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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Risk Of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Disaster? Just Another Tactic From Putin's Playbook

Military activity near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine has raised fears of a Chernobyl scenario. The UN Secretary-General is meeting with Ukraine’s president to discuss the situation — but threatening nuclear disaster is a tool Putin has used before.

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, in southeastern Ukraine, threatened by Russian shelling.

Of the 16 nuclear power plants in the Soviet Union, four were built in Ukraine. Until recently, the most infamous of these was Chernobyl. But now, all eyes are on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, Zaporizhzhia, located in the south of Ukraine. The plant has become the new center of war in Ukraine since it was captured by Russia on March 4. Its workers are still held hostage.

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The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and its 15 reactors have been under occupation since April. It has effectively become a military base for the Russian army. Armored vehicles are deployed there, and missiles and artillery are launched from the territory of the nuclear plant.

Ukraine cannot respond to these attacks without risking catastrophe — something Putin knows very well, as he is once again weaponizing the threat of nuclear disaster to help his invasion.

Potentially disastrous consequences for Ukraine

On Aug. 15, Eugene Kramarenko, head of the Ukrainian state agency for the management of the Chernobyl zone, said that in case of an accident at the Zaporizhzhia plant, the predicted area of damage could be close to 30,000 square kilometers. Zaporizhzhia currently contains about 18,000 liquid fuel assemblies, which is 10 times more than Chernobyl at the time of its nuclear accident in 1986.

In the event of a nuclear disaster, close to two million square kilometers could be potentially radioactively contaminated.

Russia has claimed that Ukraine is shelling its own nuclear power plant, but these allegations are illogical given the potentially devastating consequences for Ukraine itself.
Footage of shellings hitting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant area

On March 4, Russian shellings hit Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, causing one of its buildings to catch fire.

Cover Images/ZUMA

Another pawn in Putin's playbook

Instead, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has become another pawn in Putin’s playbook of intimidation and manipulation. Back in February, Putin put Russia’s nuclear weapons on high alert.

Putin has said that no one can win a nuclear war and that no such war should ever be started. But in the minds of Putin and the fanatics who support him, the threat of nuclear war is real enough.

Russian television has been airing propaganda for months, openly calling for a nuclear missile strike against "Russia's enemies," whether it be Ukraine, the U.S. or Britain. Putin himself at the time said, "We will go to heaven as martyrs, and they will just die."

Putin will not give up his advantage easily

But even though Putin has invaded a sovereign state and violated international laws, many political leaders still (somewhat naively) believe that Putin is bluffing and can be negotiated with.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is scheduled to meet with the Ukrainian president in Lviv today to address the threat hanging over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

As long as the war is still ongoing, Ukraine has been asking to close the sky over the country. Such requests have so far proved unsuccessful. But Zelensky is expected to ask for help protecting at least the Zaporizhzhia area as well as push for further sanctions to help drive Putin out of the nuclear power plant territory.

In the minds of Putin and the fanatics who support him, the threat of nuclear war is real enough.

But we can already predict the outcome of this meeting. Guterres will voice his acute concern and call on the parties to the conflict to cooperate in preventing an accident at the facility. But nothing will happen, because this situation was much easier to prevent than to resolve.

This war cannot end at the negotiating table, only on the battlefield. Almost all world leaders and experts have already come to this sad conclusion.

Nuclear threat plays into Russia's hands, making Ukraine and the whole world fear Putin’s decisions. This is not an advantage Putin is expected to give up easily.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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