Tuesday’s collapse of the Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro river in southern Ukraine has sparked concerns over the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, prompting experts to update their risk assessment for the plant. 

The collapse has already caused a major environmental disaster down river from the dam, flooding dozens of villages and cities such as Kherson, with thousands of people evacuated. The dam was also vital for storing drinking water to serve the region, while related irrigation systems provided water for 584,000 hectares of some of Ukraine’s most fertile farmland. Floodwaters have also uprooted and dispersed mines and artillery shells, with the Red Cross warning they could pose a grave danger for civilians for decades to come.

The disaster prompted Scientists for Global Responsibility to revise its article on the risks posed to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant (ZNPP) – which is located up river from the dam and its adjoining reservoir. SGR note that the reservoir was “a source of cooling water for the nuclear reactors at Zaporizhzhia NPP”. If the reactors overheat, this could lead to disastrous “radiological releases”.

While ZNPP also has a large separate cooling pond which for now remains intact, SGR warns that “if refilling is needed, a key source for this was the reservoir. So the dam breach removes one layer of protection for the nuclear plant by making the refilling of the cooling ponds much more difficult.”

Zaporizhzhia NPP came under Russian control early in its invasion of Ukraine and the region is now on the frontline of what is believed to be a major Ukrainian offensive aimed at recapturing occupied territory. Electricity to the plant has been cut several times over the last year due to shelling in its vicinity, which Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of being responsible for. SGR says the biggest threat to the plant’s safety remains the use of heavy weaponry which “could cut electrical supplies vital for pumping the cooling water into the reactors or lead to strikes upon radioactive waste material or the cooling pond walls.”

The UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, which monitors the plant, said it would boost its presence there with a larger team who will visit the site and wider frontline next week, along with IAEA chief Rafael Grossi.

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:

“The destruction of the Kakhovka dam is an ecological disaster that will have serious environmental and humanitarian consequences for years to come. This has made the already precarious situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant far worse and it raises the chances of a radioactive release which would add a terrible new dimension to the horrors already being experienced. CND calls for the plant to be demilitarised to ensure its future safety, and for world leaders to act to end this conflict.”