Russia seizes control of Chernobyl nuclear power plant from Ukraine: Ukrainian official

The IAEA has called for "maximum restraint" to avoid putting the country's nuclear facilities at risk.

Matthias Ang | February 25, 2022, 12:20 PM

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Russia has seized control of the disused Chernobyl power plant from Ukraine, after a "fierce" battle on the first day of its invasion, AP News reported.

According to Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak, Russian forces had engaged the Ukrainian National Guard in battle.

IAEA expresses concern about Ukraine's nuclear facilities

He was further quoted by Reuters as saying, "It is impossible to say the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe after a totally pointless attack by the Russians."

"This is one of the most serious threats in Europe today," he added.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) general director, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said that Ukraine had informed the agency about "unidentified armed forces" taking control of the Chernobyl plant and that there were no casualties or destruction at the industrial site.

The agency added that it was following the situation with "grave concern" and called for "maximum restraint" to avoid putting any of the country's nuclear facilities at risk.

Apart from Chernobyl, Ukraine has four other nuclear power plants, all of which are active, according to Australian media ABC News.

Chernobyl itself is the site of Europe's worst nuclear disaster, when the plant's reactor No. 4 exploded on Apr. 26, 1986, spewing radioactive material into the atmosphere.

In 2017, a massive shelter was built over the reactor's building to contain radiation which was still leaking out, AP News further reported.

The site has also become a tourist attraction over the decades. A week before Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, it was closed to tourists.

Why are the Russians taking control of Chernobyl?

According to Reuters, Chernobyl's significance lies in its geography as it sits on the shortest land route from Belarus to Kyiv, Ukraine's capital.

The distance from reactor No. 4 to Kyiv is 108km.

In addition, Belarus currently serves as one of the staging grounds for Russia's invasion into Ukraine, according to CNN.

Source: Screenshot from Google Maps

Chernobyl is therefore seen as a "stepping stone" towards Kyiv, ABC News further reported, according to professor of international security and intelligence studies at Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, John Blaxland.

A senior analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Malcolm Davis, also said that it did not make sense for Russia to use Chernobyl as a threat when it already has nuclear weapons.

"I think there has to be concern that any heavy fighting in that immediate vicinity could potentially cause a new nuclear disaster.

But I don't think the Russians sought to control Chernobyl for the sake of controlling Chernobyl — it's more a point of controlling Chernobyl as a key location to support the advance on Kyiv."

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Left image via @TadeuszGiczan Twitter, right image via Google Maps