As Russia has launched a full scale attack on Ukraine a grim warning has been given that if a Russian missile accidentally hits one of 15 nuclear reactors there is a real risk of radioactive pollution in Europe.
A Kyiv safety expert told the i newspaper whilst the chance is unlikely if the Russian backed separatists use their lack of high precise weapons there could be a chance of the nuclear facilities accidentally being struck.
Dmytro Gumenyuk, head of safety analysis at the State Scientific and Technical Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Safety warned that should this happen the radiation would contaminate waterways, soil and air not only in Ukraine but also Russia and Europe.
Ukraine holds nuclear waste facilities at the exclusion zone in Chernobyl which was the worst nuclear disaster in history where in 1986 there was a catastrophic failure at the power plant.
There are 15 nuclear reactors in four power plants Khelnitsky, Rivne in the northwest, Zaporizhzhia, the South Ukrainian plants in the west and south of Ukraine.
Zaporizhzhia reactor is about 150 miles from the front line in Donetsk region and in the South there is another nuclear power plant some 160 miles west.
On Tuesday the thermal power station at Shchastya, near the conflict line in the Luhansk region, caught fire after artillery shelling which caused a blackout for 40,000 residents without electricity.
Gumenyuk gave a grim warning, “Our NPP [nuclear power plant] wasn’t designed for military protection. Of course it wasn’t designed against tanks, bombs, missiles and so on.
“In case of a military attack it is not a long time for getting from Dontesk to Zaporizhzhia NPP, and of course taking into account the small distances from the Russian Federation, we could suppose that our power plants are not fully protected from military attack from our neighbour.”
Lada Roslycky, founder of the Ukraine-based Black Trident defence and security group, said, “From a military perspective and a defence perspective it would be an idiotic action,” and she does not believe this will happen.
But she added that the Russian backed rebels in Donbas do not have high precision weapons so this raises the chances of an accident happening.
“I really don’t think they would do it [attack nuclear facilities] but it’s possible … it’s such a wonderful, brilliant instrument,” to apply fear through psychological warfare, to threaten attacking such facilities Roslycky said.
The Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) said they are “right to be concerned about Ukraine’s 15 ageing Soviet-design nuclear reactors.”
The observatory added, “The three reactors at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant and the six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant are the two sites most likely to be affected by a Russian invasion.”
Gumenyuk warned that should Russian forces attack the plant, the worst-case scenario and consequences would be devastating for Europe.
Gumenyuk warned, “In case of the total destruction of the power plant, I think the consequences would be so much worse than at Fukushima and Chernobyl together.
Gumenyuk added, “If speaking about consequences of this war situation, Europe will be totally contaminated.
“But this is if all the units are totally destroyed.
“We do our best to prevent this situation.
“I hope in most cases our power units would survive even in single hits. Our nuclear reactors have containment to protect against the different impacts, including an air crash for example.”