Non-peaceful atom for Europe… Will IAEA be able to stop Putin’s nuclear blackmail?

The likelihood that the Russian military and Rosatom expert will go for an act of sabotage at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (Enerhodar) with potentially catastrophic consequences continues remains at its highest. After all, nuclear terrorism is part of Russia’s traditional toolkit. The Kremlin has repeatedly threatened the world with nuclear weapons while Russian invasion forces have turned Europe’s largest nuclear power plant practically into a military base. From the first days of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Federation took unprecedented actions by capturing the Chornobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants. These are the first such cases in world history, constituting a gross violation of international atomic law.

“We are getting dangerously close to a nuclear accident,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told the UN Security Council on April 15, 2024 as he spoke of the recent shelling of the ZNPP. It should be recalled that back in July 2023, during a tour of the ZNPP, IAEA inspectors came across anti-personnel mines planted in the buffer zone between the outer and inner fences along the plant perimeter. How can this be acceptable at a nuclear facility?

And just a week ago, the ZNPP was subjected to a drone strike, for the first time since November 2022. One of the strikes targeted the protective dome of reactor 6, and two more hit objects near the buildings hosting the nuclear reactors. At least one person was injured. The Kremlin, as usual, hastened to blame Ukraine. In response, the Ukrainian government-run Energoatom stated that such groundless accusations are an attempt by Moscow to conceal its own intentions. The fact that the Russian invaders decided to simulate a Ukrainian attack on the ZNPP using drones was highlighted in a study by UK-based military analysts from McKenzie, commissioned by Greenpeace Germany. The Russian government’s statements about alleged Ukrainian drone attacks on the ZNPP contain signs of them being staged by Russia, the report said, adding that the UAVs were launched from the area near the plant and therefore could have arrived from Russia-held territory.

The occupation of Enerhodar and Zaporizhia NPP poses one of the most significant threats to European security. Russian troops at the Zaporizhzhia NPP put pressure on plant staff, which directly affects its safe operation and the ability to quickly respond to crises. Mounting evidence from eyewitnesses indicates that from the very outset of the occupation, the Russian military and Rosatom launched a systematic, large-scale campaign of abductions, torture, and murder of ZNPP personnel and residents of Enerhodar.

Putin continues to blackmail the entire civilized world with a nuclear disaster at Europe’s largest NPP. This is deliberate nuclear terrorism, which is used for achieving political goals. The only way to prevent a catastrophe at the Zaporizhzhia NPP is to de-occupy the facility and transfer it back under Kyiv’s control. To this end, the UN, IAEA, and Western democracies must increase pressure on the Russian Federation. Only through coordinated and joint efforts can the actual “peaceful atom” return to Europe.