Russians Using Gas as a Weapon, Nuclear Plant as a Shield

August 1, 2022

We know that Russia is wielding natural gas as a weapon against democracies the world over, hoping that wild price rises will weaken the will of NATO and the global community to resist a lawless aggressive war.

We’ve seen video of actual shelling of a large Ukrainian nuclear plant. Obviously that has a pretty glaring downside in that it risks sending clouds of radiation downwind into Russia itself. Now the Russians have settled on a more nuanced tactic, hiding and shooting from behind nuclear generators and waste storage, and betting Ukrainians won’t risk a counterstrike.

Tough to use solar panels as a weapon.

You can’t blackmail people with a wind turbine.

Moreover, a distributed grid is more diffuse and resilient, and can’t be destroyed or cut off in one blow, all the more so if communities have widely distributed solar generation and battery storage. The War in Ukraine is showing us something relevant to national security going forward.

New York Times:

NIKOPOL, Ukraine — Along most of the front line in Russia’s war in Ukraine, when one side lets loose with an artillery attack, the other shoots back.

But not in Nikopol, a city deep in southern farm country where the Ukrainian military faces a new and vexing obstacle as it prepares for a major counteroffensive: a nuclear power station that the Russian Army has turned into a fortress.

Nikopol, controlled by the Ukrainians, lies on the west bank of the Dnipro River. On the opposite bank sits a gigantic nuclear power plant — Europe’s largest — that the Russian Army captured in March. The Russians have been firing from the cover of the Zaporizhzhia station since mid-July, Ukrainian military and civilian officials said, sending rockets over the river at Nikopol and other targets.

It is, in effect, a free shot. Ukraine cannot unleash volleys of shells in return using American-provided advanced rocket systems, which have silenced Russian guns elsewhere on the front line. Doing so would risk striking one of the six pressurized water reactors or highly radioactive waste in storage. And Russia knows it.

“They are hiding there so they cannot be hit,” said Oleksandr Sayuk, the mayor of Nikopol. “Why else would they be at the electrical station? To use such an object as a shield is very dangerous.”

Residents have been fleeing Nikopol because of the dangers of both shelling and of a potential radiation leak. And those who remain feel helpless, as if they are targets in a shooting gallery.

“We are like condemned prisoners who must just stand still and be shot at,” said Halyna Hrashchenkova, a retiree whose home was hit by Russian artillery. “They shoot at us, and there is nothing we can do.”

I spoke to retired Marine General Richard Zilmer, former Commander of US Forces in Anbar Province, Iraq, who now studies energy security, about this vulnerability a few years ago.

Below, Physicist Prof. Michio Kaku discusses dangers for a nuclear plant in a war zone below.

Times again:

As the counterattack picks up, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant poses a quandary. Russian forces have occupied the nuclear site since March 4 but began using it for artillery strikes only three weeks ago, Ukrainian officials say, about when HIMARS appeared on the battlefield. Shielded from return fire, the Russians are menacing Ukrainian troops advancing toward the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River, one of the last remaining crossing points for Russian resupply.

It is a problem Ukraine will have to solve as it moves troops and equipment into the area for the counteroffensive.

The Ukrainian Army’s retaliatory options at Nikopol are limited. One tactic it has tried is to execute precision strikes that avoid, as much as possible, the risk of damaging the reactors. On July 22, for instance, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency reported a strike with a kamikaze drone that blew up an antiaircraft installation and a Grad rocket launcher and that killed soldiers in a tent camp about 150 yards from a reactor.

The fighting near the power plant has renewed worries that the war will set off a release of radiation in a country chockablock with delicate and dangerous nuclear sites, including Chernobyl, which Russia occupied in March but then abandoned. Last
Friday, a huge, roiling plume of black smoke rose a few miles south of the reactors at Zaporizhzhia, and the Ukrainian military said it had hit a Russian ammunition depot.


7 Responses to “Russians Using Gas as a Weapon, Nuclear Plant as a Shield”

  1. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Hundreds of nuke plants, running for about 8 decades(?), not one hit by a shell. Yet.
    STILL the safest form of power generation by a long long way. Yet they are still subject to ‘impossible expectations’ despite their TOP safety record.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Yeah! An artillery shell hit a solar array near me and I was cut by a piece of glass!

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Ewigkeitsaufgabe, “fending off the lies of disturbed people”

      I’m flabbergasted—except wait, no, really I’m not even a little surprised—that there can be people who seem relatively normal & sane in limited contact on a page but are still so warped & twisted by their lives they refuse to see the horrific risk posed by this technology in a world being shredded by climate catastrophe—which they also refuse to see. What possible attachment disturbance, addiction, raging personality disorder could make someone lie, twist the truth, & manipulate people to prevent the use of the only safe solutions to the existential crisis of humanity? There will be more war, less time, less money & expertise, less water, less equity, less democracy, less safety & security, less cohesiveness, less ability to keep performing the already ridiculously impossible eternity task of safeguarding anything, let alone everything in the whole nuclear chain.

      • John Oneill Says:

        On the contrary, some of the first nuclear pioneers were warning about excess CO2 in the air way back. Alvin Weinberg, for example, who invented the light water reactor, and directed most of the practical work on molten salt reactors, published a paper in 1974, ‘Global Effects of Man’s production of Energy’. In 1975 he testified to Congress on his climate concerns. Antinuclear activists were mostly blissfully ignorant of this till decades later. Amory Lovins’ paper, ‘ Energy Strategy -The Road Not Not Taken?’, from 1976, called for fluidised bed coal burners to be used whenever solar or wind couldn’t meet the need. To reduce the need for imported oil and gas, he wrote ‘Coal can fill the real gaps in our fuel economy with only a temporary and modest (less than twofold at peak) expansion of mining’. Jimmy Carter was strongly influenced by Lovins’ ‘soft path’ scenario, and in fact US coal production rose 25% during his presidency.
        The ‘Green’ politicians running the German Energy Ministry demonstrated this month how much they cared about the climate. They refused to keep the last three German reactors running to save emitting twenty million tonnes of CO2, but then knuckled under as soon as it became clearer that they wouldn’t be able to get enough gas and coal.
        John O’Neill

        • J4Zonian Says:

          I didn’t say they didn’t know. But as soon as the nuke industry did know, some collaborated with fossil fuel, tobacco, & other industry barons in the first steps toward the creation of the science-denial industry. Ecological activists were aware of the need to ditch fossil fuels long before that; to blame their lack of full information on anyone but the monstrous psychopaths who knew it & hid it, or to despise or ridicule them for not knowing, is the cynical, manipulative behavior of a very disturbed person.

          I read Lovins’ Foreign Affairs article, then the book, when they were published. Anyone who’s seen the tragically hilarious recidivist pessimist graphs of IEA, EIA ETC. wind & solar projections

          can appreciate the fluidized bed thing made a certain amount of sense from that point of view, IOW, the point of view of the vast overwhelming majority of humanity who deludes themselves into thinking things will stay pretty much the same. Lovins was wrong about coal & many of us knew it then; as the capabilities of solar & wind, now batteries, have soared, he corrected that mistake, & while there’s no scholar or activist in the world I agree with 100%, he comes a lot closer than most & his statements come out of honest, deep & exacting research. All we get from nuke shdullps is prevarication, outright lies, & half-warmed fishes.

          I lived, in close proximity, through the sensibly distrustful alarm over TMI, experiencing there days of concentrated lying in the midst of decades of lying, now concentrated by anti-social media & industrial application of sociopathic marketing techniques.

          The only thing wrong with Germany is the former, conservative government did what the US government is doing—collaborated with oligarchic psychopaths who refuse to change anything even if it means dooming civilization to end soon in chaos & violence.

          Nukes cannot do the job. They can’t be built nearly as cheaply as solar & wind; while the more S&W get built the cheaper they get (Swanson’s Law: 20% drop for every doubling in capacity, actually working out recently to 28%.) Nukes are the opposite. It’s not remotely possible to build them fast enough, preserving any semblance of safety or democracy, & to try would lead to fatal delay, destruction & cataclysm. As this vastly cruel & unequal civilization crumbles, any pretense of protection they & their whole fuel cycle have now will crumble with it. Of course the spent fuel rods have made no sign of learning anything from Zaporizhzhia or Chernobyl Part b any more than they’ve learned from anything else climate activists & the left have been shouting at them for decades.

          If the lunatic right wing hadn’t delayed the building of clean safe fast cheap reliable renewable energy, we’d have a renewably-powered world already.

  2. John Oneill Says:

    ‘You can’t blackmail people with a wind turbine.’
    Putin is blackmailing Europe right now, especially Germany. The German’s built nearly 65GW of wind turbines over the last two decades, more than enough to provide their entire electricity needs – on a good day. For the many ‘less good’ days -like at the moment, with wind making about 10% of nameplate – they relied on Russian gas, and coal. That’s proving to have been shortsighted.
    Although the Ukrainians are understandably reluctant to shell their own reactors, and happy to use nuclear fears as another propoganda tool against Russia, it’s unlikely that anything short of a deliberate multiple strike would cause a serious radiation leak. The VVR-1000 reactors at Zaporizhie have heavily reinforced concrete domes about 5 feet thick over them. Breaching that would not cause a leak – you’d also have to penetrate the ~foot thick, forged steel pressure vessel, which is much smaller. Even then, any leak would likely be far less than that from the totally different Chernobyl 4 design. Even Chernobyl killed less people than German coal plants have been doing every year.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Yes, Tactic#1 for ARF trolls: Collaborate—in whatever petty, impotent way you can—with the psychotics running the US & too much of the world, who have done everything they could for decades to stop the building of clean safe fast cheap reliable renewable energy. Then condemn it because there’s not enough to meet our needs. Despicable.

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