Oh no not nuclear

Mushroom cloud from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945
Mushroom cloud from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945

If people want play with fire, fine, but let them do it somewhere where there is no chance of an accident or of someone using it as a weapon. In the case of nuclear, that’s nowhere, except in quantities small enough for medical uses.

We’ve been here before

Back in the early 70s, I was a member of the UK’s Royal Observer Corps, which had acted as enemy plane spotters during World War II. It had acquired an additional role — spotting nuclear explosions. Every now and then we would climb out of our nuclear bunkers and take the special film out of the apparatus that recorded any bright lights such as the sun or nuclear explosions (or, for the purpose of exercises, we’d open an envelope with one). These were used to triangulate the position of nuclear bursts and fallout zones could then be predicted.

In the 80s, I joined Scientists against Nuclear Arms.

Later, I proposed doing a part time PhD with the late, great Mike Pentz of the Open University to write a computer system to predict fallout in greater detail. Alas, he told me that unfortunately I would be beaten by full-timers.

These days we have far more sophisticated systems for detecting nuclear radiation and calculating risks, but we have not learned to get off nuclear.

So it is very worrying to hear that the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has lost contact with Chernobyl nuclear data systems and that the Chernobyl site is currently cut off from the power supply. It needs electricity for cooling, ventilation and fire extinguishing systems. It is precisely because war can break out and this sort of thing can happen, whether accidentally or deliberately, that nuclear power plants are a very bad idea. The Science Media Centre has more details of the possible ramifications.

The Ukraine war could be an unimaginable disaster

Nuclear reactors

Ukraine has a lot of nuclear reactors.

As Beyond Nuclear and others have stated, reactors in a war zone pose unimaginable risks.

First of all, there is a risk to actual reactors, but these are (we hope) very strongly built so this is not very likely.

Next, if the power supply fails, the reactors may have been shut down but cannot be cooled — this was a major issue in the Fukushima nuclear disaster, where the backup generators designed to prevent this failed, and is a major worry with Chernobyl now, as it only has 48 hours’ worth of diesel fuel for its generators.

In the case of Chernobyl, after the disaster there, there was a lot of low level radioactive dust lying around in the exclusion zone, which has been churned up by Russian tanks.

More at risk than the reactors themselves are spent fuel rods held in cooling tanks, often nearby. These are less hardened against missiles.

There is also the risk that the people responsible for keeping the plants safe may be killed, disabled, exhausted or have fled. Human error was involved in the Three Mile Island accident.

Also at risk are nuclear waste disposal sites. One near Kyiv has already been hit.

Russia has occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility, Europe’s biggest nuclear plant, causing a fire. There, too, spent fuel and power supplies are a concern. Nuclear waste is not well stored there, as experts warned back in 2015.

After Zaporizhzhia, Russia turned its weaponry on the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology in the city of Kharkiv, which has a nuclear reactor.

There is the risk that other countries will turn to nuclear to replace Russian oil or gas, or to reduce greenhouse emissions, which must be resisted.

Nuclear wars

Early in the war, Putin put his nuclear forces on high alert. While this may just have been a bargaining ploy, we can never 100% rule out that he will go nuclear, as he has threatened to do.

Putin might not have invaded, or Ukraine been better defended, if the counties involved had kept to what they agreed in the Budapest Memorandum. Having seen what has happened to Ukraine after it voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons, who would blame Iran and other countries from wanting them?

Never again

I find it hard to believe that after more than 50 years, we are not only not nuke-free, but we are in greater danger than ever and there are still those pushing hard for building more nuclear plants.

If Putin falls as a result of this crazy war, who will then have control of Russia’s nuclear reactors and weapons?



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