Ukraine’s spy chief sounded the alarm that Russia has finished preparations for an attack at the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP).

In an interview yesterday with New Statesman, Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence boss, provided unprecedented intel and insights on potential Russian readying of a nuclear incident in southern Ukraine.

The ZNPP is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and one of the ten largest in the world. It is on the southern shore of the Dnipro River some 100 kilometers upstream from the destroyed Kakhovka dam, and its diminished reservoir, and 100 kilometers from the current frontline in western Zaporizhzhia region.

ZNPP has been occupied by Russian forces since February 2022.

Budanov said the decision to blow up ZNPP has already been taken by Russia. He told the media outlet he was confident the plan is fully “drafted and approved” and that the only element missing is the order to go ahead, depending on military circumstances.

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“Then, it can happen in a matter of minutes,” Budanov said.

How the Incident Could Occur

Budanov also told New Stateman that:

·      Russian troops have moved vehicles charged with explosives to four of the six power plant units.

·      The ZNPP cooling pond of the plant has been mined by Russian troops.

·      Without cooling, the plant’s nuclear reactors could melt down in a period of between ten hours and 14 days.

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·      Raising the voltage in the power supply lines to the plan could bring about a nuclear accident at the lower end of the timeframe.

“Technical means could be used to speed up the catastrophe,” Budanov said to New Statesman.

It is not clear if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was granted access to these units during its visit on 15 June.

The prospect of a staged “accident” at ZNPP has been raised before, including by President Zelensky on June 22, but Budanov told New Statesman that this time is different.

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“The situation has never been as severe as now,” he said.

Two Scenarios for Nuclear Incident

Budanov described two scenarios for a Russian-made nuclear incident. He said the first would be to blow up ZNPP if Russian forces get ousted from the left bank of the Dnipro River. Russia would then create a zone of destruction and exclusion as a way to prevent Ukraine from advancing. The strategy may also serve as a threat not to attack Russian positions.

The second scenario involves Russia using a nuclear disaster as a “preventive measure,” in Budanov’s words. The goal in this case would be to stop Ukraine’s offensive before it starts and to freeze the line of contact as it exists. If Russia is convinced that it cannot stop a Ukrainian advance any other way, it would activate what Zelensky in his address called “a terrorist attack with radiation leakage.”

Zelensky: “Radiation has no borders”

On June 22, President Zelensky said that he had shared information about a potential terrorist act with partners including the United States China, Europe, Brazil and India.

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“Radiation has no state borders. Whomever it will hit is deterred only by the direction of the wind,” he said.

“This time it should not be like Kakhovka,” he said, referring to the hydroelectric dam Moscow blew up earlier this month.

“The world has been warned, so the world can and must act.”

Zelensky separately said that allies and the international community are not sufficiently paying attention to the ZNPP situation and not taking sufficient steps to mitigate a staged incident.

Locals Prepare for Disaster

At Ministry of Health facilities in the city of Zaporizhzhia, teams are preparing for a worst-case scenario. Three rounds of training had already been held in case the nuclear power plant is targeted, according to local officials.

“We knew the Russians could blow up the Kakhovka dam and we know they could target ZNPP,” Taras Tyshchenko, a local health administrator, told The Independent.

“This incident will not be a local or even a national one. It is a global incident. It will have a significant impact on the environment not only in the Zaporizhzhia region, the Dnipro region, or in Ukraine as a whole,” he said. “This will be an incident that can definitely affect all our neighboring countries, especially those that have access to the Black Sea.”

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A full-scale evacuation of the area under Ukrainian control surrounding ZNPP could be triggered within 15 minutes of the first reports of an explosion, according to Tyshchenko.

After that, inhabitants of the impacted area would be instructed to take cover. Potassium iodide tablets (which can help with radiation poisoning) were distributed in September. Emergency crews would then test the environment for safe routes out.

“Why they are doing this, only Russia knows,” Tyshchenko said.

Ukraine suffered the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986 when it was part of the Soviet Union. Clouds of radioactive material spread across much of Europe after an explosion and fire at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant.

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