The UN Atomic watch classified radiation levels at the Chernobyl nuclear accident site as “abnormal,” adding that the area’s brief Russian occupation was “very, very dangerous.”
“The radiation level, I would say, is abnormal,” said International Atomic Energy Agency director Rafael Grossi during a visit on the anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
“There have been some moments when the levels have gone up because of the movement of the heavy equipment that Russian forces were bringing here, and when they left,” he said, adding, “we are following that day by day.”
As he approached the sarcophagus that houses the nuclear reactor’s toxic remnants, he described the Russian takeover as “absolutely abnormal and very dangerous.”
On February 24, the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian troops seized the location, taking Ukrainian soldiers prisoner and seizing civilian workers. The occupation lasted until March, causing widespread concern about nuclear leakage.
Russian forces may have been exposed to radiation after excavating fortifications in several areas at the site and kicking up clouds of dust with their armoured vehicles.
An uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction destroyed the reactor on April 26, 1986, in an accident that was first kept under wraps by Soviet officials. As a result, hundreds of people were killed, while the exact figure is unknown.
Eventually, 3,50,000 people were evacuated from a 30-kilometre radius surrounding the plant, creating an exclusion zone that is still empty, except for a few elderly locals who returned despite an official restriction. The other three reactors of the Chernobyl power plant were turned down one by one, the most recent in 2000.
The European Union has warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine risks triggering a new nuclear calamity in Europe, 36 years after the Chernobyl disaster.
“Today, Russia’s illegal and unjustified aggression in Ukraine again jeopardizes nuclear safety on our continent,” the European Commission said. It said that Moscow’s soldiers “targeted and occupied Ukrainian nuclear sites, recklessly harming the facilities.”
“The unlawful occupation and the interruption of normal operations, such as preventing the rotation of personnel, undermine the safe and secure operation of nuclear power plants in Ukraine and significantly raise the risk of an accident,” it said.