What are the effects of a Nuclear Power accident or a blast? This question gains significance as Russian troops bombed and seized Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe.
In the ongoing Ukraine war, Russian missiles hit a building within Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and caught fire. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the fire was put out without having caused any direct harm to the reactors and normal radiation levels was only detected. IAEA Director General Rafael Mario Grossi said that the nuclear power plant continued to be operated by its regular staff and there had been no release of radioactive material
WHAT HAPPENS IN CASE OF A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT ACCIDENT?
Uranium is used as fuel in nuclear power plants for generating electricity. In the reactors, uranium converts into radioactive materials. In case an accident occurs, heat and pressure build up, and the steam, along with the radioactive materials, may be released.
HOW MUCH NULCEAR REACTORS ARE PROTECTED?
The Nuclear power plants across the world are designed with several mechanisms to prevent the leak of radioactive materials. Most of the plants are built inside of concrete buildings, which are capable of containing radioactive material.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH EFFECTS OF AN ACCIDENT?
Scientists note that no immediate health effects is seen. However, there is a risk of long-term health effects. Cancer may develop many years after the exposure. Radiation damages DNA. This means the tissues that contain many dividing cells, such as the bone marrow, gut lining and skin are most at risk of damage. High enough doses also damage brain cells and such doses are invariably fatal.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT ACCIDENT?
The people who are living within ten miles of a nuclear power plant should know their designated evacuation zones and routes. Sirens are located in residential areas near nuclear power plants.
WHAT TO DO IF A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT ACCIDENT HAPPENS?
People cannot see, smell or feel radiation. For detecting radiation, special equipment is needed. It is better to stay inside, close all windows and turn off the air conditioner. Before leaving the place, it is better to take prescription medicines. If travelling in a vehicle, better close all windows and vents to prevent radioactive material from entering the car.
MAJOR ACCIDENTS AT NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS
The world has so far only seen two major accidents where a large amount of radioactive material was emitted. The first one was the Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986 and the second at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan in 2011. The Chernobyl nuclear accident is the only nuclear accident that caused fatalities from radiation. Reactor design issues and poor safety led to two explosions, a fire that lasted for over a week, and the release of a large amount of radioactive material. With respect to Fukushima Daiichi, the destruction was caused because of a Tsunami. As a consequence of the flood caused by the tsunami, the backup generators at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which were meant to pump cooling water through the reactor, were destroyed. As a result, three cores largely melted over the following three days and there were several hydrogen explosions, as well as the release of nuclear material into the environment.
ZAPORIZHZHIA: DAMAGE UNLIKELY
Coming in modern design, the reactor is enclosed in a pressurised steel vessel, which in turn is housed inside a massive reinforced-concrete containment structure. (The design is called VVER – the Russian acronym for water-water energetic reactor). Operational since 1984, The Zaporizhzhya consists of six pressurised water reactor (PWR) units. The spent nuclear fuel from the reactors is stored in cooling pools for four to five years until the residual energy and radioactivity decrease. It is then transferred to the spent-fuel dry storage facility.
ZAPORIZHZHIA: EXTERNAL POWER RETORATION
Ukrainian engineers restored external power to the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on October 11, a day after the facility lost the connection to its last remaining operating power line due to shelling, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.
After the repair work was successfully completed, the 750 kilovolt (kV) line was reconnected to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in the evening, enabling it to start switching off the emergency diesel generators that had provided it with back-up electricity since the connection was cut early on Saturday.
The plant’s six reactors are in cold shut down but still require power for cooling and other essential nuclear safety and security functions
The Director General also condemned military attacks in areas that could affect the safety and security of ZNPP, including in the cities of Enerhodar and Zaporizhzhya. “Almost every day now, there is shelling in the region where the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is located and where the plant workers and their families live. The shelling must stop, immediately. It is already having an impact on the nuclear safety and security situation at the plant,” he said.
Ending a period of relative calm” at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plan, Powerful explosions shook the area on November 20. In a statement issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that that blasts yesterday evening and again this morning further underlined “the urgent need for measures to help prevent a nuclear accident there”.
“As I have said many times before, you’re playing with fire!”.
In what appeared to be renewed shelling near and at the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, IAEA experts on the ground reported that more than a dozen blasts were heard within a short period of time in the morning local time.
The IAEA team were also able to see some of the explosions from their windows.
“The news from our team yesterday and this morning is extremely disturbing”, said Mr. Grossi.
Citing information provided by plant management, the IAEA team said there had been damage to some buildings, systems, and equipment at the site, but noncritical for nuclear safety and security.
“Explosions occurred at the site of this major nuclear power plant, which is completely unacceptable”, he added. “Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately”.
According to news reports, Russian and Ukrainian nuclear energy authorities each blamed the other side’s forces for the strikes – triggering fears of a serious nuclear accident. So far, there have been no reports of any radiation leaks at the Russian-occupied plant.
The IAEA experts said that there were no reported casualties, and they are in close contact with site management.
Meanwhile as they continue to assess and relay updates on the situation, the IAEA chief renewed his urgent appeal that both sides of the conflict agree to implement a nuclear safety and security zone around the ZNPP as soon as possible.
In recent months, he has been engaging in intense consultations with Ukraine and Russia on establishing a zone – but, so far, no agreement has been reached.
“I’m not giving up until this zone has become a reality”, said Mr. Grossi. “As the ongoing apparent shelling demonstrates, it is needed more than ever”.