JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Russian troops on Friday seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant after an overnight attack.
Russia’s assault on the facility in southeastern Ukraine sparked a fire near one of the plant’s reactors, but firefighters have since put out the blaze.
Ukrainian officials have lost communication with the plant’s managers and do not have control over the radiation there.
Both Ukraine and U.S. officials say there is no indication of elevated radiation levels, however, they are calling it a “horrific” and “reckless” act.
“By the grace of God, the world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night. We all waited to exhale as we watched the horrific situation unfold in real-time,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
U.S. intelligence officials say it’s an attempt for Russian President Vladimir Putin to overtake the Ukrainian people by controlling their power grid. It’s believed the Russian military fired at administration buildings -- not the plant’s six reactors. They provide power to about half of the country.
News4JAX brought these concerns to professors at the University of Florida’s Nuclear Engineering Department.
“It’s very, very alarming,” said Andreas Enqvist, Ph.D., with UF’s Nuclear Engineering Department. “So there’s a very large impact on potentially all of Ukraine when it comes to just being able to have some safe access to energy, heating and other aspects, so it’s definitely a very dangerous situation.”
The fear for many is a nuclear disaster. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says this attack could have caused six times the impact of Chernobyl, the world’s deadliest nuclear disaster. These scientists say, while possible, it’s unlikely, especially because plants are much safer now.
“These facilities are very well designed,” said Donald Wall, Ph.D., with UF’s Nuclear Engineering Department. “They’re designed to not leak they’re designed to, to contain the material, so some kind of a leak or an explosion, I’d say it’s a really low probability event.”
The concern is the Russian military forcing the Ukrainian staff to operate the plant and follow the Kremlin’s orders.
“The thing is, it’s forceful disturbance of highly technical site is never a good thing, and so it means that the staff will be forced to operate under stress and duress and they will not be working in their optimum capacity,” said Nathalie Wall, Ph.D., with UF’s Nuclear Engineering Department. “This said, they are highly trained nuclear engineers are some of the most trained people.”
Florida has two nuclear power plants. Georgia two, as well. These experts say they’re incredibly regulated and safe. They worry about the war as a whole more than another Chernobyl-like disaster.