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Major bomb attack on nuclear power plant could cause disaster

Gábor Márton
2023.06.07. 10:45 2023.06.07. 11:42
Major bomb attack on nuclear power plant could cause disaster

According to Prof. Attila Aszodi, it is difficult to predict what would happen if a nuclear power plant was hit by an attack similar to the one at the Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant. The lecturer at the Budapest University of Technology (BME) told daily Magyar Nemzet that the consequences depend on several factors, such as the nuclear power plant, its personnel and the weapon deployed to target it.

In principle, even with a higher explosive charge it is rather difficult to cause such damage to a power plant that would cause a great degree of radiation. However, a targeted, systematic attack could cause huge damage to the facility,

the expert said. He pointed out that an explosion like the one in Chernobyl is unlikely to occur at power plants, because European power plants operate in a very different way and are equipped with more safety features. However, the personnel and the preparedness of the plant itself play a huge role in preventing such a disaster.

Attacking such a plant is very risky, because if it becomes impossible to cool down the reactor, that would trigger an internal process in the facility that becomes irreversible after a while, Prof. Attila Aszodi explained.

To tackle such scenarios, most nuclear power plants already have certain accident-management systems in place, but the question of how much damage these built-in devices suffer is also key, the expert said. Another crucial uncertainty is to what extent the containment structure - which hermetically seals the plant from the outside world - would be damaged in an attack.

The nuclear power plant is not only at risk from a direct attack, but also from an attack affecting the hydroelectric power plant in Nova Kakhovka, for example, as it supplies cooling water to the nuclear facility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has sought to reassure everyone that, in their current assessment, there is no immediate threat to the facility's safety. They pointed out that the plant's own cooling pond could keep the fuel rods cool for a few months, adding that the water is now supplied from the reservoir, which is dwindling because of the attack. Experts pin their hopes on the river's natural flow in the long run. 

Ukrainian soldier watches the flooding caused by the blown-up dam in Kherson on June 6, 2023, Photo: MTI/EPA/Ivan Antipenko

In a blog post, Prof. Aszodi explained what he thinks will happen now at the Nova Kakhovka hydropower plant.

Once the stored water behind the blown-up dam flows out, the water level in the nuclear power plant's river section will drop, causing much larger water level fluctuations with the Dnieper River's stream gauge,

he wrote.

He added that the cooling of the plant may become more complicated, but this negative impact is mitigated by two factors:

  • The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been shut down an out of operation since August 2022, and the blocks' cooling water demand has dropped significantly in the past nine months.
  • Near the power plant, a cooling water reservoir capable of holding 47 million cubic meters has been separated from the Dnieper River's reservoir by artificial dams, and this is capable of maintaining water levels independent of the reservoir. This pool can provide an adequate supply of cooling water for the plant for a longer period.

Although Prof. Aszodi says the dam explosion at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is unlikely to cause any nuclear emergency at the moment, he believes that we must pay heed to any further developments. "The current events are in fact reducing the level of safety, as access to and availability of cooling water has changed compared to the original design stage," he argued in his post.

That said, the lecturer at BME pointed out that the situation will make life very difficult for the people living there, as the downstream flow of the tidal wave could cause serious problems.


Cover photo: Image from video footage of the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodar, south-eastern Ukraine, released by the press service of Russia’s Defense Ministry (Source: MTI/EPA/Presss service of Russia’s Defense Ministry)

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