Fancy a mid-winter break in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya?

Zaporizhzhya nuclear power station

There’s a move afoot to safeguard the clapped-out nuclear plant by inserting a specially trained unarmed civilian “protection” team between the warring sides.

Stuart Littlewood writes:

Why this came my way, I don’t know. But it’s scary enough to be of interest to some, though once the realities become known it could be less so.

Zaporizhzhya has six old fission reactors surrounded by 37 years of nuclear waste in unprotected cooling pools and dry casks. The plant is near the front line and has been in Russian hands since February, although it is owned and operated by the Ukrainian state entity Energoatom, whose personnel still have the day to day management. 

For months artillery fire has caused damage to various structures, including the back-up power supply lines needed to keep the reactors and their waste management systems from meltdown or fire.

A nightmare scenario, right enough.

The International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) negotiated an inspection that began on 31 August. Inspectors examined the plant for safety and witnessed the shut-down of the last reactor and reconnection of back-up power to the coolant system. Two international inspectors remain on site. A demilitarised zone of 30km around the plant has been recommended and negotiations are under way but without success so far, leaving thousands of civilians at serious risk if there were to be a release of nuclear material.

It is proposed to create a Zaporizhzhya protection team to monitor the demilitarised zone, assuming it is eventually established. Those with the ability are encouraged to offer their skills and expertise to train and deploy volunteers. But there are a number of problems:

  • Ukraine is reluctant to demilitarise its sovereign territory for fear of ceding it to the Russian occupation. Russia is reluctant to demilitarise such a strategic asset that its army now controls. Armed UN peacekeepers would only add more weapons to this volatile situation.
  • IAEA inspectors have set an example by going unarmed into occupied territory to preserve the lives of thousands of civilians.
  • It is felt that neutral and unarmed civilians, suitably trained and in sufficient numbers, could monitor a demilitarised zone without giving military advantage to either side; at the same time protecting the plant until its fate is decided by the fortunes of war or negotiation.
  • Their mission would be about the safety of humanity and not have any other agenda. It would thus attract global support, it is argued.
  • It’s a chance for those who already practise nonviolent action or unarmed protection, but have been forced by events to work at the margins, to now come to the centre of this conflict and offer an alternative to militarism. Promoters of the scheme make the important point that even if such a team were never deployed, the very offer could receive enough worldwide news coverage to cool Europe’s frenzy to fuel the war and provide an alternative solution to this and future conflicts.
  • Many jigsaw pieces need to fall into place before a Zaporizhzhya protection team can be fielded. For example:
  • Commitment from enough volunteers. Hundreds would be needed to patrol and monitor the area around the plant, but several dozen might be enough, initially, to interest the UN, the warring parties and the public. If they agreed a two-month tour it would give the organisers enough time to source replacements.
  • Deciding the skill sets needed to maximise safety and effectiveness and finding enough trainers.
  • Getting funding.

But hang on a second. I saw somewhere in the blurb that it’s hoped initial volunteers will self-fund. Well, that immediately takes the shine off it for me. What’s also missing at this stage is how the protection team will protect itself, sandwiched between two sides that don’t seem acquainted with the laws of cricket. And can volunteers expect comfortable accommodation in Ukraine’s harsh winter? I don’t suppose there’s a well provisioned Holiday Inn nearby.

The theory sounds good, but what’s the reality? Me, I’d need generous danger money and gold-plated insurance, otherwise I’d sooner self-fund a trip to Disneyland.

This proposal comes from the World BEYOND War Board of Directors. Those interested are invited to contact John Reuwer: [email protected]


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