Under Russian control, the Ukrainian plant in Zaporozhye is worrying. In recent days, strikes have multiplied around the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. On social networks, widely shared video even shows the presence of several Russian military equipment stored inside. “Russian terrorists placed military equipment and explosives in the engine room of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant,” said a first Internet user. “The Russians are going to blow up the factory because no country wants to help Ukraine stop them,” added a second.
But is it really possible to blow up a nuclear power plant? We interviewed Emmanuelle Galichet, doctor in nuclear physics and lecturer at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (Cnam) on this subject.
“Risk 0 unfortunately does not exist,” replies the specialist straight away. However, the construction of the Zaporozhe plant reassures Emmanuelle Galichet. “The way it was designed allows it to be resistant to a lot of things”. Nothing to do with previous nuclear disasters, such as Chernobyl or Fukushima. The Zaporozhye power plant looks more like French buildings.
In reality, the plant is covered by an envelope which serves as a shield. “The containment enclosure is made of reinforced concrete and is almost a meter thick,” explains Emmanuelle Galichet. As for the reactor core, it is enclosed in a vessel, itself protected by a reactor pit. And on the surface, a very robust slab limits breakage from falling heavy objects. However, the doctor is worried about one point: “No nuclear operator has made a safety demonstration to prove that a war and more or less powerful weapons could not reach the plant”.
“The interior is a complex and compartmentalized structure”
Emmanuel Galichet’s observation is shared by the experts of the magazine Defense & International Security. On a thread posted on Twitter, this Friday, the specialized press responded to the various fears of a future explosion: “That there are trucks does not indicate that something is going to happen”. According to the author, the equipment is mainly stored in the turbine building, “adjacent to the reactor building”. As Emmanuelle Galichet told us, the plant’s materials limit the risk of a terrible explosion. “The turbine building is constructed of concrete, with metal structures (walls/roof). The interior is a complex and compartmentalized structure, ”underlines the Defense & International Security Twitter account.
According to them, the risk would depend mainly on the volume of explosives and their locations. “It is not certain that the reactor building can be affected, nor that essential organs capable of releasing radioactivity (steam generators, primary loops, primary and auxiliary pumps) within it are,” concludes the author. , which confirms the words of the CNAM researcher: “Zaporijie is neither Chernobyl nor Fukushima: the containment structures differ”.
Too strong consequences
Emmanuelle Galichet and Defense & International Security also agree on one point: Russia would not risk blowing up a power plant in Ukraine. “The Russians and Ukrainians are aware of the risk they pose to their population first and foremost”, advances Emmanuelle Galichet. “More or less massive rejections are likely to pose a problem for the Russians themselves,” explains the author of Defense & International Security. It would rather look like a strategy of fear that plays on the anxiety of nuclear risks, certainly exacerbated by nuclear disasters like Chernobyl.
However the strikes around Zaporozhye cannot be ignored. “We must prepare for all possible scenarios,” Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky recently warned during a trip to the plant. The International Automatic Energy Agency (IAEA) was also commissioned by NATO for an expert mission on the spot, which was however rejected by Ukraine. This Friday Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron would have agreed during a telephone interview of an inspection of Zaporozhye by the IAEA “as soon as possible”.
At the beginning of August, bombardments had “seriously damaged” a station containing nitrogen and oxygen and an “auxiliary building”. “There are still risks of leaking hydrogen and radioactive substances, and the risk of fire is also high,” said the Ukrainian atomic energy company Energoatom at the time.