The Nuclear Threat Initiative is deeply concerned about the deteriorating nuclear safety and security situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Recent news that the facility was disconnected from the electrical grid represents one of the most dangerous moments at the facility since the war began. Sufficient cooling for the nuclear reactors and for irradiated fuel must be maintained at all times, and Russia, which is currently primarily in control of the plant and the surrounding area, should make clear to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) what operational plans are in place to guarantee this.
Russia, in coordination with Ukraine, should provide the Zaporizhzhia plant with the supplies needed to maintain reactor and irradiated fuel cooling. This includes providing access and support to maintain offsite power to the facility and supplying enough fuel for the backup diesel generators to operate for an extended period of time. Additionally, both Ukraine and Russia should provide access to IAEA experts who can assess what safety and security issues need to be addressed at the site.
All involved, but especially Russia, should establish a cease-fire around the plant to prevent further damage to the physical integrity of the facilities and should include steps to address safety concerns at the site, in keeping with guidance from the IAEA. This would clearly be a critical step to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.
At the same time, Russia, as well as other nearby governments, should prepare communities for the possibility of a radiological release. In particular, evacuation plans appropriate to the unprecedented conditions of a nuclear power plant in a war zone should be prepared and communicated. Such plans may need considerable geographical reach. Further, those near the plant should have access to potassium iodide. In the event of a nuclear catastrophe, countries with available resources should be ready to provide assistance to all those who need it, while the militarily engaged parties facilitate such assistance.
The IAEA, Russia, Ukraine, and all countries with relevant capabilities must do everything they can to prevent a nuclear catastrophe at Zaporizhzhia and to prepare to respond in the event of a disaster. In the event of a nuclear disaster at Zaporizhzhia, however it evolves, global opinion will overwhelmingly hold Russia primarily responsible for the enormous human suffering. In addition, Russia’s aspirations to lead global nuclear fuel cycle development would be severely compromised.