Conflict between Ukrainian and Russian forces near Chernobyl raised fears that the site of the worst nuclear accident in history might be disturbed. The site still contains radioactive debris, which the world has worked to contain in the 36 years since the disaster.
Russian troops seized the nuclear power plant today, according to scattered reports from officials, including Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak.
“It is impossible to say the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe after a totally pointless attack by the Russians … This is one of the most serious threats in Europe today,” Podolyak said, according to Reuters. The International Atomic Energy Agency, however, said in a statement that the Ukraine regulatory body reported “no casualties nor destruction at the industrial site.”
Ongoing conflict in Ukraine makes this already sensitive location even more difficult to manage
The Verge spoke with experts on nuclear policy and the Chernobyl disaster about what we might be able to expect out of this rapidly changing situation. A worst-case scenario is unlikely, but ongoing conflict in Ukraine makes this already sensitive location even more difficult to manage.
The 200 metric ton elephant in the room is the “highly radioactive material” still held in the remains of the reactor that exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, according to the trade group World Nuclear Association. That reactor failed catastrophically during a test run — releasing radioactive particles in the ensuing explosion and fire. About 50 people died in the following two decades as a direct result of the incident, according to a 2005 United Nations report, and tens of thousands more people might have been affected by the radiation.
To try to keep radioactive material from spreading, a “sarcophagus” was quickly built afterwards to entomb the reactor’s remains. Nearly a decade later, officials decided to construct a more secure cover for it — a gigantic steel New Safe Confinement Arch that was just completed in 2017 at a cost of $1.7 billion. That structure is also supposed to facilitate…