The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station is the biggest nuclear reactor in Europe. It is located on the southern bank of the Dnipro River just across from the city of Nikopol. And that means the reactor is currently on the front lines of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Russia has decided to take advantage by using the reactor as a place from which it can launch attacks without fear of retaliatory strikes.

The Russians have been firing from the cover of the Zaporizhzhia station since mid-July, Ukrainian military and civilian officials said, sending rockets over the river at Nikopol and other targets.

It is, in effect, a free shot. Ukraine cannot unleash volleys of shells in return using American-provided advanced rocket systems, which have silenced Russian guns elsewhere on the front line. Doing so would risk striking one of the six pressurized water reactors or highly radioactive waste in storage. And Russia knows it.

“They are hiding there so they cannot be hit,” said Oleksandr Sayuk, the mayor of Nikopol. “Why else would they be at the electrical station? To use such an object as a shield is very dangerous.”…

Over the past three weeks, the Russian military has parked Grad multiple rocket launchers between the reactor buildings, to protect them from retaliatory strikes, said Mr. Orlov, who is in touch with plant employees.

The Russians have also parked an armored personnel carrier and Ural military trucks in the turbine room of Reactor No. 1. The vehicles block a fire access route, Mr. Orlov said, posing a hazard to the entire plant. His assertions could not be independently verified.

Ukraine has been responding to Russian attacks but only very sparingly. Last month they used a drone to hit a Russian position near the plant:

But the number of such attacks is few because there really is a possibility that a direct hit could spread radiation throughout the area. The worst case would be a strike which cracked open one of the concrete shells around an operating reactor which could lead to a meltdown. But the site also stores spent fuel in concrete storage chambers filled with water. If one of those were hit it could release radioactivity in the immediate area.

Finally there’s another risk that doesn’t come from bombs or missiles. Russia has reportedly been placing extreme stress on the plant’s Ukrainian operators:

Russian soldiers have subjected them to harsh interrogations, including torture with electrical shocks, suspecting them of sabotage or of informing the Ukrainian military about activities at the plant, Mr. Orlov said. About a dozen have vanished after being abducted, he said.

So on top of running the reactor, the operators also face torture and possible disappearance from the Russian occupiers. You have to wonder if Russia isn’t hoping for some kind of disaster here. So long as they can blame it on the Ukrainians, do they really care if the surrounding area becomes uninhabitable?

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