Tuesday

28th Jun 2022

Chernobyl staff relieved after weeks, but risks remain

  • The head of Energoatom, Petro Kotin, recorded abnormally high levels of radiation in the Red Forest in the Chernobyl exclusion zone (Photo: Energoatom)
Listen to article

After three weeks of working under "extreme pressure", staff at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, previously under Russian control, were finally relieved over the weekend, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN watchdog based in Vienna, reported on Sunday (10 April).

IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi welcomed the staff switchover, essential to the site's safe operations, citing "low morale."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The area has been almost completely shut off since Russian forces seized the site on 24 February, forcing staff to work continuously for weeks, with the last relief team managing to get to the site on 21 March.

Energoatom, the national nuclear operator, told the IAEA that staff could only be ferried to the Chernobyl site by boat over the Pripyat river from the city of Slavutych outside the exclusion zone — the radiation area where people are prohibited from living.

Chernobyl, which lies close to the Russian border, was the site of one of the world's worst nuclear accidents in 1986.

The plant was shut down in 2000, but still employs a permanent crew to keep cool water circulating over the spent fuel rods.

If the water evaporates and the rods run dry, they could overheat and catch fire, potentially spreading radioactive materials in dangerous clouds.

"A war in a country with so much nuclear activity, this is an unprecedented crisis," Grossi told Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera on Friday.

The IAEA said a meltdown is unlikely to happen because it will take weeks for the cooling fluid to boil away.

Still, damage to the plant's central analytical laboratory, plus a lack of electricity, have made remote measurements impossible, blinding the watchdog.

Energoatom tweeted on Saturday that it had measured abnormally high background radiation levels in the Red Forest. Russian forces had built entrenched fortifications on the site, causing radioactive dust to spread.

On Saturday, Ukrainian officials had told IAEA that the National Guard was "ensuring the physical protection" of various radioactive waste management facilities on the site.

Despite "the increase in the level of radioactive contamination," radiation levels were "within limits", they said.

On Sunday, Grossi said an IAEA mission would be sent to Chernobyl "as soon as possible" to conduct a radiological assessment on the ground.

Signalling the nuclear threat is felt across the bloc, the EU last week also announced a rapid response emergency system that would send teams equipped with specialised decontamination equipment to help member states, including Ukraine, in case of a nuclear accident or attack.

EU takes nuclear protection measures, amid safety worries

Europe set up a rapid decontamination team to protect Ukraine and EU member countries against chemical, biological or nuclear attacks, and sent three million potassium iodide tablets to Ukraine, amid worries over the safety of the country's nuclear facilities.

Opinion

Putin and the threat of a tactical nuclear attack

Nato could be in a position to experience nuclear deterrence in an entirely unexpected form, requiring skilled diplomacy and even a willingness for some compromise, however bitter, to avoid disaster.

EU heavyweights pledge Ukraine 'immediate' candidate status

French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian premier Mario Draghi and Romanian president Klaus Iohannis said they support fast-tracking Ukraine becoming an official candidate to join the bloc.

Opinion

Expect Czech EU presidency to downgrade V4 priorities

The Czech Republic is already in the throes of an extremely difficult period — several waves of Covid, high inflation, energy fears, an influx of Ukrainian refugees and a Prague corruption scandal. Now it has the EU presidency.

News in Brief

  1. EU engine ban splits Germany's coalition
  2. Over five million Ukrainian IDPs return home
  3. 37 dead from Melilla stampede, says NGO
  4. Norway police call for Pride cancellation 'until further notice'
  5. EU watchdog concern over Europol extended mandate
  6. EU environment agency chief: 'extremely limited' resources
  7. Hungary's forint hits record low, piling pressure on Orbán
  8. Johnson: Northern Ireland bill could enter into force this year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  2. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  4. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic think tank examines influence of tech giants

Latest News

  1. Western public has 'moral' duty to Ukraine, Nato chief says
  2. Kiwis are my slavery — the hellish life of a Sikh labourer in Italy
  3. Why EU's increased militarisation should worry us all
  4. Member states water down renewable energy proposal
  5. Greek minister denies pushbacks despite evidence
  6. Pollution causes 10% of cancer cases in Europe, EU report finds
  7. G7 leaders discuss further sanctions against Russia
  8. Expect Czech EU presidency to downgrade V4 priorities

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us