Despite international pressure, Russia has continued to occupy the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), the largest in Europe.

Last week, videos of fires near the plant were widely shared on social media platforms. Russia said the fires were caused by Ukrainian shelling – a claim that Ukraine strongly denies. Subsequently, Ukraine asked international bodies, including the international nuclear agency, to investigate.

The reactors, still operating, provide energy for a large portion of central Ukraine. Reports that came out on Aug. 3 indicated that Russia was seeking to divert the electricity from its current recipients in Ukraine, to send it to the temporarily occupied-territory of Crimea.

Reports from Ukraine’s nuclear energy entity, Energoatom, indicated that there had been structural damage to the facility by Russia.

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Ukraine has accused Russia of occupying the plant as a de facto hostage: as Russia shells Ukrainian military positions, knowing that Ukraine will not open fire on a nuclear facility.

An American nuclear engineer, who did not give permission for his name to be used, said that it would be unlikely that the fighting would cause a nuclear accident. However, he explained “you would not see a big mushroom cloud if it were to happen. Rather, you’d probably have dust that would remain radioactive for two hundred years.” In order to cause such a catastrophic outcome, it would be necessary to “hit the reactor with a ‘bunker-buster’ – which Ukraine does not have. However, Russia could ‘suicide mission’ its soldiers and do this if it wanted.”

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A resident of a town adjacent to the Zaporizhzhia NPP, speaking off record, told the Kyiv Post that iodine pills – typically taken when exposed to radiation – were no longer in stock in pharmacies in the area. The resident indicated that local residents were increasingly concerned of what might come of the facility.

Earlier this week, Rafael Grossi, who heads the United Nations nuclear energy body, described the situation around the nuclear plant as being “completely out of control.”

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Moscow, earlier this week, informed the United States that it would no longer allow American inspection of its nuclear weapons as agreed per earlier bi-lateral agreements. Russia cited the inability of Russians to readily fly to the US as one of the reasons.

Ukraine was the site of the worst nuclear accident in history, in Chornobyl, which occurred north of Kyiv in April 1986.

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