In conflict zones, civilian nuclear facilities are turning into radioactive time bombs.
‘Sigh of relief’
Western leaders are exhaling a sigh of relief as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prepares to visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor in Ukraine. They haven’t thought about one concern, though, which is how civilian nuclear power facilities in conflict areas are turning into radioactive weapons that might start a third world war.
A breach of NATO’s Article 5 would result from “any deliberate damage causing possible radiation leak to a Ukrainian nuclear reactor,” the head of the Select Committee on Defense in the British House of Commons warned late last week. All parties to the NATO treaty are obligated to support any alliance members who are the target of an armed attack under Article V.
How imminent might a radiological release be?
Late Thursday, all external power to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was cut off.
The only source of electricity was the plant’s emergency diesel generators, which had no more than five days of fuel to power the plant’s essential safety and fuel-cooling electric water pumps.
That’s why last week they distributed iodine tablets to Ukrainians to reduce thyroid cancers if the Zaporizhzhia plant should blow.
Romania, a NATO nation, also grasps this: Earlier in the month, its health minister encouraged Romanians to pick up free iodine pills at their local pharmacies.
Last week, Romania’s neighbour, Moldova, imported one million tablets for its own population.
And what is Washington’s response?
It has two big ideas, both nearly seventy years out of date.
The first is to get IAEA inspectors to visit.
But no one should be under any illusions.
The IAEA can’t provide the Zaporizhzhia plant with any defences, nor will it risk keeping IAEA staff on-site to serve as defensive tripwires.
President Joe Biden announced a U.S.-subsidized six-reactor project for Poland three weeks after Russian military forces fired upon and occupied Zaporizhzhia.
The unspoken assumption here is that Putin will never strike another reactor in Ukraine, Romania, or Poland.
But after condemning the West for backing Ukraine’s views regarding Zaporizhzhia, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev recently warned that there were reactors throughout Europe and that similar “incidents are possible there as well.”
South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan also have reactors at risk.
The first task requires clarifying when, and, if it ever, it would make sense for U.S. forces to fire on reactors overseas.
It also entails determining how our forces might best deter and protect against attacks on friends’ reactors meant to harm or coerce them.
But if we are serious about preventing the worst, including a nuclear-powered Sarajevo, we must.
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Source: National Interest