Boris vows to keep sending weapons to Ukraine as Putins actions threaten nuclear disaster

Ukraine: Fire breaks out at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

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The PM told the Daily Express that while the outlook in Ukraine was now “very bleak” Britain would continue to offer as much support as possible. But he accepted “time is very, very tight”. Putin faced fresh global condemnation yesterday when his troops hit Europe’s biggest nuclear power station. Experts had warned the attack at the Zaporizhzhia plant risked a disaster “10 times larger” than the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.

Western security sources described the incident as “unprecedented” and clear evidence of the “recklessness” of Putin’s offensive.

Just hours before the attack at the nuclear plant, the Prime Minister told the Daily Express that while the outlook in Ukraine was now “very bleak” the Government would continue to offer as much support as possible.

In an exclusive interview at Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: “We’re just doing all the things you can imagine to try to keep the poor Ukrainians going in any way that we can.

“So the situation is very, very bleak for them, I’m afraid to say.

“The Russian war machine is enormous, still encircling cities, tightening its grip around them.

“And what we’re trying to do is keep getting aid going through to the Ukrainians, to try to supply them with defensive weaponry.

“Quite a large amount has already gone through, particularly anti-tank weapons. I think we were the first European country to supply them, and quite a bit has gone through. And we are doing more.”

Interviewed by the Daily Express in the Thatcher Room study at Number 10, the PM added: “As I speak, planes are leaving from the UK, basically going to a logistics hub in the area, and then lorries are taking it all through.

“But time is very, very tight. So we’re having to squeeze Putin economically and that’s been extremely effective, perhaps more than we thought.

“Sanctions alone never really work, but these do seem to be making a big difference and you’ll see what’s happened to the Russian currency, the ruble and the stock market and so on.”

Mr Johnson yesterday called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council following the attack on the Zaporizhzhia plant, which provides 20 per cent of Ukraine’s power.

The site was ablaze for several hours after Russian artillery fired salvos at it, sparking an extended firefight.

The inferno was eventually doused by firefighters as Kremlin forces secured the plant.

But Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky led worldwide condemnation of the action, accusing Putin of resorting to “nuclear terror” and risking a catastrophe that could have spelled “the end for everybody, the end of Europe”.

The attack had also left three Ukrainian troops dead. In a video message, Mr Zelensky said: “You know the word Chernobyl. No country other than Russia has ever fired on nuclear power units.

“This is the first time in our history. In the history of mankind. The terrorist state now resorted to nuclear terror.” During the attack itself, Mr Zelensky said: “Europe needs to wake up. The biggest nuclear power plant in Europe is on fire right now.

“Russian tanks are shooting at the nuclear blocks. These are tanks equipped with thermal imagers, so they know what they are aiming at.”

CCTV captured a fierce gun battle between the Kremlin’s troops and Ukrainian defenders during the attack yesterday.

It was during this artillery exchange that a fire began at the six-storey training building just by the main complex.

Eyewitnesses on the ground told how the Russian forces then stopped firefighters from getting to the building for several hours as the fighting raged on. Eventually, emergency crews were allowed to go in and douse the flames before Russian troops moved in and occupied the site.

The UN’s nuclear monitoring agency said that none of the site’s six reactors had been directly damaged and radiation levels remained normal.

But Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, had the plant blown up, the disaster would have been “10 times larger than Chernobyl”.

But there had been panic several hours earlier when Andriy Tuz, a spokesman for the Zaporizhzhia plant, said in a video message that it was feared one of the six reactors was on fire. But the reactor in question was not in use, it later emerged.

Mr Tuz said: “There is a real threat of nuclear danger in the biggest atomic energy station in Europe.”

He said shells were falling directly on the plant, but firefighters could not get near the fire because they were being shot at.

Rafael Grossi, the International Atomic Energy Agency director, tweeted that he was “deeply concerned” by the situation, and called for an urgent end to the fighting around the plant.

The IAEA yesterday said it was putting its Incident and Emergency Centre “in full 24/7 response mode due to the serious situation”, adding that plant personnel were “taking mitigatory actions”.

US President Joe Biden urged Moscow to stop all its military activities around the site.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also branded Putin’s action at the plant “reckless”.

Meanwhile, the windows of Downing Street have been covered with pictures of sunflowers by school children from across the nation. They are the national flowers of Ukraine and have come to represent hope and solidarity.

Experts had warned the attack at Zaporizhzhia plant risked a disaster “10 times larger” than the Chernobyl meltdown.

Q&As by Mark Reynolds

What exactly is the power plant which was attacked?

The Zaporizhzhia facility is a nuclear energy plant that has six VVER-1000 pressurised water reactor units producing 1/5 of Ukraine’s electricity. It is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

Could the fire have caused disaster?

In theory, yes, and 10 times bigger than Chernobyl which saw the last major nuclear disaster in 1986. But experts point out that this nuclear facility is actually far safer and resistant than that at Chernobyl.

How is it safer?

The plant is a relatively modern reactor design and as such the essential reactor components are housed inside a heavily steel reinforced concrete containment building that can withstand extreme external events, both natural and man-made, such as an aircraft crash or explosions. The reactor core is itself further housed in a sealed steel pressure vessel with 20cm thick walls.

Is it now secure?

The design is very different to the Chernobyl reactor, which did not have a containment building, and hence there is no real risk at the plant now the reactors have been safely shut down.

What could the Russians now use it for?

This remains to be seen, but it is a huge energy plant providing Ukraine’s electricity.

A spokesman for the Nuclear Industry Association said they would now be monitoring what Russia plans to do with it.

Could they use it to produce nuclear weapons?

No. Nuclear energy and nuclear weapons involve different technologies.

Nuclear weapons today involve fusing two atoms together in an uncontrolled explosion. Nuclear energy involves harnessing the decay of naturally occurring radioactive elements in a slow and controlled reaction, creating heat that turns steam turbines.

How many nuclear power plants are there in Ukraine?

The invasion of Ukraine is unusually dangerous because it is a conflict being waged in a country with significant nuclear power. There are four major nuclear plants n Ukraine, and the now-retired Chernobyl.

Russia already nowhas control of Zaporizhzhia and Chernobyl and it is approaching a third site – the South Ukraine nuclear power plant.

Comment by Professor Robin Grimes

The heart of a nuclear reactor is its pressure vessel. This contains the nuclear fuel and therefore the radioactive products from the nuclear reaction.

The pressure vessel is very robust and can withstand considerable damage from phenomena such as earthquakes and, to an extent, kinetic impacts.

It is not designed to withstand explosive ordinance such as artillery shells.

While it seems unlikely that such an impact would result in a Chernobyl-like nuclear event [though obviously this has never been tested and it is not impossible], a breach of the pressure vessel would be followed by the release of coolant pressure, scattering nuclear fuel debris across the vicinity of the plant and a cloud of coolant with some entrained particles reaching further.

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At the very least this would make it enormously difficult to deal with the issue and the problem would continue to evolve.

The pressure vessel also contains the coolant which removes the heat generated by the nuclear reaction. Even after the nuclear reaction is turned off there remains decay heat which must continue to be removed for some time, up to a few weeks certainly.

It is therefore crucial that coolant continues to be circulated around the reactor core within the pressure vessel.Following a loss of coolant [often referred to as a loss of coolant accident or a LOCA] the core will sustain massive damage resulting in the loss of radioactive products from the fuel, such as happened in Fukushima. Coolant must be maintained and we must continue to monitor this.

It is therefore staggering and reckless to the extreme that shells have been fired close to a nuclear plant, let alone targeting buildings within the plant. Even if they were not aiming for the nuclear plant, artillery is notoriously inaccurate in a time of war.

Fortunately, it is clear from International Atomic Energy Agency measurements, and from others, that radiation levels in and around the plant have not risen. We can therefore assume that, for the time being, the core remains intact. But we must continue to monitor this closely and I have no doubt the IAEA are considering this very carefully.

• Professor Robin Grimes is a former adviser to the Ministry of Defence.

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