Expert on Zaporozhye NPP: the most dangerous thing is getting into the reactor

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Can can one or several power units of the Zaporozhye NPP be destroyed during hostilities? Tells Alexander Uvarov, head of the Atominfo Center, editor-in-chief of the Atominfo portal:

“It's pretty hard to do that. Around the reactors there are powerful concrete structures that still need to be broken through. If they are pierced, the tightness of the power unit will be broken and a small release of radiation will begin. Such damage can be repaired, even if with some risk. The reactor itself is located in the mine, it is theoretically possible to finish it off with a bomb, rocket or projectile, but in practice this is a poorly achievable task. Some of the reactor cooling systems may be damaged, but in this case they are all duplicated by other cooling systems. Damage to one of them is unpleasant, but most likely will not lead to a meltdown of nuclear fuel in the reactor core.

The power units themselves do not cause me much concern. Here, I must say, I am not alone, the same was recently said by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Marino Grossi— that at the moment there is no danger of a radiation catastrophe. Much more unpleasant than the other. We must not forget that on the territory of any nuclear power plant there are other buildings and structures, except for reactors, which can be dangerous. For example, a repository of radioactive waste, which any station produces in the course of its work. These include “dirty” overalls, spent filters, various types of liquid radioactive waste, etc. Such rooms are less protected than the reactor itself, but they can also cause trouble. Radioactive waste can pretty much pollute the station site, the nearby city of Energodar and the surrounding area.

Spent nuclear fuel storage facilities are more dangerous — spent nuclear fuel. All other nuclear power plants in Ukraine sent SNF for processing to Russia, and just at the Zaporizhzhya plant, an intermediate dry-type storage facility was created for it. Until 2020, according to published documents, 155 American-made containers with spent nuclear fuel were contained there, according to the latest — already 174. In each — 24 assemblies of spent fuel rods — fuel elements extracted from nuclear reactors. The containers have a cylindrical shape and rather thick concrete walls. The fuel elements inside the container are placed in a steel basket. That is, this is also protection, but it is weaker than that of the reactor. Ammunition — artillery projectile or missile warhead — can destroy this shell. Consequences — “from zero to infinity”. If you are lucky and a small number of containers are destroyed, the consequences will not be very serious. If many containers are damaged, a large release of radiation is possible. Not like in Chernobyl, but quite dangerous. This repository was built already in independent Ukraine and is definitely not designed to be hit by modern fire weapons.

I repeat: the main radioactivity at a nuclear power plant is concentrated inside the reactor, which is quite difficult to destroy. Although the strength of the reactor in practice is better not to check.

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