The most immediate nuclear danger in Ukraine isn’t Chernobyl

By | February 25, 2022

James M Acton writes:

There is a disquieting nuclear dimension to the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. This brutal assault violates the security guarantees that Moscow provided in 1994, when Kyiv allowed it to remove nuclear weapons left in Ukrainian territory after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent days, trying to justify his aggression, Russian President Vladimir Putin has invoked the specter of a nonexistent Ukrainian nuclear weapons program—a cynical ploy to justify regime change and perhaps a pretext for trashing those earlier security guarantees.

Even more menacingly, Putin stated that Russia “is today one of the most powerful nuclear powers in the world.” He added that “no one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to defeat and dire consequences for any potential aggressor.” U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision not to intervene directly reduces the danger of deliberate nuclear escalation significantly. Yet there is a small but real risk of inadvertent escalation, which could be sparked, for example, by an engagement between NATO and Russian aircraft on the border between Poland and Ukraine.

The most immediate nuclear danger, however, comes from Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has already stated that “Russian occupation forces are trying to seize” the Chernobyl nuclear plant, site of the infamous 1986 accident, and footage purportedly shows Russian forces there. However, the bigger risk comes from the potential for fighting around Ukraine’s four active nuclear power plants, which contain fifteen separate reactors and generated over half of the country’s electricity in 2020. [Continue reading…]

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