Russia’s seizure of a Ukrainian nuclear power plant has raised concerns about a lack of access to radiation data and the possibility of a nuclear disaster, atomic specialists said, though they emphasised that no immediate radiological hazards appeared.
Russian forces stormed the Zaporizhzhia factory, Europe’s largest, in the early hours of Friday (March 4), setting fire to an adjacent five-story training building, Ukrainian police claimed.
Russia has blamed the plant incident on Ukrainian saboteurs.
In a tweet, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that Ukrainian authorities had told the agency that the incident at the plant had not impacted “critical” equipment.
Park Jong-woon, a professor at Dongguk University’s energy and electric engineering department, said the plant’s seizure did not represent an immediate radioactive threat, but Russia may restrict public access to radiation data to cause uncertainty.
“They may make people worry, frighten them out, and create dread,” said Park, who worked for state-owned power companies between 1996 and 2009, assisting in the construction of nuclear reactors.
The fire at the Zaporizhzhia site was extinguished, but it generated “a very genuine concern” about the potential for tragedy, according to Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C.
“For example, the possibility of a widespread fire, which appears unlikely, may cripple the plant’s electrical systems and lead to a disaster similar to Fukushima if cooling is not restored in time,” he warned.
Experts highlighted concerns about access to real-time data, which is required to assess the radiation situation on the ground.
According to Lyman, the official website for radiation readings at the Zaporizhzhia facility was not readily accessible as of Friday afternoon.
Monitoring radiation levels at Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster and now a defunct power plant, has become more difficult since last week’s takeover by Russian forces, according to Kenji Nanba, director of Fukushima University’s Institute of Environmental Radioactivity and collaborator on a joint research project with Ukrainian scientists.
He said that an official Ukrainian website containing hourly radiation data from Chernobyl’s exclusion zone had been unavailable for several days and that another site had gradually lost most of its real-time readings.
Although the damaged Chernobyl reactor is stable and protected by a vast new containment building, Nanba said it was still critical for researchers like his to monitor radiation readings at the site to ensure there were no unexpected changes.
After Russian soldiers took over Chernobyl last week, elevated radiation readings were recorded nearby, but experts say those were most likely caused by military activities that kicked up contaminated mud and earth into the air.
During a bungled safety test in April 1986, the fourth reactor at Chernobyl exploded, sending clouds of radiation pouring across much of Europe. Estimates for the number of direct and indirect deaths caused by the accident range from the thousands to up to 93,000 more cancer deaths globally.