Analysis | Who wants to destroy the Zaporizhia power plant? | War in Ukraine

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Analysis | Who wants to destroy the Zaporizhia power plant? | War in Ukraine

The Zaporizhia nuclear power plant has been under the control of Russian forces since the beginning of the war.

Here we go again at the Zaporijia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe and one of the Gordian knots of the Ukrainian war. After weeks of local calm – the war having moved on on other fronts – the fighting is closing in, the explosions have resumed and the nuclear angst is returning.

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the bombings and explosions that took place near the plant, or even inside it, over the weekend -end. A familiar tune, which we had already heard at the end of the summer.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has regained its accents of great concern. She warns that the recent explosions almost hit the plant's main safety systems.

The head of the IAEA, the Argentinian Rafael Grossi, spoke of madness. People who do this know where they are hitting. It's absolutely deliberate, targeted, he said.

He renewed his call for a safe zone to be established around the facility, saying the international community must do everything in its power to prevent a possible radioactive leak.

The current situation resembles what we saw during the previous alert, three months ago: exchange of fire, mutual accusations, explosions around and inside the plant. Who could be responsible for these actions? The Ukrainians, from the other bank of a wide river? Or the Russians, in acts of sabotage of a place they occupy, in order to accuse the enemy?

Everything is similar today, to except the context. For the past three months, the Ukrainians have succeeded in reconquering two important regions, namely Kharkiv in September and Kherson in November.

The Russians are completely pushed back to the left bank of the Dnieper River, where the famous power plant is located, in the south-east of the country. The Ukrainians are on the other side of the river, which is very wide there, at least five kilometers.

These familiar fears and recriminations around a strategic and dangerous location come with a retreating Russia and a spirited Ukraine, perked up by recent breakthroughs.

< p class="e-p">kyiv would like to push further south and cross the river upstream, where it is narrower. And from there, aim for Melitopol. This would put the reconquest of the plant directly in the line of sight, by land.

Small detail: the Zaporijia power plant is quite distinct from the city of the same name, which remained under Ukrainian control, also bordering the Dnieper, about sixty kilometers to the northeast.

The Zaporizhia nuclear power plant is the largest in Europe.

In the plant itself, a heavy and physically, technically and psychologically deteriorated situation is reported. The Russian company Rosatom formally took control of it in September, but we don't know what that means, beyond a formal proclamation.

It is unclear how many of the 11,000 pre-war employees are still there to keep essential facilities afloat, in fear of occupation at gunpoint. Some sleep there, under the armed surveillance of Russian soldiers. By the end of the summer, there were talks of 500 occupying soldiers. There may be more today.

Of the six reactors, four are shut down and two are decommissioned or idling. All are detached from the Ukrainian network.

Competent supervision at all times is necessary to maintain the fuel cooling system and to prevent leaks. It is also necessary to maintain the supply of electricity upstream to run the installations.

The weekend strikes (or explosions) reportedly took place very close to some tanks, between blocks 4 and 5, hitting the roof of a special building near these blocks. This building would house a depot of nuclear fuel, used radioactive material, which must imperatively be confined to avoid tragedy.

Let us quote the IAEA experts on site: the last recorded bombardments damaged a radioactive waste storage building, the sprinkler systems of the cooling ponds, an electric cable to one of the diesel generators, the storage tanks of the condensates and a bridge between a reactor and its auxiliary buildings. Also according to the IAEA, the level of radiation remained normal.

Specialists say they are less afraid of an explosion or disintegration of a reactor (protected by a thick layer of concrete) than of leaks of radioactive materials, fuels stored elsewhere, which would be the real danger.

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The IAEA director spoke of very precise strikes, to the nearest meter, but while refusing to attribute them to one side or the other. In the words of Rafael Grossi formulated Sunday on CNN: It is not my mandate and we do not have the means to know.

Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and his team visited the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in September.

One can easily imagine that the president of the IAEA censors himself and walks on eggshells, because he has observers on site who can be expelled at any time.

Is there a way to determine where these keystrokes are coming from? Without a field survey, with the information available, we can only make conjectures, without certainty.

Grossi spoke of explosions. He used this term alternately with that of strikes or shelling, being very careful not to accuse one side rather than the other. Undeniably, there are Ukrainian strikes around the plant against Russian positions. But against the plant itself? That is the question.

This choice of words may not be innocent. If they are explosions, they may have been caused without projectiles, or by point-blank fire by those on the scene. Which would mean the Russian army.

There is also the extreme precision of these operations, well underlined insistently by the head of the IAEA. During the first crisis, three months ago, some witnesses – notably quoted in the French press – had spoken of explosions on the site (or very near), not preceded by whistles or visual trails above the river.

So, once again, of local origin, probably Russian since there are no Ukrainian soldiers on that side of the river.

Can we imagine today the Ukrainian army, located 5 or even 10 kilometers on the other side of the Dnieper, going there with precise strikes to the nearest meter inside the enclosure itself?

The France Info channel interviewed an anonymous Ukrainian employee of the plant on Monday, by telephone. He said he was sure that it was the Russians who deliberately damaged the facilities.

In the room of the first and second reactor there is military equipment. Also in the turbine hall. And around, all the approaches are mined, he said.

An investigation into this mystery must also consider the motives for such actions. Why would the Ukrainians risk a radioactive accident on their own territory?

While coming from the Russians – who for weeks have been bombing the energy installations of the enemy country – one can easily imagine that in the current phase of the war, they have made a definite decision. Namely to leave behind them, in the event of a possible leak, an unusable or seriously degraded plant, failing to have diverted it for their benefit.

This would fit perfectly into the current strategy of the Russian army, which is to attack Ukrainian civilian infrastructure in order to destroy it.

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