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Gabriella Turrisi

Europe's nuclear dilemma

Last Friday’s attack by Russian forces on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant triggered outcry over the potential for a Chernobyl-like disaster. The US called it a “war crime,” and the issue was debated in an emergency session of the UN Security Council, where Russia received a global dressing down.

The blaze resulting from artillery use at Zaporizhzhia’s nuclear facility was eventually controlled. But Ukraine’s nuclear regulator told the IAEA on Sunday that it is having problems communicating with staff at the plant, and that a Russian general now controls the facility.

Putin’s next target, according to Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, could be the three reactors at the Yuzhnoukrainsk power plant, which generates 10% of Ukraine’s electricity and is a major energy supplier throughout southern Ukraine. “Loss of cooling function to the reactor cores and spent fuel pools could lead to a disaster far worse even than the [2011] Fukushima Daiichi [disaster],” Burnie warns.

While the war is threatening Ukraine’s nuclear power operations — not to mention impacting world energy supplies and prices — it’s also raising questions about the safe use of nuclear energy. The continent has been accelerating its nuclear power usage — now officially, and controversially, labeled “green” by the European Commission, despite the threat of accidents and radioactive waste.

But the fast-changing security landscape poses a dilemma for European policymakers. How can they fight global warming while balancing their energy needs with this new security threat posed by Vladimir Putin?

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