Last month, the collapse of the Ukrainian Kakhovka hydroelectric dam has caused residents near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to fear a potential nuclear meltdown. The dam’s collapse threatens the water supply needed to cool the plant’s nuclear reactors. In response, residents in the area have taken precautions to protect themselves and their families.
Nadiya Hez, a nurse living close to the plant, now keeps iodine tablets on hand and has made an old root cellar available as a hiding place for her and her family in case of a catastrophe. Olena Pareniuk, a Ukrainian bio-radiologist in Kyiv, expressed her fear and anxiety, stating, “I’m terrified.”
There is reason to believe that Russian forces may be responsible for this attack. In October, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russian forces, who had captured the dam, had rigged it to explode. An international investigative group has said that it is “highly likely” that Russian forces were behind the attack.
The loss of the dam not only resulted in the loss of at least 52 lives but also poses a threat to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The plant relies on the reservoir at Kakhovka for cooling. The plant’s reactors currently have several months’ worth of water from an existing cooling pond, according to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, it is crucial to find a new water source to cool the reactors for long-term safety.
The IAEA has stated that only one out of the six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia plant is currently active, while the rest are in a state of cold shutdown. This lowers the risk of a meltdown due to the loss of cooling. However, the height of the cooling pond is declining at a rate of up to 1 centimeter per day due to site usage and evaporation. While a drainage system is replenishing the water, the reduction rate remains a concern. The IAEA is urgently seeking solutions to ensure a new water source for cooling the plant.
The security of the Zaporizhzhia plant has been a major concern since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has targeted the plant early on. In response, the IAEA has established five principles for the protection of the plant, including no attack from or against the plant and no use of the plant as storage or a base for heavy weapons. However, the agency has recently received reports of mines placed around the plant, violating these principles and posing a significant risk to the security of the nuclear reactors.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has emphasized the need for full access to confirm that the principles have not been violated. Despite the agency’s monitoring and investigative team reporting no shelling or explosions at the plant, the presence of Russian military forces remains unchanged. The IAEA is reinforcing its own presence at the plant to ensure compliance with the principles and prevent a major nuclear accident during the war.
In conclusion, the collapse of the Kakhovka dam has put the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant at risk. The threat of a potential nuclear meltdown has prompted residents to take precautions. The involvement of Russian forces in the dam’s collapse adds to the urgency of finding a new water source for cooling the plant’s reactors. The IAEA is working to ensure the plant’s security and prevent a major nuclear accident during the ongoing conflict.