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Why Russia Attacked Ukraine's Largest Nuclear Power Plant

| Mar. 04, 2022

“This is the first time an operating civilian nuclear power plant has been subject to military assault,” Bunn said. But, he added, the word “operating” is key. Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, before it began operating. Israel also bombed a preoperational reactor in Syria in 2007. Iran likewise bombed a preoperational reactor in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War.

“It appears that [Russia] wanted to seize that facility, but they weren’t trying to destroy a nuclear power plant,” Matthew Bunn, a nuclear policy expert and a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, told Yahoo News. “They weren’t shelling the reactors themselves; they were having a firefight outside the facility with the Ukrainians.”

“It’s an obvious strategic target,” Bunn said. “And it’s right on the Dnipro River, which sort of separates Ukraine in two, so it’s quite a strategic location as well. My guess is they were seizing it for that reason and not because they wanted to cause a major radioactive release.”

Attacking a nuclear power plant specifically is also a violation of agreements to which Russia is a party. “The member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency, including Russia, unanimously agreed some years ago that attacking nuclear power plants was a violation of the U.N. Charter and of the statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Bunn said.

Bunn said he would guess that Russia would argue that it didn’t attack the plant, only military forces near it. But, he added, “it was certainly extremely reckless to get into a firefight right outside a nuclear power plant.”

“At the moment, as with the Chernobyl site, we have this odd situation where the Russians are in charge of the facility overall, but the Ukrainians are continuing to operate the reactor systems,” Bunn said.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Why Russia Attacked Ukraine's Largest Nuclear Power Plant.” News, Yahoo News, March 4, 2022.