“Six Chernobyls”: Russian Attack Near Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant Conjures Ghosts of The Past

On March 4,  the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine was shelled by Invading Russian forces in the area, sparking a fire near one of the six reactors, according to the BBC.

Known as the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the facility in Zaporizhzhia was taken over by Russian troops shortly after the initial attack following reports from major news outlets, such as CNBC. “Europe needs to wake up,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in response. 

The resulting fire wasn’t put out until later that day, stated reports from CBS News, when Ukrainian firefighters who said they were “prevented from accessing the site initially,” were finally let in to extinguish the blaze.

Several Western powers condemned the actions of Russia immediately. The BBC reported that US President Joe Biden demanded Russia cease its military activity in the area around the plant.

In addition, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, said, “these horrific attacks by Russia must cease immediately,” on his official Twitter according to Canadian news source CTV News.

Various Ukrainian authorities had words for Russia as well. The Twitter account of the Ukrainian embassy in Kyiv called the attack a “war crime,” and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy slammed Russia’s actions as well, claiming that a reactor explosion at Zaporizhzhia is a disaster that would equal “six Chernobyls,” referring to the largest nuclear disaster in history at another plant in Ukraine when it was still a part of the Soviet Union.

The accident occurred on April 25, 1986, when a combination of user error and flawed reactor design led to a snowballing of events, resulting in the emission of roughly 14 Ebq of radiation into the atmosphere, the largest ever recorded for a nuclear disaster in history according to the World Nuclear Association.

Despite the United Nations Scientific Committee on The Effect of Atomic Radiation claiming that “there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure two decades after the accident,” Chernobyl is an event whose impacts are felt even today. 

The WNA reports that radiation from the incident contaminated not only the 30-kilometer exclusion zone around Chernobyl, but the rest of Europe as well, although in much smaller amounts. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes and live elsewhere, and the psychological effects of Chernobyl have impacted an entire generation of Ukrainians, Belarussians, and Russians alike, said Jonathan Samet, Distinguished Professor and Flora L. Thornton Chair of the preventive medicine department at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, “Neuropsychological effects, such as depression, are among the most widespread and expensive of the long-term consequences.”

Adding on to his previous statement that a reactor explosion at Zaporizhzhia caused by the Russian bombing would be a disaster equal to “six Chernobyls,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, “If there is an explosion, it is the end of everything. The end of Europe.”