As if invading Ukraine wasn’t provocation enough, Russian troops reportedly opened fire last night at Europe’s largest nuclear power station, the Zaporizhzhia plant in eastern Ukraine.
Parts of the station caught fire, but fortunately firefighters were able to control the blaze hours later, Reuters reports.
Experts say the Zaporizhzhia plant is very unlikely to experience a Chernobyl-level meltdown, but the callous act was immediately denounced by the international community.
“It just raises the level of potential catastrophe to a level that nobody wants to see,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told CNN, as quoted by Reuters.
The imagery was dystopic and very online, with thousands on social media tuning into a livestream of the nuclear plant blazing while a battle raged with Russian tanks.
One reactor of the station was working only at 60 percent capacity, according to Reuters. But experts say that in all likelihood, many levels of safeguards built into the plant’s design will prevent a catastrophe.
“Nuclear power plants are highly robust by design,” nuclear energy consultant Jeremy Gordon explained in a tweet. “The reactor is housed in a reinforced concrete building with a structure inside called a containment.”
The building “is also designed to protect the reactor from outside impacts,” he added. “It is obviously not designed to withstand direct attack, but it is very, very strong indeed.”
Symbolically, though, the decision to attack a nuclear plant was seen as an extraordinary transgression by Russia. Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky even referenced the Chernobyl tragedy in a statement.
“Russian tanks, equipped with thermal imagery, are shooting at the atomic blocks,” he wrote in a post, as quoted by CNN. “They know what they are shooting at. They’ve been preparing for this.”
“There are 15 nuclear reactors in Ukraine,” Zelensky added. “If one of them blows, that’s the end for everyone, that’s the end of Europe. All of Europe will have to evacuate.”
Though Zelensky’s concern is understandable, experts said those specific claims were almost certainly hyperbolic.
Rumors “going around that an accident at Zaporizhzhia would be ‘ten times worse than Chernobyl’ are absolutely irresponsible rubbish for two very important reasons,” Gordon added.
“Chernobyl was a stupid design with no containment,” and “Zaporizhzhia reactors have containments,” he said.
To be very clear, the fact that the nuclear plant was better protected does nothing to underscore just how reckless last night’s attack was. Firing at a nuclear fire station — and even reportedly blocking firefighters from trying to control the flames — is a deranged escalation of an already unconscionable invasion.
READ MORE: Fire extinguished at Ukraine nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest [Reuters]
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