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Sunday, April 14, 2024  
05 Shawwal 1445  

World must ‘rethink nuclear safety’: Ukraine energy minister

Russia seized Europe's largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia
Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

The world must “rethink nuclear safety” after Russia’s seizure of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian energy minister German Galushchenko told AFP ahead of a Tuesday conference in Paris.

The international gathering hosted by France aims to raise funds to repair Ukraine’s damaged infrastructure as well as highlight the country’s support for Kyiv in its fight against Russia.

With at least 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure demolished in the past two months, Galushchenko will join the conference to ask for materials and funds to get Ukrainians through the winter.

Speaking to AFP on Monday, he said Russia’s war in Ukraine “completely changes our understanding of nuclear security”, pointing to the capture of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant as a turning point.

The plant, located in Ukraine’s east, was seized by Russian troops in March, and shelling has continued around the site.

Despite Western powers and the UN atomic energy agency raising the alarm over safety at the plant – which has six nuclear reactors – talks aimed at demilitarising the area have stalled.

“Nobody expected that someone could capture a nuclear plant… This situation absolutely pushes us to rethink what should we do from the point of view of safety,” Galushchenko told AFP.

He added that Russia’s seizure of a nuclear plant “destroyed” any semblance of a safety net provided by agreements established by Western countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“That’s a question, too, to all the countries of the world,” he said.

“It’s not only a Ukrainian issue of nuclear safety. It means that any missiles which could fly, let’s say, up to 2,000 kilometres, could reach any nuclear reactor.”

‘Crazy game’

Since Zaporizhzhia’s capture, Galushchenko said Moscow’s forces have continued shelling power lines connecting the plant to Ukraine’s energy grid. The power plant has gone into blackout mode “five times”, he added.

His main worry is that a nuclear power plant needs a constant power supply to cool the fuel.

If it gets disconnected, it could be a “classic Fukushima scenario”, Galushchenko said, referring to the 2011 disaster in Japan.

“They shell Ukrainians lines, destroy the lines, then the station starts on diesel generators and it means you are one step ahead of an accident,” he said.

But after the power lines are repaired and electricity supply to the plant is resumed, the worrying process begins again when shelling resumes.

“This is a crazy game around nuclear security,” Galushchenko told AFP.

Since October, Russia has switched tactics and began airstrikes targeting Ukraine’s energy network – plunging millions into cold and darkness at the onset of winter.

The conference in France will focus on ways in which Ukraine’s Western allies can provide immediate support to keep the country’s civil infrastructure functioning amid incessant bombing.

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