The Chernobyl Factor in the Ukraine Crisis

Twenty-eight years after its Chernobyl nuclear plant blew up, Ukraine confronts a nuclear specter of a different kind: the possibility that its reactors could become military targets in the event of a Russian invasion. Moreover, warfare is rife with accidents and human error, any number of which could cause a meltdown.

LOS ANGELES – Twenty-eight years after its Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded, Ukraine confronts a nuclear specter of a different kind: the possibility that the country’s reactors could become military targets in the event of a Russian invasion. Speaking at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague in March, Andrii Deshchytsia, Ukraine’s acting foreign minister, cited the “potential threat to many nuclear facilities” should events deteriorate into open warfare.

Earlier in the month, Ihor Prokopchuk, Ukraine’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, circulated a letter to the organization’s board of governors warning that an invasion could bring a “threat of radiation contamination on the territory of Ukraine and the territory of neighboring states.” In Kyiv, Ukraine’s parliament responded by calling for international monitors to help protect the plants as the cash-strapped government attempts to boost its own efforts.

Are Ukraine’s concerns mere hyperbole – a “malicious slander,” as the Kremlin puts it – or should we take them seriously? For Ukraine’s government, the angst is real. Even Ukrainians born after 1986 understand what a Chernobyl-type disaster brought about by battle could look like.

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