May 30, 2023

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IAEA detects natural radioactivity in Chernobyl on the anniversary of the disaster

IAEA detects natural radioactivity in Chernobyl on the anniversary of the disaster

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An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Rafael Mariano Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said regulators had found “abnormal” levels of radioactivity during a visit to the Chernobyl nuclear plant site. They are found at “normal” levels. This article has been corrected.

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, visited Chernobyl nuclear site Tuesday, the 36th anniversary of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters, even as Russian missiles hovered low over Ukraine’s largest nuclear complex hours earlier.

Grossi said that the levels of radioactivity in the Chernobyl area were “normal,” but that the Russian military occupation of Chernobyl in the early weeks of the war was nothing out of the ordinary. “I don’t know if we were very close to a catastrophe, but the situation was completely abnormal and very dangerous,” he said.

In a sign that these nuclear dangers persist, two low-flying missiles that came from the Black Sea flew over the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power complex early Tuesday morning before landing in the town of Zaporizhia, according to Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom. operating company. Zaporizhzhia ranks as the largest of the four nuclear power plants in Ukraine.

He said this is the third time that missiles have been launched near nuclear power reactors in the past 10 days. Previous missiles likely came from Belarus.

“This is forbidden by international and Ukrainian law,” Kotin said. “There is a no-fly zone over nuclear power plant sites.”

“They are trying to stoke our resolve with nuclear threats that we should stare at rather than dive into,” said Henry Sokolsky, executive director of the Center for Non-Proliferation Policy Education who served as the Pentagon’s deputy for nonproliferation policy under President George HW Bush.

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Kate Brown, a professor of science, technology and society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that containment buildings at nuclear plants have not been stress tested for heavy artillery, “certainly not for the bombs deployed by the Russians.” She said spent fuel that had accumulated over decades was still more vulnerable.

“Nuclear regulators around the world, starting with the International Atomic Energy Agency, have not planned something as human and banal as conventional war,” she said.

What is at stake in Chernobyl

The 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl sent huge plumes of radioactive material across much of Europe. The last of the four units there closed in 2000 and are now monitored so that spent fuel remains stable. The unit where the breakdown occurred is now in a state-of-the-art housing.

Much of the area around the 1986 disaster was contaminated – it is now a “exclusion zone” where the number of residents and visitors is severely restricted. However, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces have built trenches and occupied some of the most contaminated areas, including the area known as the Red Forest, where radioactivity in 1986 discolored trees there.

After asking the site workers to Working there for weeks Without coming home, Russian troops Withdrew from the area about a month ago.

As Ukrainians gathered to commemorate the accident, the current crisis has shaped the bleak ritual. Kotin said he met in a park in Kyiv with 100 to 200 people who were in Chernobyl at the time of the crash. “People who were young are now very old and have a lot of diseases,” he said.

He added that despite this, they wanted to confront the Russian forces over the consequences of their actions.

Some Ukrainians, such as the country’s Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, Ruslan Strelets, differentiate between what caused the melting of Chernobyl nearly four decades ago and the dangers that arose during Moscow’s occupation of the exclusion zone this year.

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In 1986, he said, it was the “human factor” and error that triggered the disaster. It was “exclusively the Russian worker,” Strelets said two months ago.

“The Russian factor was not understanding dangerous things and dealing with them in a barbaric way,” he added.

Grossi, for his part, was hoping for the anniversary even when he announced that his agency would bring in new radiation-monitoring equipment linked to its Vienna headquarters.

Grossi said on Twitter, calling Chernobyl power plant employees “heroes… for their resilience and courage” during these very difficult times.

Now that the Russians have left, stories about their time at Chernobyl are emerging.

Lyudmila Kozak, an engineer whose job was to monitor closed circuit television broadcasts for safety risks, was among the first to witness Russian forces entering the Chernobyl facilities on February 24.

“Suddenly, they were all over the place,” Cusack said.

As soon as they took power, said Kozak, the Russians quickly realized that “someone needs to work there.” The staff has been kept. Cusack said she worked for 25 straight days, 600 hours, before leaving for another group of Chernobyl workers.

The most terrifying moment came at the beginning of March, when the site’s main power line was damaged and the station plunged into darkness, Cusack said. The workers persuaded Russian forces to bring in the fuel needed to run emergency diesel generators.

“It was just fear and terror, that’s it. There’s no other way to explain it,” Cusack said. “You just sit in the dark, and you’re just waiting for your death, when it all explodes.”

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Many nuclear experts worry that many Western companies and countries have been promoting nuclear power despite political and military uncertainties such as those in Ukraine.

“The Russian noise in Zaporizhia indicates that we need to rethink building more radioactive targets in Central Europe,” Sokolsky said.

“In my view, the nuclear industry is deliberately ignoring the key lessons of the accident, which resulted from a toxic combination of design flaws and operator errors,” said Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear energy safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

After the accident, Lyman said, “Western nuclear advocates were quick to point the finger at flaws in Chernobyl’s design.” But today he said, “By showing levels of arrogance and tunnel vision not unlike the Soviet authorities of the time, the nuclear industry and [Energy Department] It is moving forward with plans to deploy faulty reactor designs with fewer protection layers than current generation pressurized water reactors.”

“War and nuclear power are not a good combination,” said Allison MacFarlane, who chaired the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission under President Barack Obama and now directs the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs. “Reactors are not designed to be war-proof.”

Strelets said the most important steps to ensure nuclear security in Ukraine would be if the West were to establish a no-fly zone to prevent Russian planes and missiles from entering Ukrainian airspace.

“As long as the Ukrainian skies are not closed and missiles are flying towards us, we cannot categorically talk about the nuclear safety of Europe and the whole world,” Strelets said.

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