Conflation of nuclear accidents at Zaporizhzhia NPP likely part of Russia’s op to undermine Western support for Ukraine – ISW

Russian troops stand near the Zaporizhzhia NPP

Russian soldier stands near the Zaporizhzhia NPP. Illustrative photo: Energoatom 

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Editor’s Note

In its November 21 assessment of the Russian offensive campaign, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War addressed the last weekend’s reported artillery attacks on the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) saying that Russia’s “continued conflation of radiological and nuclear accidents and the constant discussion of the threat of disaster at the ZNPP is likely part of a wider Russian information operation meant to undermine Western support for Ukraine and frame Russian control of the plant as essential.”

Two days of shelling caused widespread damage to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on November 20 and 21. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated on November 21 that there are no immediate nuclear safety and security concerns and that the integrity of all six nuclear reactors and the spent and fresh fuel storage facilities remain uncompromised despite the intense shelling.

Russia denies IAEA full access to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after it was rocked by powerful explosions this weekend

Russia and Ukraine both accused the other of conducting the artillery strikes on the ZNPP on November 20 and 21.

One Russian milblogger referenced a video of the shelling taken by Chechen forces and stated that it appeared the shelling came from positions in Russian-controlled territory south of the ZNPP, not Ukrainian-controlled territory north of the ZNPP.

Russian nuclear operator Rosatom Head Alexey Likhachev warned of a nuclear disaster at the ZNPP, and Russian milbloggers largely amplified his statements and called for the transfer of all Ukrainian nuclear power plants to Russian operation.

ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces have staged false flag attacks against the ZNPP and previously reported on Russian forces’ unlawful militarization of the ZNPP.

Artillery strikes themselves are unlikely to penetrate the containment units protecting each nuclear reactor and instead pose a greater threat to the spent nuclear fuel storage facilities, which could leak radioactive material and cause a radiological (as opposed to nuclear) disaster if compromised.

The continued conflation of radiological and nuclear accidents and the constant discussion of the threat of disaster at the ZNPP is likely part of a wider Russian information operation meant to undermine Western support for Ukraine and frame Russian control of the plant as essential to avoid nuclear catastrophe in order to consolidate further operational and administrative control of Ukrainian nuclear assets and compel elements of the international community to recognize Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory at least obliquely.

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