Crisis at Ukraine nuclear plant unlikely, says risk consultancy

23 September 2023 2 min. read

A major disaster at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in Ukraine is unlikely, according to a report from strategic risk consultancy Sibylline.

Despite being near the front lines of fighting – and, at one point, even the actual site of a battle – there will not likely be a nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. That is because even in the event of a direct strike on the reactors, back-up cooling and other safety systems will kick in to prevent a major meltdown.

While the facilities have seen extensive damage from fighting, the reactors have been largely scathed.

Crisis at Ukraine nuclear plant unlikely, says risk consultancy

The design of the plant offers more robust defenses than the nuclear plant at Chernobyl or Fukushima, both sites of disastrous nuclear catastrophes. According to Sibylline’s analysis, even a worse-case scenario would not be as severe as Chernobyl, which spread nuclear fallout over a huge area, carried by winds into territories as far afield as Sweden.

“It should be emphasised that there is no scenario where the Zaporizhzhia plant, or any other nuclear power plant, could be made to explode like a nuclear weapon,” according to the report.

While the risk is low, it is not null. The unpredictable nature of war does not allow for ruling out larger catastrophes that could end up affected neighboring countries. Such unpredictable chaos has indeed occurred in Ukraine since the outbreak of the war.

“While containments are designed to resist an external impact, for example a terrorist attack, they are not designed to withstand a direct missile strike,” the report notes.

“Nevertheless, the pressurised steel containments at Zaporizhzhia remain extremely strong by design. Robust containment structures would therefore mitigate the risk of a catastrophic meltdown even in the event of a direct attack, as long as said attack was not purposefully trying to breach the containment structure.”

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was seized by Russian forces following a fierce battle that saw the plant suffer severe damages. With neighboring areas seeing on-going fighting, the risk of further damage from shells or missiles is still a real risk.

The plant is still run by Ukrainian technicians working under reportedly stressful conditions. The plant is essentially offline with five reactors closed down completely and just one in ‘hot shutdown’, meaning it is generating a minimal amount of energy used only to power essential functions within the facilities.