April 21, 2017 - Fort Russ -
By Yuri Barbashov - translated by J. Arnoldski -
Against the backdrop of the recent statements by Ukraine’s founding fathers, Ex-President Kuchma and Kavchuk, on the need for the ex-state to regain nuclear status, the scenario of Ukrainian radicals trying to acquire means to nuclear blackmail both domestic and foreign powers is rightly considered possible. In a country with 15 nuclear reactors in operation, the threat of nuclear terrorism cannot be absolutely ruled out nor underestimated.
But in addition to terrorists, threat is also posed to Ukrainian nuclear power plants and, as follows, the population, by Ukraine's current policies. For political reasons in favor of the US and to spite Russia, the reactors of the South Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant have been loaded with fuel produced by the Westinghouse Corporation which does not fit the plant’s technology. The Ukrainian puppet political elite’s readiness to harm Russia regardless of the damage done to its own country has already brought the Ukrainian economy to the brink of real collapse. Political experiments with nuclear energy could lead to even more tragic consequences.
Just how real for Ukraine is the threat of nuclear terrorism or technological accidents due to the use of non-standard fuel? We asked these questions and more to two independent experts with ties to Ukraine's nuclear energy industry who know the current state of affairs at Ukraine’s nuclear power plants:
Is a terrorist attack hitting a nuclear power plant possible? If so, what kind of terrorist attack?
Expert 1: Blowing up Ukraine’s existing VVER-1000 at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, which I know well, is a rather complicated goal even in purely engineering terms. The big danger in this regard is posed by spent nuclear fuel storages. The radioactive level of these is unimaginable and seizing them is potentially easier than capturing an energy block with its staff, especially when faced with nuclear power plant security authorities and, inevitably, dispatched special forces. If the attacking group were to leave, even with losses, it's still senseless, it’s suicide. In short, it’s something like this: capturing an energy block is in principle possible, but difficult.
Expert 2: A terrorist attack is possible to the same extent that such is possible at any facility, guarded or not. The most vulnerable parts are the management system and electricity transmission. A nuclear explosion at a VVER is impossible for design reasons, but the reactor could be permanently disabled leading to a small degree of radioactive contamination of the surrounding area.
Could you explain for a layman what the difference is between Russian and European fuel?
Expert 1: We have hexagon cross-sections and they have squares. It’s a matter of different shape and dimension and, overall, some differences in the composition of the fuel mixture. But the funny thing is that Ukraine, by buying imported fuel, is paying nearly two times more than expensive than cheap Russian fuel. In fact, it’s actually still buying Russian uranium! Russia sells low-enriched uranium to the US and enjoys a de facto monopoly on the US uranium market. The United States does not have the normal technology for enriching uranium. They were unable to master enrichment in centrifuges like in the USSR. In this respect, Russia holds a technological monopoly and its enriched uranium cost is laughable.
Expert 2: The square cross-section reduces the structure’s endurance in the case of overheating. In addition, other materials have a different thermal expansion coefficient, which leads to distortions in the system if there are violations of the thermal mode or in the case of emergency stops. The latter are practiced increasingly often.
Is the Chernobyl station completely disabled? Are their leaks there? Is there security? Is a terrorist attack possible?
Expert 1: The Chernobyl nuclear power plant was decommissioned in December 2000. The decision was purely political, as the remaining blocks worked perfectly and, in fact, offered good replenishment to Ukraine’s budget by virtue of exporting electricity to Europe. There is security. Nothing is flowing there besides the natural decay residues in the fourth block. The facility is guarded, of course. A terrorist attack is possible anywhere, but a terrorist attack there would be a PR-stunt, a stupid one…
Expert 2: I don’t know anything about the Chernobyl station now, but the appearance of military equipment with high radioactivity levels in the Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone makes you wonder.
What level of knowledge does someone planning a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant need?
Expert 1: Very specialized. Ideally, in the attacking group there would have to be engineers who earlier worked at the facility or a similar one, not mere button-pushers at a control panel, but specialists who know the physics of the processes. And the coercive group would have to be special forces, not mere street activists. It's impossible for such a plan to succeed with the forces of Ukro-activists.
Expert 2: A specialized atomic engineer, whose training is increasingly limited....
What are the possible consequences of such a terrorist attack?
Expert 1: The state’s power system would be killed, since the block and perhaps the whole nuclear power plant, in the case of a successful attack, would be shut down (see the power shortages in Japan after Fukushima). There would be relatively small radioactive contamination of the area (the fuel weight in much less in VVER’s than in the Chernobyl RBMK) and the victims of the attack itself. More important here is the psychological effect, and this would indeed be monstrous. Greens across the whole world would jump up and down demanding a ban on nuclear power plants everywhere, and Poroshenko would wave a piece of a fuel road at a podium in the EU while people panic.
Expert 2: The decommissioning of power-generating capacity (potentially irreversible) with minor radioactive contamination of the surrounding area.
What plants, in your opinion, could be targeted by a terrorist attack and why them?
Expert 1: If some hotheaded and stupid activist even conceives of such idiocy, then the criterion would be a plant's proximity to the borders of the Russian Federation. That’s what I think. But Ukraine is a schizophrenic state, and not everyone out there is an idiot, so serious people would pass on nuclear power plants. There is serious money out there for which these people would set alight the Ukrainian air force, activists, nationalists, and the Verkhovna Rada in one go. And I am almost certain that the Russian Federation has a working plan for such a scenario.
Expert 2: The Zaporozhye and South Ukrainian plants and the remains of Chernobyl. The first two would strip the entire South-East of Ukraine of any industrial prospects. Chernobyl might be targeted to create streaks of a radioactive boom in the floodplain of the Dnieper as a way to stop an offensive from the East.
Thus, both experts are convinced that the security system of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants is virtually impossible to breach “from below” with the forces of “activists” or extremists. The fact that there have been no such precedents elsewhere in the world is an indirect confirmation of their words. However, there were no civil wars in countries with nuclear power plants before Ukraine. If potential terrorists have tanks and heavy artillery, then nuclear power plants’ security is hopeless. Moreover, this does not even take into account the ascent to power of people possessed with wild hatred for the neighboring population and half of the population of their own country.
As experience with the use of substandard fuel at Ukrainian nuclear power plants shows, the nuclear security system is susceptible to breach “from above” due to political factors.
The ascent to power in Ukraine of open Nazis and the absolute dictatorship they established is already an obvious threat. Not a single one of the oligarchic political groups contending for power in the Ukrainian pseudo-democratic field today can do anything to oppose thousands of armed, ideological thugs. The latter are seriously calling for genocide against the “non-Ukrainian” population and demand declaring war on a nuclear superpower - Russia.
Therefore, it is only natural that they would resort to nuclear blackmail. They could attempt to create a “dirty bomb” with the use of radioactive materials, or the population of whole regions where nuclear power plants are located could become hostages.
This scenario has been roughly tested in the example of the Schastinskaya thermal power plant, the Avdeevka coke plant, and Donetsk filtration station. The Ukrainian government has consistently dangled the destruction of these facilities to constantly blackmail the population of the People's Republics of Donbass.
What’s more, the Westinghouse Corporation which is currently trying to compete with Russia on the nuclear fuel market has declared bankruptcy and virtually withdrawn from the playing field. In connection with this, plans to build the first nuclear power plant in the US in the last 30 years have essentially fallen through. Without a doubt, Russia’s leadership in the field of nuclear technology and building nuclear reactors guarantees her not only a huge advantage in electricity costs, but also allows her to extract profit and further technological development in selling nuclear power plants to other countries. What's more, this cheap nuclear energy factor makes returning industry to the US impossible.
Therefore, inciting “radiation hysteria” over another nuclear disaster and other countries’ Greens’ forcing through a nuclear energy ban could serve the US' strategy of maintaining supremacy and undercutting Russia.
The development of the political situation in Ukraine with Nazis’ rise to power could, in the worst case scenario, make North Korea look like an example of sanity and appropriate behavior to the world.
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