June 30, 2023

What would happen if Russia tried to sabotage the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant?

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Chornobyl power plant, taken 25 January, 2016

Picture by: Stefan Wisselink | Flickr

On June 22, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a statement on Telegram in which he said that ‘undercover intelligence sources’ revealed to Ukraine that the Russian forces are considering a ‘terrorist attack’ on the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.

The plant, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, has been under Russian control since last year. According to Zelenskiy, Russian sabotage would result in a massive leakage of radioactive material that could reach neighbouring European countries.

The following day Kyrylo Budanov, the chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence in the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, gave an interview with the British weekly New Statesman in which he stated that the cooling pond of the plant has been ‘mined’ by the Russian troops and without cooling, the plant’s nuclear reactors can melt.

It is presumed that the Russian forces plan to sabotage the power plant to prevent the Ukrainian counteroffensive from breaking the land bridge connecting occupied territories in the east of Ukraine with the Crimean peninsula, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

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A lot of Ukrainians have raised questions regarding the possible scale of a Russian-induced disaster. What makes the question even more pressing is that the memories of the Chornobyl catastrophe are still relatively fresh in Ukraine. However it is not possible to assess what Russia is capable of doing, it is possible to compare security measures in Zaporizhzhya to those in Chornobyl and Fukushima.

After the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Japan, which was caused by an earthquake and a tsunami wave, all European countries performed ‘stress tests’ of their nuclear power plants as part of a joint review of nuclear security.

Ukraine joined this process and in December of 2011 the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine released the results of these tests. It was assessed that the changes introduced in Ukraine’s nuclear power plants exclude the possibility of a disaster such as the one that happened in Japan.

In particular, hydrogen conversion systems have been designed to prevent the reactor from exploding even in the face of the loss of power, loss of coolant fluid, and earthquakes and other adverse circumstances.

Apart from that it is important to analyse the differences between the reactors in Chornobyl and Zaporizhzhya. Unlike Chernobyl, Zaporizhzhya features pressurised (VVER) water reactors with containment structures to prevent radiation leaks.

According to a Bloomberg report, emergency core cooling systems are in place alongside several injection systems to prevent a core meltdown. The reactors are also protected by thick metal and cement shells that are built to withstand an aircraft crash or an air bomb attack. Even if there was a meltdown, security measures would likely keep the effects of the fallout within the facility.

According to journalist Chris Young, it is unlikely that we would see a scenario similar to Chornobyl, where 350,000 people had to be evacuated.

From a technological standpoint, while the risk of accidents in Zaporizhzhya is considerably lower than in the case of Chornobyl or Fukushima it is important to underline that a working nuclear plant has never in history been a target for a deliberate military strike.

For example, were Russian soldiers to destroy or switch off the backup diesel generators, the consequences will likely be much more severe than in the case of the Fukushima disaster.

Written by:


Sofiya Tkachenko

former Editor-in-chief

Kyiv, Ukraine | Vienna, Austria

Born in 2006, Sofiya is originally from Kyiv, Ukraine, but now, because of the war, she has relocated to Vienna, Austria. She is interested in writing about culture and politics, especially the current situation in Ukraine and the world as a whole, but is planning on studying Biology in Vienna next year. 

Sofiya joined Harbingers’ Magazine as a contributor in the spring of 2022. A few months later, she took on the role of the social media and the Harbingers’ Weekly Brief newsletter editor. After half a year, her devotion and hard work promoted her to the position of editor-in-chief of the magazine – in September 2023, she took the helm from Sofia Radysh, who stepped down having completed her one-year term.

In her spare time, Sofiya organises charity poetry events and is working on multiple projects regarding the promotion of Ukrainian culture in Europe.

She speaks Ukrainian, English, Russian, and a bit of German.


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