Analysis | Russian attacks spur debate over nuclear power as a climate solution

Russia’s takeover of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine should spur companies and policymakers to be more cautious about plans to build reactors to tackle climate change, security experts said on Friday. nuclear.

Russian forces seized Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Friday after heavy fighting ignited a massive fire in a training building at the site. The fire was put out and officials said the facility was safe.

But the seizure, a week after Russian troops took control of Ukraine’s defunct but still radioactive Chernobyl power plant, has sparked global alarm over nuclear power’s vulnerabilities to wartime attacks that could unleash deadly radiation.

“You need to take more seriously the need to ensure the protection of nuclear power plants, not only against natural disasters, but also against man-made disasters,” said Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear energy safety. at the Union for Concerned Scientists.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday that the attack on Zaporizhzhia was “incredibly reckless and dangerous”. And it threatened the safety of civilians across Russia, Ukraine and Europe.”

The US Embassy in Ukraine called the Russian assault on the plant a “war crime”. Henry Sokolski, director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a nonprofit group, said the attack was a blow to the nuclear power industry as a whole:

“The nuclear reactor in Ukraine was not as badly affected last night as nuclear power if officials take into account the military vulnerability of these machines,” he said.

nuclear race

Plans to develop nuclear power, which generates electricity while emitting virtually no greenhouse gases, have accelerated in recent years as governments pledge to tackle global warming.

There are now 58 reactors under construction and 325 proposed worldwide, according to the World Nuclear Association. Many of the factories offered are in Eastern Europe.

The White House said in November that U.S. company NuScale Power LLC had signed plans with Romania to build a small modular reactor (SMR) plant, adding that the deal positioned “American technology at the forefront of the global race for power.” deployment of SMR”.

Last month, NuScale, majority-owned by construction and engineering company Fluor Corp, signed an agreement with Polish company KGHM Polska to build another small modular reactor plant in Poland by 2029 as part of a an effort to reduce dependence on coal, which emits large amounts of carbon. carbon dioxide and soot harmful to the lungs when burned.

NuScale also signed an agreement in December with Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Plants LLP (KNPP) to explore the deployment of power plants in that country. Diane Hughes, spokesperson for NuScale, said the Zaporizhzhia incident “further underscores the fact that nuclear power plants have robust, resilient and redundant safety features” and that its technology is even safer.

And in January, Westinghouse Electric Co signed cooperation agreements with 10 Polish companies for the possible construction of six AP1000 conventional nuclear reactors. She also signed a memo with Rafako SA on the possibility of developing nuclear power plants in Ukraine, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

Cathy Mann, spokeswoman for Westinghouse, said “nuclear energy is a safe and carbon-free source in Ukraine and around the world.” Third Way, a Washington-based think tank that backs nuclear power, said the severity of climate change means the world needs to ramp up nuclear power rapidly in coming decades despite the risks.

“No energy source is entirely without risk,” said Josh Freed, the group’s senior vice president for climate and energy. “If (Russian President Vladimir) Putin wants to kill countless people by blowing up a dam or attacking a nuclear power plant, he could. But the fact is… nuclear power plants are incredibly safe,” Freed said.

Others disagree

UCS’s Lyman called “glib talk” claims that new nuclear reactors will be “so safe and can be deployed, basically anywhere in the world with minimal protection.”

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the US industry group, told Reuters it believed nuclear reactors were safe and that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine only heightened the need for Europe to expand its nuclear energy capacity. Russia is currently a major supplier of natural gas for European power plants.

“We expect that the tragic events of the past few weeks will only heighten interest in collaborating with the United States on the deployment of next-generation nuclear energy,” said John Kotek, vice president Principal of Policy Development and Public Affairs at NEI.

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