Trying to Keep History from Repeating Itself

Former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officer Rebekah Koffler, in an interview with Fox News, said, “the threat of a Chernobyl type catastrophic event as a result of the [Zaporizhzhia] plant’s structural damage is serious, but efforts are underway to mitigate it.” 

The ghostly remains of a nuclear disaster. This was taken in Pripyat city, Ukraine, part of Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone, in October of 2019. Image Credit: Viktor Hesse via Unsplash

Let’s not forget that Chernobyl is located in Ukraine. It’s only 90 kilometers north of the capital city of Kyiv. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 150,000 square kilometers of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were contaminated with radioactive materials after the accident. The contamination zone stretched to the north of the plant for almost 500 km. With the 1986 explosion of Chernobyl’s fourth reactor, more than 100 radioactive elements were released into the atmosphere. The most dangerous of these were iodine, strontium, and cesium, whose respective half-lives are eight days, 29 years, and 30 years.

Radioactive iodine can cause thyroid cancer, especially in children. Strontium exposure can precipitate leukemia, and cesium can wreak havoc on the entire body, especially the liver and spleen. IAEA reports more than 1800 cases of thyroid cancer in kids from birth to age 14 at the time of the accident. Fortunately, no studies have proven a direct link showing the negative health effects of the increased radiation levels outside Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus.

Suffice it to say, the last thing the Ukrainians want today is another nuclear power plant disaster. And, if you recall, the plant at Zaporizhzhia is the largest of its kind in Europe.

Taking it Offline

According to The New York Times, Ukraine began powering down the final reactor at the Zaporizhzhia facility last Sunday. Their reason for doing this? Well, they concluded that if they kept it running, it could lead to a meltdown. I don’t know a thing about nuclear energy, but it sounds like a damn good call on my part.

But wait, you ask, “Didn’t the Russians capture the plant and take it over?”. Good point. Yes, they did, but to their credit, they were smart enough to let the Ukrainian nuclear engineers running the place keep running it. Or maybe they forced them to work. I really don’t know. What I do know is that only within the past week or so did the Russians allow inspectors from the IAEA to investigate the condition of the plant. Being a cynical guy, I’m thinking they had to be pretty scared of something to let them do that.

Reinforcing my belief is what, according to Fox News, the chief of the IAEA said following their inspection. He noted, “We are playing with fire, having conducted the inspection of the plant by the nuclear security team.” Fire and nuclear power plants don’t go together or shouldn’t, so they gave the order to “shut ‘er down.” They literally don’t go well together; it was a fire that knocked out external power to reactor six, the last in operation.

Inspecting the plant
The international inspection team members make their rounds as an armed Russian soldier stands by. Screenshot from YouTube courtesy of PBS News Hour

In a surprising irony, it turns out that nuclear power plants require a good deal of external energy to keep their reactors from overheating and melting down. Unfortunately, continued shelling during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war caused the fire that has rendered those necessary external power sources unreliable, forcing what is known as a “cold shutdown” as an emergency measure.