever since.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) SLAVUTYCH, UKRAINE - APRIL 26:  People commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster arrive to lay candles and flowers at a memorial to 27 men and three women who died during or in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident on April 26, 2016 in Slavutych, Ukraine. On April 26, 1986 workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant inadvertantly caused a meltdown in reactor number four, causing it to explode and send a toxic cocktail of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere in the wrold's worst civilian nuclear incident. The fallout spread in plumes across the globe, covering much of Europe and reaching as far as Japan. Today large swathes in Ukraine and Belarus remain too contaminated for human habitation and strong evidence points to ongoing adverse health impacts for people in the larger region. Slavutych is a new city built after the accident for the workers of the plant and their families and replaced the town of Pripyat, where the workers had lived previously but which was contaminated with high levels of fallout and had to be abandoned.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) KIEV, UKRAINE - APRIL 26: People attend a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident on April 26, 2016 in Kiev, Ukraine. On April 26, 1986 workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant inadvertantly caused a meltdown in reactor number four, causing it to explode and send a toxic cocktail of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere in the world's worst civilian nuclear incident. The fallout spread in plumes across the globe, covering much of Europe and reaching as far as Japan. Today large swathes in Ukraine and Belarus remain too contaminated for human habitation and strong evidence points to ongoing adverse health impacts for people in the larger region. Slavutych is a new city built after the accident for the workers of the plant and their families and replaced the town of Pripyat, where the workers had lived previously but which was contaminated with high levels of fallout and had to be abandoned. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images) PRIPYAT, UKRAINE - APRIL 09:  A children's seesaw stands among former apartment buildings on April 9, 2016 in Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat, built in the 1970s as a model Soviet city to house the workers and families of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, now stands abandoned inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a restricted zone contaminated by radiation from the 1986 meltdown of reactor number four at the nearby Chernobyl plant in the world's worst civilian nuclear accident that spewed radiaoactive fallout across the globe. Authorities evacuated approximately 43,000 people from Pripyat in the days following the disaster and the city, with its high-rise apartment buildings, hospital, shops, schools, restaurants, cultural center and sports facilities, has remained a ghost-town ever since. The world will soon commemorate the 30th anniversary of the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Today tour operators bring tourists in small groups to explore certain portions of the exclusion zone.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) CHORNOBYL, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 29: Workers sit in the control room of reactor number two inside the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant on September 29, 2015 near Chornobyl, Ukraine. The Chernobyl plant is currently undergoing a decades-long decommissioning process of reactors one, two and three, which continued operation for years following the accident at reactor four. On April 26, 1986, technicians at Chernobyl conducting a test inadvertently caused reactor number four, which contained over 200 tons of uranium, to explode, flipping the 1,200 ton lid of the reactor into the air and sending plumes of highly radioactive particles and debris into the atmosphere in a deadly cloud that reached as far as western Europe. 32 people, many of them firemen sent to extinguish the blaze, died within days of the accident, and estimates vary from 4,000 to 200,000 deaths since then that can be attributed to illnesses resulting from Chernobyl's radioactive contamination. Today large portions of the inner and outer Chernobyl Exclusion Zone that together cover 2,600 square kilometers remain contaminated. A consortium of western companies is building a movable enclosure called the New Safe Confinement that will cover the reactor remains and its fragile sarcophagus in order to prevent further contamination.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) CHORNOBYL, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 29:  A doll lies among children's beds standing in the abandoned kindergarten of Kopachi village located inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone on September 29, 2015 near Chornobyl, Ukraine. Kopachi, a village that before 1986 had a population of 1,114, lies only a few kilometers south of the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where in 1986 workers inadvertantly caused reactor number four to explode, creating the worst nuclear accident in history. Radiation fallout was so high that authorities bulldozed and buried all of Kopachi's structures except for the kindergarten. Today the Kopachi site, which lies in the inner exclusion zone around Chernobyl where hot spots of persistently high levels of radiation make the area uninhabitable for thousands of years to come, is still contaminated with plutonium, cesium-137 and strontium-90.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, said, “I can’t imagine how it would be in Russia’s interest to allow any facilities at Chernobyl to be damaged.”

In an interview, Lyman said he is most worried about spent fuel stored at the site, which has not been active since 2000. If the power to cooling pumps is disrupted or fuel-storage tanks are damaged, the results could be catastrophic, he said.

Reactor No. 4 at the power plant exploded and caught fire deep in the night on April 26, 1986, shattering the building and spewing radioactive material high into the sky.

Soviet authorities made the catastrophe even worse by failing to tell the public what had happened, angering European governments and the Soviet people. The 2 million residents of Kyiv weren’t informed despite the fallout danger, and the world learned of the disaster only after heightened radiation was detected in Sweden.

The building containing the exploded reactor was covered in 2017 by an enormous shelter aimed at containing radiation still leaking from the accident. Robots inside the shelter work to dismantle the destroyed reactor and gather up the radioactive waste.

It’s expected to take until 2064 to finish dismantling the reactors. Ukraine decided to use the deserted zone as the site for its centralized storage facility for spent fuel from the country’s other remaining nuclear power plants.

Germany’s vice chancellor and economy minister, Robert Habeck, told The Associated Press that Russia would not need to obtain nuclear material from Chernobyl if it wanted to use it for any purpose, because it has enough such material of its own.
___
Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant and Matthew Daly in Washington, James LaPorta in Boca Raton, Florida, Angela Charlton in Paris and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

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Warfare at the Chernobyl nuclear plant no-go zone, targeted as Russia invades Ukraine