Establishing a nuclear safety & security zone in Ukraine?
THE UN atomic watchdog agency (IAEA) has urged Russia and Ukraine to establish a “nuclear safety and security protection zone” around the Zaporizhzhia power plant amid mounting fears the fighting could trigger a catastrophe in a country still scarred by the Chernobyl disaster.
“We are playing with fire, and something very, very catastrophic could take place,” the International Atomic Energy Agency’s head Rafael Grossi warned the UN Security Council on last Tuesday.
In fact, the Chernobyl nuclear radiation accident, which occurred in 1986 remained an-all-time alarming caution for nuclear safety and security.
That is why in order to prevent such an accident by establishing a safety zone in Ukraine has become an inevitable need.
The IAEA has called for establishing a “nuclear safety and security protection zone” around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, whose safety has raised international concerns.
The IAEA detailed the damage to the plant and said that while continued shelling had not yet triggered a nuclear emergency, it did present a constant threat to safety that “may lead to radiological consequences with great safety significance”.
There was an urgent need for “interim measures” to prevent a nuclear accident caused by military action, it added, saying all relevant parties would have to agree to a “nuclear safety and security protection zone” being set up to avoid further damage.
In a report issued last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency said “shelling on site and in its vicinity should be stopped immediately to avoid any further damage to the plant and associated facilities, for the safety of the operating staff and to maintain the physical integrity to support safe and secure operation.
” After the publication of the report, the United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting regarding the establishment of the security zone.
Mr Grossi stressed that the seven pillars plan for nuclear safety and security must be maintained at Zaproizhzhia NPP.
Needless to say, normally the plant relies on power from the outside to run the critical cooling system that keeps its reactors and its spent fuel from overheating.
A loss of those cooling system could lead to a meltdown or other release of radiation. “For radiation protection professionals, for the Ukrainian and even the Russian people, and those of Central Europe, this is a very worrying time — and that’s an understatement,” said Paul Dorfman, a nuclear safety expert at the University of Sussex in England.
In July, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomed the agreement reached in Minsk on 19 July on the establishment of safety zones along the contact line in eastern Ukraine.
The zones will be created around two water installations: the Vasilevka First Pumping Station and the Donetsk Filtration Station.
Consequent upon establishing these zones, troops and military equipment will be withdrawn and no military operations will take place there.
Fairly speaking the Chernobyl nuclear radiation accident (1986) provided a leitmotiv for the establishment and progressive development of today’s “global nuclear safety regime”.
Fairly speaking,‘’ the IAEA has been at the forefront of this “revolution” and in fact has set the framework for cooperative efforts to build and strengthen this global regime which, in a nutshell, is based on four principal elements.
Firstly, the very adoption of and widespread subscription to binding and non-binding international legal instruments which have been adopted since the accident.
Secondly, a comprehensive suite of nuclear safety standards that embody good practices as a reference point to the high level of safety required for all nuclear activities.
Thirdly, a suite of international safety advisory reviews and services, based on these standards.
And lastly, the establishment of national legal and regulatory infrastructures necessary to implement stringent safety measures.
Since 1986, the IAEA has been providing an official support— to Ukraine, Belarus and Russia in environmental remediation, decommissioning and management of radioactive waste and strengthening the safety levels at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant — in several instances in cooperation with other United Nations organizations.
Shortly after the Chernobyl accident, two global agreements related to nuclear safety were adopted and came into force: first, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and second, the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, which include sharing official information among member states and providing assistance to affected countries.
Subsequently, the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) came into force in 1996, thereby further revitalising nuclear safety.
Its signatories operating nuclear power plants have committed to maintaining a high-level of safety through use of international benchmarks based largely on IAEA Safety Standards.
In contrast to the current situation for staff at Ukraine’s operating nuclear power plants who are rotating regularly the same shift has been on duty at the Chernobyl NPP, which is located about 130 kilometres, north of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and about 20 km, south of the border with Belarus.
The Ukrainian regulator said, ‘’the staff had access to food and water, and medicine to a limited extent.
However, the situation for the staff was worsening’’. In March this year, the IAEA Director General Mr Grossi asked the IAEA to lead the international support needed to prepare a plan for replacing the current personnel and for providing the facility with an effective rotation system.
Undeniably, the effects of nuclear radiation on human body are harrowing. Nuclear radiation, unlike the radiation from a light bulb or a microwave, is energetic enough to ionize atoms by knocking off their electrons.
This ionizing radiation can damage DNA molecules directly, by breaking the bonds between atoms, or it can ionize water molecules and form free radicals, which are highly reactive and also disrupt the bonds of surrounding molecules, including DNA.
Peter Dedon, a member of the Radiation Protection Committee at MIT, explains: “What happens is that the nucleus of radioactive elements undergoes decay and emits high-energy particles.
If you stand in the way of those particles, they are going to interact with the cells of your body.
You literally get a particle, an energy packet, moving through your cells and tissues. ” Against this backdrop, establishing a safety and security protection zone in Ukraine is an inevitable humanitarian need.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.
He deals with the strategic and nuclear issues.