As if the nuclear threat wielded by Vladimir Putin were not enough. On the night of March 3 to 4, the 9th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia took control of Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhia, after occupying Chernobyl for a week. . Artillery strikes caused a fire, which was extinguished at 6:20 a.m. by Ukrainian state emergency service units. Quickly, the Secretary General of NATO, the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, denounced an attack which ” demonstrates the irresponsible nature of this war and the need to put an end to it “, while the anguish rises.
When we arrived in Ternopil, long queues in front of pharmacies. Residents buy iodine tablets to prevent nuclear risk after the attack on the Zaporizhia power plant. @RTLFrance@Julien_Fautratpic.twitter.com/YMFCoxJcC7
— Valentin Boissais (@vboissais) March 4, 2022
Shortly after the plant was taken over, Ukrainians even sought to obtain iodine from pharmacies to protect themselves in the event of a nuclear accident. But quickly, Ukraine reassures: the head of the military administration of the region Oleksandre Staroukh explained that “ nuclear security is now guaranteed “, the fire having affected a building for training and a laboratory, but not the reactors of the plant. If the risk of an accident, according to several nuclear safety specialists contacted by Marianne, can not be ruled out, it is relatively small. Especially since the Russians have little interest in exposing themselves to a nuclear risk. So why take Zaporizhia? “Strategically, controlling this plant is to exert an additional means of pressure “, explains Michaël Mangeon, associate researcher at the City and Society Environment (EVS) laboratory at the University of Lyon.
No nuclear interest
Nuclear itself is probably of no interest to the Russians on this site. Difficult to derive any benefit from the fuels present on site. The previous week, after the capture of Chernobyl, some feared that Russia would use it to make bombs. But Russia is already sufficiently armed in this area. ” From a nuclear physics point of view, nothing can interest them in Chernobyl “, insisted a connoisseur of nuclear safety contacted by Marianne. Another hypothetical risk: Russia could, by taking the power stations, get its hands on Ukrainian cryptocurrency wallets and their means of production which are often installed in the immediate vicinity of the power stations, as we explained in this article.
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But above all, a power plant is certainly a place of production, but also a place of distribution of energy “, continues the same specialist. Its occupation makes it possible to get their hands on the operation of a large part of the Ukrainian electricity network. The 6 reactors at the Zaporizhia site, 550 km south of Kiev, provide ⅕ of the country’s electricity – making it the most powerful plant in Europe, with the capacity to supply electricity to around 4 million homes . “ It is a strategic site of prime importance and an essential infrastructure for Ukraine and its electricity supply », adds Michaël Mangeon.
The capture of the site thus offers Russia the possibility of plunging the country into complete darkness. ” We can imagine a blackout, a big voluntary power cut “Explains a specialist, which would undermine the resistance of the country. ” Cutting the supply of cities in the event of a guerrilla can benefit the Russians », Considers another expert: difficult to lead the resistance without infrastructure requiring electricity.
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It also means hospitals without electricity that can no longer care for the sick or injured. Factories, stores, homes in which light bulbs, refrigerators, heaters sometimes no longer work. Emergency batteries and generators, as well as fuel reserves, could temporarily continue to supply them, but not permanently. ” The civil consequences would be particularly important, whether on food, public lighting, etc. », Examines an expert. The few potential spared: military forces, which often benefit from their own energy sources.
Ukraine in autarky
Especially since since February 24, Ukraine has been disconnected from the Russian electricity grid. Since then, the country has been autonomous and can only count on its own electricity production. It is therefore more vulnerable to any accident on a dam, a nuclear or coal plant… “ If all the means of production fall one after the other, there is therefore a risk of a disruption in supply and therefore of a blackout throughout the Ukrainian territory. », Considers our source.
READ ALSO: Electricity: the EU connects Ukraine to its network and wants to reduce its dependence on Russia
Hence Ukraine’s urgent request, on February 27, to be connected to the European electricity grid – followed by Moldova the next day. The next day, these two attachments were approved by the 27 Energy Ministers meeting in Brussels. But the technical challenge is daunting. We must both connect Ukraine and ensure ” the security and stability of continental Europe’s electricity system “, notes the site of ENTSO-E, the European network of electricity transmission managers. It will take at least ten days “ to draw technical conclusions and make a decision », then start the technical procedures, explains this March 4 the French manager, RTE. Until then, the Ukrainian network is self-sufficient, and therefore particularly vulnerable.