Russia's Hold on Nuclear Plant Stumps Ukraine

Troops fire from Zaporizhzhia station knowing return fire would risk disaster
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 1, 2022 7:05 PM CDT
Russia's Hold on Nuclear Plant Stumps Ukraine
A Russian serviceman guards an area of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control in southeastern Ukraine on May 1.   (AP Photo, File)

(Newser) – Russia's occupation of Europe's largest nuclear power plant is making Ukrainian forces and residents of the city of Nikopol defenseless. When Russian troops send rockets from the Zaporizhzhia station across the Dnipro River and into Nikopol, the fire is not returned. That would be too risky: A Ukraine-fired strike could hit one of the pressurized water reactors or radioactive waste in storage, the New York Times reports. "We are like condemned prisoners who must just stand still and be shot at," said retiree Halyna Hrashchenkova, whose home was struck by Russian artillery. "They shoot at us, and there is nothing we can do."

Russian troops have occupied the plant since March 4. They've since fortified it and began launching artillery fire from it three weeks ago. Ukrainian troops have been preparing for a counteroffensive for more than two months, employing advanced rocket systems provided by the US to cut supply lines and strike Russian positions—destroying railroad bridges, for example. But Ukraine has not found an answer to the strikes from the plant, which make it difficult to get equipment and personnel into position for the counterattack. It's tried precision strikes, including one with a drone that hit its target 150 yards from a reactor.

It would take a direct hit with something powerful to breach the reactors' concrete containment vessels, a former engineer at Zaporizhzhia said. But that might cause a meltdown or explosion that could spread radiation on the wind, much like the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Or the highly radioactive spent fuel in concrete canisters could be hit, possibly spreading radiation in the air as a dirty bomb would, per the Times. "How can we respond?" a colonel leading an infantry battalion said. "This is a nuclear site." (Read more Russia-Ukraine conflict stories.)

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