Ukraine’s nuclear power plant is not designed to withstand military missile strikes but should hold up in the face of Russian shelling, a nuclear engineer has told Newstalk.
Last night Russian forces attacked the north-eastern city of Energodar and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. The plant, which is Europe’s largest and produces one fifth of Ukraine’s energy supply, caught on fire and emergency services were at first prevented from getting close because of gunfire.
The fire has since been contained but last night President Zelenskyy said a nuclear accident could spell disaster for the entire continent:
"Only urgent action by Europe can stop the Russian troops. Do not allow the death of Europe from a catastrophe at a nuclear power station,” he warned.
However, nuclear engineer Norma O’Mahony told Newstalk that while the plant is not designed to sustain missile strikes, she thought it was unlikely that there would be a nuclear disaster:
“These plants are a different design to those used at Chernobyl and they have what we would call a containment structure,” Ms O’Mahony told The Pat Kenny Show.
“So this containment structure performs a dual function, it performs the function of containing any leaks that might occur in the fuel or around the reactor itself but it also protects the reactors from external hazards.
“So when we look at the developing safety studies for reactors, we do consider an external hazard called missile strike.
“Now, the problem with using that with one of the case studies that we consider is that when we talk about missile strikes, we think about industrially generated missiles.
“For instance, if there were an explosion at another facility on the site where you might have shrapnel or a flying turbine blade or something like that.
“So they are fairly robust, I personally am not worried about any of those containment structures failing completely but this is a very unusual situation, so we really are depending on a little bit of restraint I guess.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have confirmed that none of the plant’s essential equipment has been damaged, while the American Nuclear Society said that they belived real threat to Ukrainians came from the invasion.
"The real threat to Ukrainian lives continues to be the violent invasion and bombing of their country,” the society said.
Listen and subscribe to The Pat Kenny Show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify.
Main image: Video footage shows a fire and activity at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine. Picture by: Instagram/zelenskiy_official.