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Ukraine: what happened and the current status of its nuclear power

The 6 VVERs at Zaporizhia nuclear power plant make it Europe's biggest, and the 5th largest in the world.In a guest post at the NIRS GreenWorld blog, Andriy Martynyuk, chair of the board of Ecoclub in Rivne, Ukraine, a part of the international NIRS/WISE network, has written an update about the status of nuclear power plants in Ukraine. He mentions: "All the nuclear power plants are under heavy [Ukrainian] military guard. However, Ukraine will be powerless if the Russian troops want to attack these facilities."

In addition to the four RBMK reactors permanently shutdown at Chernobyl, Ukraine also hosts 15 additional operable atomic reactors at four more nuclear power plants across the country. Nuclear power provides nearly half of Ukraine's electricity.

Of course, military attacks on atomic reactors, and the high-level radioactive wastes stored there, would not only harm the host country, but also countries downwind and downstream.

Despite this, the specter of military attack on nuclear power plants has long been warned about. Bennett Ramburg's 1980 book (published by D.C. Heath and Co.), Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy: An Unrecognized Military Peril (re-published in 1984 by University of California Press), stands as a classic.

Ramburg spoke alongside colleagues from Nuclear Control Institute and Committee to Bridge the Gap during a National Press Club briefing in September 2001, just days after the 9/11 terror attacks, warning about the risks to U.S. atomic reators. It was later documented in the 9/11 Commission Report that the attackers had originally planned to hijack 10 planes, and crash 2 into nuclear facilities. Indian Point near New York City was being eyed by lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, but he did not get the green light from his Al Qaeda superiors. Before his capture and detainment at Guantanamo, Cuba, 9/11 "mastermind" Khalid Sheik Mohammad told a reporter that the reason Al Qaeda did not attack nuclear plants in 2001 was it "did not want things to get out of hand," but that such attacks had not been ruled out in the future.

Dr. Ed Lyman at Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published a study in 2004, Chernobyl on the Hudson? The Health and Economic Impacts of a Terrorist Attack at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. Lyman concluded that as many as 44,000 near-term deaths from acute radiation syndrome, or as many as 518,000 long-term deaths from cancer from persons living within 50 miles of IP could result. He also calculated that $1.1 to 2.1 trillion in property damages could result, and millions of people would have to be relocated on a long-term basis.

Also in 2004, Rory Kennedy made a film entitled Indian Point: Imaging the Unimaginable, about the risks of a terrorist attack. It featured interviews with such Indian Point-shutdown champions as her brother, Robert Kennedy, Jr., leader of Hudson Riverkeeper; David Lochbaum from UCS; and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA, now a U.S. Senator).

As was pointed out in the film Into Eternity, the Earth's surface, beset with not only natural disasters and climate chaos, but also wars and terrorist attacks, is a bad place for ultra-hazardous high-level radioactive waste to be located. The same can be said for Ukraine's atomic reactors, given the current high social and political tension, and even military occupation by Russia of a section of the country in Crimea.