Using Nuclear Reactors for Cowl, Russians Lob Rockets at Ukrainians

NIKOPOL, Ukraine — Along many of the entrance line in Russia’s conflict in Ukraine, when one facet lets unfastened with an artillery assault, the opposite shoots again.

But not in Nikopol, a metropolis deep in southern farm nation the place the Ukrainian navy faces a brand new and vexing impediment because it prepares for a serious counteroffensive: a nuclear energy station that the Russian Army has was a fortress.

Nikopol, managed by the Ukrainians, lies on the west financial institution of the Dnipro River. On the alternative financial institution sits a huge nuclear energy plant — Europe’s largest — that the Russian Army captured in March. The Russians have been firing from the duvet of the Zaporizhzhia station since mid-July, Ukrainian navy and civilian officers mentioned, sending rockets over the river at Nikopol and different targets.

It is, in impact, a free shot. Ukraine can’t unleash volleys of shells in return utilizing American-provided superior rocket programs, which have silenced Russian weapons elsewhere on the entrance line. Doing so would threat hanging one of many six pressurized water reactors or extremely radioactive waste in storage. And Russia is aware of it.

“They are hiding there so they cannot be hit,” mentioned 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.”

Residents have been fleeing Nikopol due to the risks of each shelling and of a possible radiation leak. And those that stay really feel helpless, as if they’re targets in a capturing gallery.

“We are like condemned prisoners who must just stand still and be shot at,” mentioned Halyna Hrashchenkova, a retiree whose residence was hit by Russian artillery. “They shoot at us, and there is nothing we can do.”

The assaults from the nuclear plant are complicating Ukraine’s plans within the south, which has turn into the point of interest of the conflict as Russian advances within the east have slowed.

The Ukrainian Army has for greater than two months been telegraphing an intention to counterattack on the west financial institution of the Dnipro River, with the aim being to liberate the town of Kherson. Using a long-range American rocket-launching system generally known as HIMARS, Ukraine has been softening up Russian positions and reducing provide traces. This month rocket strikes destroyed a street and railroad bridges pivotal for Russian resupply of forces on the west financial institution, to the south of Nikopol, nearer to Kherson.

As the counterattack picks up, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant poses a quandary. Russian forces have occupied the nuclear website since March 4 however started utilizing it for artillery strikes solely three weeks in the past, Ukrainian officers say, about when HIMARS appeared on the battlefield. Shielded from return fireplace, the Russians are menacing Ukrainian troops advancing towards the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River, one of many final remaining crossing factors for Russian resupply.

It is an issue Ukraine should resolve because it strikes troops and tools into the world for the counteroffensive.

The Ukrainian Army’s retaliatory choices at Nikopol are restricted. One tactic it has tried is to execute precision strikes that keep away from, as a lot as potential, the danger of damaging the reactors. On July 22, for occasion, Ukraine’s navy intelligence company reported a strike with a kamikaze drone that blew up an antiaircraft set up and a Grad rocket launcher and that killed troopers in a tent camp about 150 yards from a reactor.

The combating close to the facility plant has renewed worries that the conflict will set off a launch of radiation in a rustic chockablock with delicate and harmful nuclear websites, together with Chernobyl, which Russia occupied in March however then deserted. Last
Friday, an enormous, roiling plume of black smoke rose just a few miles south of the reactors at Zaporizhzhia, and the Ukrainian navy mentioned it had hit a Russian ammunition depot.

When the Russian Army seized the Zaporizhzhia plant in March, fight ignited a hearth — and a great deal of fear about nuclear security. In that combating, shrapnel hit however didn’t breach the containment construction of Reactor No. 1. Three of the six reactors are lively now, and the others are idled or present process repairs.

Only a direct strike with a strong weapon would penetrate the reactors’ yard-thick concrete containment vessels, mentioned Dmytro Orlov, the exiled mayor of the town of Enerhodar, the place the reactor is, and a former engineer at the plant. But if that occurred, it might threat a meltdown or explosion that would unfold radiation on the wind inside Ukraine and past, as occurred at Chernobyl in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe.

Updated 

July 31, 2022, 7:15 p.m. ET

Another threat is {that a} shell might hit the extremely radioactive spent gasoline saved in concrete canisters and unfold radiation regionally within the open air, like a grimy bomb.

The fatigue and stress of the Ukrainian management room staff at the reactor are additionally a priority. Russian troopers have subjected them to harsh interrogations, together with torture with electrical shocks, suspecting them of sabotage or of informing the Ukrainian navy about actions at the plant, Mr. Orlov mentioned. About a dozen have vanished after being kidnapped, he mentioned.

The website is in a nuclear regulatory limbo. The Russian navy controls the plant, however Ukrainian engineers function it. The Russians enable Ukrainian truck convoys throughout the entrance line with spare elements and chemical compounds wanted to course of cooling water. Ukrainian nuclear regulators additionally cross the entrance to go to the plant. Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear firm, has dispatched a couple of dozen engineers to watch its operation.

Across the river in Nikopol, the hospitals maintain an emergency provide of iodine tablets to deal with radiation publicity, a precaution that predated the conflict. Little else may be achieved to guard the inhabitants, mentioned Mr. Sayuk, the mayor.

Last Friday, the strolling paths on the town’s riverfront esplanade have been abandoned, although it was a stupendous day.

The paths neglected the nuclear plant’s cooling towers and the column of black smoke close by — all boding ailing for Nikopol residents. Those who stay on the town maintain principally to their houses.

Over the previous three weeks, the Russian navy has parked Grad a number of rocket launchers between the reactor buildings, to guard them from retaliatory strikes, mentioned Mr. Orlov, who’s in contact with plant staff.

The Russians have additionally parked an armored personnel provider and Ural navy vehicles within the turbine room of Reactor No. 1. The automobiles block a hearth entry route, Mr. Orlov mentioned, posing a hazard to all the plant. His assertions couldn’t be independently verified.

The strikes have been hitting houses seemingly at random within the metropolis’s outlying district, punching craters in vegetable gardens, beginning fires and blowing out home windows.

Ms. Hrashchenkova’s home was hit by a artillery shell that didn’t explode, sparing her and her residence. Elsewhere on the town, artillery crushed roofs and blew holes in brick partitions.

The company has additionally publicly appealed to residents of close by Enerhodar to interact in partisan resistance that might not pose a threat to the plant. The Russian-installed mayor of Enerhodar was wounded in a bombing in May. This month, a Russian area kitchen at the station mysteriously exploded, wounding troopers.

And Ukrainian artillery officers have had no qualms about concentrating on the Russian navy in Enerhodar, which is about two miles from the plant. Overnight from Thursday to Friday, explosions destroyed two vehicles and broken a resort the place Russians quartered, wounding eight troopers, Mr. Orlov mentioned.

“The Russian military is beginning to feel uneasy and understand that they are not there forever, as they say, but soon they will either be killed or surrender to Ukrainian captivity,” Petro Kotkin, the president of Ukraine’s nationwide nuclear energy firm, Energoatom, advised the Ukrainian information media.

Still, the nuclear plant presents a singular problem that Ukraine has not needed to cope with beforehand within the conflict.

Col. Serhiy Shatalov, who has been main a Ukrainian infantry battalion on a creeping, village-by-village advance towards the Nova Kakhovka dam, mentioned Russian artillery had principally gone quiet after just a few weeks of HIMARS strikes — besides from the Russian items at the nuclear energy plant.

“How can we respond?” he mentioned. “This is a nuclear site.”

Of the Russians’ use of the reactors for cowl, he mentioned, “don’t search for fairness in war, especially if you fight the Russians.”

Yurii Shyvala contributed reporting.

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