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Two scenarios of possible consequences of a terrorist act at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

The head of the Main Directorate of Intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, said recently that the situation has never been as serious as it is now ay the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyi warns again that the Zaporizhzhia NPP is mined during his meeting with the Italian media this morning. He says that IAEA confirms that it is mined. Ukraine has clear confirmation that there are up to 500 russian fighters with weapons of different levels. Zelenskyi believes when there are mines, when there are weapons, there is definitely danger.

So what should we mere mortals prepare for when we hear such warnings from our intelligence officers and our President? We have asked professionals. Here below their answers.

Mark Zhelezniak, professor at the Institute of Environmental Radioactivity at Fukushima University, who participated in the liquidation of the Chornobyl disaster:

– First of all, we must think about what will happen if there’s an accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. When we see those pictures published now with radiation clouds flying over Ukraine, what does this mean? The majority of the population believes that any dose of radiation is fatal. But this is not so.

It has been proven by Fukushima and Chornobyl. Radioactivity is like any other pollutant. In small doses, it does not significantly affect people’s health.

We have 2 scenarios of possible consequences of an accident at the plant.

“Chornobyl” scenario

Now the situation has changed compared to last summer because a year ago two nuclear units were running at the occupied station and provided energy to the energy system of Ukraine.

Last September, they were shut down. So now the plant is in a safer state: 5 units are in cold shutdown mode and one in hot.

Most importantly, there’s no chain reaction in any of them now. In 5 reactors, the fuel is cooling and in the hot one there is a constant temperature of about 250 degrees to produce steam for heating Enerhodar and for other household needs.

Therefore, the situation in the non-operating reactor is safer than in the operating one.

Why? When the reactors are operating, there is a chain reaction during which byproducts are produced. These are very dangerous products – bilinium and radioactive iodine 131. But iodine is very short-lived. The reactors are not running so there is no iodine in any of them now, because what was produced when reactors operated have already disintegrated. 

Half-lives of different iodines range from a few hours to a few days. It’s been a long time since the shutdown so there’s no more iodine.

After the Chornobyl accident, after the Fukushima accident, iodine was the most dangerous factor.

There was already official information from the government agency, the Operational Safety Center, that no accident scenario, with the reactors shut down, will lead to the release of radioactive iodine and this means that the impact will be much smaller.

“Fukusima” scenario

There are five reactors in cold shutdown – what does this mean?

It means that the fuel there is hot and has to be cooled. If all the reactors lose cooling, the temperature will gradually rise. And this is already the Fukushima scenario, which led to a loss of power, reactors and a few days later there were explosions.

But then reactors were running.

Why am I saying all this?

The most likely scenario is that even if this happens, the greatest risk is in the 10-15 km area around it.

These are Enerhodar, Nikopol and large villages around them.

Yet, explosions or leaks at nuclear power plants are not explosions of nuclear weapons.

Few people know about it, but no one died in Fukushima.

Olena Parenyuk – radiobiologist, researcher at the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants, the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine:

-All 6 reactors at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant are much safer than the Fukushima reactors because they were built in the 1960s. Plus, the safety of Zaporizhzhia NPP reactors, after all the accidents that occurred at other plants, was increased, therefore the containment (improved reinforced concrete frame – the sarcophagus around the reactor) is sure to keep radioactivity from leaking out, even if there’s no cooling at the reactors in a cold state.

It’s a very probabilistic issue and we do not want to argue with our intelligence, because if the intelligence says that the containment can be damaged, it means that it can be damaged.

Nevertheless, it takes a lot of explosives to damage the containment because it is from one to two meters of reinforced concrete.

It’s hard to damage because it can withstand pressure up to 5 atmospheres.

It can withstand the fall of a small plane.

Nevertheless, the russians have explosives, and they can use them.

Besides, there may be a leak of radioactivity. It won’t be an explosion, like in the computer game Fallout – radioactive fallout throughout the territory of Ukraine – No.

Most likely, the water in the Dnipro will be contaminated. It may also happen that the leak will not leave the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

It doesn’t depend on the plant’s characteristics; it depends solely on the russians, where they will place explosives, how much and what kind. 

If there’s a leak, the most vulnerable will be the territories and settlements downstream of the Dnipro, the Kherson region, the south of the Zaporizhzhia region. People who live there should stock up on drinking water and not consume water from the Dnipro.

It is worth stocking up on drinking and technical water.

It is worth having a supply of gloves and respirators. As for respirators, vacuum gauze bandages are usually recommended but you can take a mask that we used during Covid, put on 2-3 masks and that will be enough.

Of course, if there are respirators with a higher level of protection, you can use them because one respirator is more convenient than three masks. The main thing is to protect the respiratory tract from rising dust. If there’s no respirator at hand, you can use even chiffon. The main thing is not to inhale dust, that is, not to eat, drink or inhale.

As soon as there is an alarm signal, turn on the radio or TV, watch messages from the authorities, put on respirators and gloves. If you are at home, close the entire room completely so that air does not enter from the outside, that is, seal the room. If you are outside, go home, undress, wash yourself with the technical water from closed containers, and put clothes in a plastic bag. Then turn on the radio and wait for what the authorities will say.

Ukraine Front Lines