Photo of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant (Shutterstock)
By Paul Mitsopoulos
What are nuclear power plants?
About 10% of the world’s energy is generated by nuclear power from 440 reactors. The U.S. is the leading producer of nuclear energy today.
Nuclear power plants have been widely regarded to be a much cleaner source of energy, producing much lower carbon emissions than fossil fuel plants. They reduce the dependence on oil to produce electrical energy.
This process is done through nuclear fission, specifically nuclear reaction, which splits atoms, releasing heat and radiation necessary to produce energy. This process is zero emission and carries a smaller land footprint, meaning that it takes up less space to create similar energy to other low/no emission methods.
However, this type of energy production does not come without its cons.
Nuclear fuels, specifically uranium, are non-renewable. They are a finite material that must be mined. In addition, these facilities are expensive to maintain and require a lot of responsibility.
Nuclear power plants create radioactive waste that must be disposed of properly. And, of course, the elephant in the room: they are not called “nuclear” for no reason. Nuclear power plants have the capability of becoming weaponized.
They have headlined articles and have become infamous for the destruction caused by nuclear meltdowns. Some of the most recent events may sound familiar: Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011). Now there is a new powerplant making the headlines; Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine.
So, it begs the question, does humanity have the maturity to utilize this powerful technology?
Ukraine ranks seventh in countries generating nuclear power. Zaporizhzhia is Europe’s largest nuclear facility and the largest of Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants that provide the country with half of its electricity.
Ukraine’s plants are all operated by a state company called Energoatom, and there are a total of 12 reactors, with six of them in Zaporizhzhia. These plants have been heavily reinforced in concrete containment buildings, heavy protection measures meant to reduce any chances of nuclear tragedies.
Nuclear safety has been a strong emphasis for most countries in the world since the cold war. Although now, Russia’s invasion has made this increasingly more difficult.
Putin, who has openly made nuclear threats in his speeches, has brought instability and risk to Zaporizhzhia since the Russian forces captured it. Missile impacts and attacks launched near the nuclear plant have made operations extremely difficult.
An understaffed and weary Ukrainian team has been struggling. Being responsible for preventing a nuclear meltdown and knowing their lives could be at risk at any second is emotionally tolling for these individuals.
The facility, which is near the front lines of battle, is constantly at risk, with both sides trading the blame with each other. The plant has recently lost power for the sixth time after a Russian missile attack on critical infrastructure. The plant has been forced to run on emergency power generators multiple times to maintain the plant’s safety and cooling systems that are integral in preventing a nuclear meltdown.
Even more alarming is that the Russian troops have been draining the plants’ water source that is needed to maintain safe temperatures.
Russian and Ukrainian authorities have been at a standstill with neither side able to negotiate a way to properly deescalate this dire situation. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director, Rafael Grossi, has stated his disbelief in the complacency toward resolving this matter.
It is alarming to think of the disaster that Zaporizhzhia could have on the environment. The war that Russia has created poses a looming threat to not only the national identity of Ukrainians but possibly their homes for years to come.
With all the good that nuclear facilities can produce, it is evident that it has been tainted by all the disregard for life that war can bring. If we are to expect to find a way to create a that is sustainable environment, humanity must collectively come together to prevent potential tragedies like Zaporzhzhia.
It is easy to forget about the devastation caused by war on the environment and the threats that it poses in its entirety. If we are to expect to find a way to create an environment that is sustainable, humanity must collectively come together to prevent potential tragedies like Zaporzhzhia.