“Stop shooting! You are endangering the security of the entire world!”
This was the chilling message from employees working within Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as Russian forces overran and seized control of the Enerhodar facility.
In a video obtained by CNN and aired on “New Day Weekend,” the plea could be heard blaring over loudspeakers.
The largest nuclear power plant in Europe, Zaporizhzhia was attacked Friday by Russian troops who shot missiles and started a hair-raising fire, spurring additional allegations of war crimes against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Penn. State Professor Michael E. Mann called the onslaught “an act of global terrorism by Russia.”
And High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EU Josep Borrell Fontelles tweeted: “Russian attacks in the direct vicinity of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants can have catastrophic consequences. They must stop immediately.
Fontelles called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council and stated, “Shelling & resulting fire at Zaporizhzhya powerplant can endanger the whole of Europe.”
This constitutes an act of global terrorism by Russiahttps://t.co/xunmVTnONu
— Prof Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) March 4, 2022
Russian attacks in the direct vicinity of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants can have catastrophic consequences. They must stop immediately.
Shelling & resulting fire at #Zaporizhzhya powerplant can endanger the whole of Europe.
Support call for an emergency @UN Security Council.
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) March 4, 2022
The situation was made more dire by CNN reports that employees at Zaporizhzhia are now working under duress, at gunpoint.
Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist who served as energy secretary under President Obama and is currently the co-chair and chief executive officer at the Nuclear Threat Initiative joined CNN’s John Berman to give his assessment of the situation. While acknowledging that, as of now, radiation levels around the plant remain normal, Moniz cautioned that the threat of catastrophe is still very real.
“There’s no evidence of reactor core damage up to the moment,” Moniz said. “But the issue is, there’s so many collateral systems, if you like, that are much more exposed.”
“For example,” he explained, “backup power generation would be absolutely essential if the grid electricity were cut off. You have the fuel supply for that. So these systems are much less hardened. And as the chaos and as the troops are coming in, those are the systems particularly vulnerable.”
He added that, with the potential of a stray artillery shell hitting the spent fuel pool, the conditions at the facility could lead to “real catastrophes.”
And working under the barrel of a Russian gun is not, Moniz noted, conducive to keeping things safe.
Moniz explained that “if the operators are under that kind of difficulty, shall we say, while one of these other systems that I mentioned, like backup power, goes out, or something trips with regards to the reactor, those people have to perform. And this is not — these are not the positions obviously in which one would expect, you know, top-of-the-line performance.”
Simply sending the Ukrainian employees home is not an option, and shutting down the reactors will mean more misery for the Ukrainian people.
“Well, the reactors really need to be shut down as much as possible,” Moniz said. “That, of course, then turns off a lot of electricity. And Ukraine, I think it’s something like 50% of their electricity come from nuclear power plants. So there are all kinds of interacting difficulties here. And certainly, maintaining power to the nuclear power plant itself is absolutely essential. You have to keep cooling the core. You have to keep cooling the ponds, where the spent fuel is stored.”
“As I said,” he reiterated ominously, “you have to keep the backup systems operating. There’s a lot of fuel there to keep the backup systems going. If a stray, again, shell hits that, you’d have a catastrophe.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is imploring the leaders of the world to take more decisive action.
“Nuclear terrorism requires decisive action in response,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “At the #UN Security Council meeting, we called for closing the sky over [Ukraine] and launching an operation to maintain peace and security. The goal is to save hazardous facilities. The world must not watch, but help!”
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