Defined by the Kremlin as a major objective from the earliestinvasion of Ukrainethe Zaporijjia power plant passed into Russian hands on March 4after heavy shelling.
Since that date, no one knows what is happening on the nuclear site and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is worried. Daily reports on the fighting in the region raise fears of a firing error by the belligerents.
Should we fear a ” disaster “in the words of President Zelensky?
Here are five questions to better understand the situation and the issues.
1. What is the importance of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant?
Inaugurated during the last fires of the Soviet era, in 1985 (i.e. one year before the Chernobyl disaster), the plant located near the town of Enerhodar (55,000 inhabitants), on the left bank of the Dnieper, has become ten years later the most powerful in Europe, after the commissioning of its sixth reactor.
With a total capacity of 6,000 megawatts, it is able to produce up to 38 billion kWh (kilowatt hours) per year and thus provide enough electricity to power four million homes.
2. Why did Russia want to seize it quickly?
Built by the USSR on territory that was then its own, the nuclear power plant changed hands when Ukraine gained independence in 1991, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But according to Vladimir Poutine, the site of Zaporijjia returns by right to Russia and should feed the Russian population.
In 2014, during the Donbass war between kyiv forces and pro-Russian separatists, the latter sent a platoon to seize the plant. This attempt was quickly thwarted.
Postponed. On February 24, as soon as the invasion of Ukraine began, the Russian army advanced towards the plant and carried out heavy shelling around the site.
Eight days later, the Zaporizhia nuclear power station was taken.
3. What is Moscow’s objective?
Since the 2014 conflicts in the Donbass and Crimea, the Kremlin has wanted to connect the two territories and thus surround Ukraine, while depriving it of its access to the Sea of Azov.
Located between these two pro-Russian areas, the nuclear power plant could therefore supply their populations with electricity, but also further weaken the Ukrainian population.
In recent days, several American media have also claimed that the Russian attacks against Zaporijjia are intended to divert the electricity produced by the plant to Russia.
“It would be the biggest electricity robbery in history” says Thomas Popik, of the NGO “Foundation for Resilience of Societies”, “the equivalent of an annexation” adds Suriya Jayanti, former head of energy at the US Embassy in Ukraine.
4. Why is the situation dangerous?
48 hours before the takeover by men of Vladimir Putin, Russian bombing caused a major fire at the nuclear site. Due to the violence of the fighting, the firefighters were unable to intervene. It was therefore only on March 4, with the arrival of Russian troops, that the disaster was brought under control.
The nature of the damage is rather vague and the Kremlin’s communications on this subject are most laconic. International experts believe, however, that the plant is “weakened” and potentially dangerous.
The situation is all the more tense as strikes once again landed near a radioactive storage building and caused the automatic shutdown of a reactor.
Besides the strikes, the Ukrainian public operator Energoatom denounced a Russian cyberattack ” unprecedented “ against its site on Tuesday August 16, specifying however that its operation had not been disturbed.
According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the plant acts as a ” time bomb ” and an ” disaster “ threatens the whole of Europe.
“Any radioactive incident at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant can strike a blow to European Union countries, Turkey, Georgia, and countries in more distant regions. It all depends on the direction and strength of the wind.specified the Ukrainian president.
Clearly more powerful than Chernobyl, Zaporijjia could cause terrible damage to populations and the environment for several decades. The Ukrainian government is preparing for all eventualities and even conducted in the city neighboring the plant, this Wednesday, August 17, 2022, a simulation exercise in the event of a nuclear accident.
“ Nobody could foresee that Russian troops were going to shoot at nuclear reactors with the help of tanks. It was unheard of”accused Denys Monastyrsky, Ukrainian Interior Minister, during a visit on Wednesday August 17.
“We have to prepare for all possible scenarios”he warned, accusing Russia of being a “terrorist state […] As long as Russia controls the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, there are big risks”.
Despite this threat, fighting continues around the site and the Ukrainians are trying to regain possession of the plant.
Moscow and kyiv accuse each other of taking the risk of triggering a nuclear incident.
5. Can an agreement be reached to secure the plant?
Since the end of July, several Zaporijjia strikes, raising fears of a nuclear disaster.
Last week a meeting of the UN Security Council was held urgently to try to find a viable solution and encourage the belligerents to move away from the site.
The United Nations said it could prepare a mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the nuclear complex, if Moscow and kyiv give their agreement.
The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has also called for an immediate halt to military activities near the plant. The two countries said they would like an IAEA mission to go there.
Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for Guterres, explained that the UN secretariat believes it has the capacity, in terms of logistics and security, to allow an IAEA mission to go to the plant as soon as possible. time limit.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said he was ready to send a mission to Zaporizhia and called on Moscow and kyiv to cooperate. “The situation at the nuclear power plant is alarming”he said on Twitter. “Military actions jeopardize nuclear safety and security. They must stop immediately. A mission of the AEIA would allow us to carry out the necessary technical activities and exert a stabilizing influence”.
But since these declarations of intent, no mission has been set up and NATO is growing impatient.
On Wednesday August 17, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg judged ” urgent ” only one “inspection” of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) takes place at the plant.
Occupation of the site by Russian soldiers “constitutes a serious threat to its security and increases the risk of a nuclear accident or incident […] It is urgent to authorize an inspection by the IAEA and obtain the withdrawal of all Russian forces”he said at a press conference in Belgium.