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© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: This is screengrab taken from a Facebook video that shows a flare hitting the Zaporizhia nuclear plant in Enerhodar Oblast, Ukraine on March 4, 2022. Zaporizhzhya NPP via

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By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia’s takeover of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine should spur companies and policymakers to be more careful in plans to build reactors to fight climate change, nuclear safety experts said on Friday.

Russian troops seized Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine’s nuke power plant. The incident occurred after intense fighting set off a massive fire at a nearby training center. Officials declared the site safe after the fire was put out.

However, the seizure, which occurred a week after Russian troops overtook Ukraine’s still radioactive Chernobyl reactor plant, raised global concern about nuclear energy and wartime threats that could release deadly radiation.

“You have to take more seriously the need to ensure protection in nuclear plants, not only for natural disasters, but also for manmade ones,” said Edwin Lyman, the director of nuclear power safety at the Union for Concerned scientists.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. U.S. Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. It also threatened civilian safety in Europe, Ukraine, and Russia.

According to the U.S Embassy in Ukraine, the Russian attack on the plant was a war crime.

Henry Sokolski (head of Nonproliferation Policy Education Center), a non-profit group said that the attack was a serious blow to nuclear power as a whole.

According to him, “The Ukrainian nuclear reactor didn’t suffer a major hit last night.”

RACE TO NUCLEAR

As governments make pledges to combat global warming, plans to build nuclear power have increased in the last few years. This generates electricity but emits very little greenhouse gasses.

The World Nuclear Association reports that there are currently 58 nuclear reactors being built and another 325 in the pipeline. Many of the proposed reactors are located in Eastern Europe.

In November, the White House announced that NuScale Power LLC in the United States had signed plans to construct a small modular reactor plant (SMR). The agreement placed “U.S. technology at the forefront of the race to deploy SMR globally.”

NuScale was last month majority-owned by a construction and engineering firm Fluor Corp (NYSE:) signed an agreement to construct a small modular reactor plant in Poland with Polish company KGHM Polska by 2029. This is part of an attempt to decrease dependence on coal which can cause lung damage and large quantities of carbon dioxide.

NuScale also reached an agreement with Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Plants LLP in December to examine the potential deployment of nuclear power plants in Kazakhstan.

Westinghouse Electric Co also signed in January cooperation agreements with 10 Polish firms for possible constructions of six AP1000 standard nuclear reactors. Rafako SA also received a memo from Westinghouse Electric Co expressing concern about the potential development of nuclear power plants in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Ukraine.

NuScale or Westinghouse have not yet responded to our requests for comment on Zaporizhzhia’s seizure, nor about nuclear reactor safety during wartime.

Third Way, an American think tank that backs nuclear power, stated the gravity of climate change meant the world needed to rapidly expand nuclear energy over the next several decades despite all the dangers.

Josh Freed is the senior vice president of climate and energy at the organization. “No energy source can be completely risk-free.” He could kill many people by destroying a dam, or even attacking a nuclear power plant. Freed explained that “nuclear plants are extremely safe.”

Andere may disagree.

Lyman of UCS rejected as “glib talk”, contentions that the new nuclear reactors would be so safe they could be deployed virtually anywhere on Earth with minimum protection.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the U.S. industry group, told Reuters it believes nuclear reactors are safe and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine only reinforces the need for Europe to expand its nuclear energy capacity.

Russia is currently a major supplier of to Europe’s power plants.

John Kotek is senior vice president of policy and public affairs for NEI. “We anticipate that the tragic events in the past week will only increase interest to work with the United States next-generation nuclear energy deployment,” he said.

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