Nukewatch Quarterly Spring 2022
By John LaForge
The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) February 27 that missiles hit the site of a radioactive waste disposal facility in Kyiv over night, and “there were no reports of damage to the building or any indications of a radioactive release,” IAEA’s Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement.
The IAEA’s alert then noted that “SNRIU said it expects to soon receive the results of on-site radioactive monitoring.”
The carefully worded report is deceptively telling. It first declared that there are “no indications” and “no reports” of a radioactive release. But this reassurance was given before any data from radiation monitors had been reviewed, making the statement simultaneously true, and completely meaningless.
Bob Alvarez, a former senior advisor and deputy assistant secretary in the Energy Department, and a long-time critic of nuclear reactor operations, reported, “Given that war is raging at or near the Chernobyl reactor site, more than 21,000 waste nuclear fuel assemblies are currently held in a pool inside of a crumbling building. Several waste fuel assemblies are bent, broken, and cracked. Efforts to remove and place the waste fuel into dry storage have stopped. [An additional] 4,000 cubic meters of high-level waste, resulting from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, are stored in shallow, “engineered trenches” that may also be vulnerable to bombing and artillery fire. The loss of water and destruction of the waste fuel pool storage building, or the destruction of any of the trenches holding high level waste, could result in a catastrophic release.”
The Kyiv radioactive waste incident came a day after Ukraine’s SNRIU reported that a similar disposal facility near the north-eastern city of Kharkiv had been damaged, but again “without any reports of a radioactive release.”
Director General Grossi said, “These two incidents highlight the very real risk that facilities with radioactive material will suffer damage during the conflict, with potentially severe consequences for human health and the environment.”