The past 48 hours have witnessed an unshakable shift in our realities. On Thursday, Russia invaded parts of Ukraine by land, air and sea – marking the first time a European country had attacked another since World War II. Then came the news that Russia had seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant – the scene of the infamous and devastating 1986 nuclear disaster. Experts believe fighting in the exclusion zone could potentially disrupt nuclear waste and spread dangerous radioactive material across Europe.
“If the nuclear waste storage facility is destroyed as a result of artillery attacks by the occupying forces, radioactive dust may cover the territories of Ukraine, Belarus and the EU [European Union] countries!” said an unnamed adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry.
On Thursday, videos a grim picture on social media: tanks were parked on a road that leads around the Chernobyl facilities, explosions could be heard in the background. Even a Russian source confirmed that Russian troops were entering the Chernobyl “Exclusion Zone”.
“After the absolutely senseless attack by the Russians in this direction, it is impossible to say that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe,” Ukrainian government adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters. “This is one of the most serious threats in Europe today.”
Chernobyl in Ukraine is a scene of historic tragedy and incomprehensible sadness. It was the scene of the world’s worst nuclear explosion in 1986, when a botched safety test in the nuclear power plant’s fourth reactor sent clouds of nuclear material across much of Europe. It is now one of the most radioactive places on earth and is predicted to be uninhabitable for humans for the next 24,000 years.
Related to The Swaddle:
Forest fires are raging near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant
“In 1986, at Chernobyl, the world experienced the greatest technological catastrophe. If Russia continues the war, Chernobyl 2022 may repeat itself,” according to the country’s foreign ministry tweeted.
The humanitarian costs of Chernobyl, previous wars or the current crisis defy description; untold loss, heartache and suffering remain as history is revised and the sin of imperialism reigns supreme. The ecological consequences of the crises also speak in favor of the toll; The scars left by the Chernobyl disaster in neighboring areas are still visible as a tenth of the land area was affected by the radiation. “Even today, Ukraine continues to release polluted water, heavy metals, organic compounds and oil-related pollutants into the Black Sea,” said a report.
As tests confirm the nuclear waste surrounding Chernobyl is not decaying as quickly as predicted, experts believe the environment will be at risk for at least 180 years – “the time required for half the cesium to deplete through weathering and migration from affected areas.” is removed. Other radionuclides may remain in the region forever,” TIME noted.
Any fighting and attacks in the area could therefore trigger a catastrophic ecological crisis. “We are following the situation in Ukraine with great concern and are appealing for maximum restraint to avoid actions that could jeopardize the country’s nuclear facilities,” Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement.
To date, Ukraine has recorded more than 200 civilian deaths, with the true number painfully unknown. The shadow of an impending war follows people in space and time. “Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 does not repeat itself,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter. “This is a declaration of war on all of Europe.”