At the end of April, the authoritative The New York Times published a small piece of news that is essentially meaningless to the general reader. The portal reported that US specialists from NEST (Nuclear Emergency Support Team) are currently installing a network of radiation detectors on Ukrainian territory. This network will make it possible to detect both radiation accidents and the use of the so-called ‘dirty’ bomb, and of course real nuclear weapons. Many will even say that this is nothing new and that these are just normal security measures, but the involvement of NEST – an organisation designed to respond to the most serious nuclear incidents, such as the team that operated at Fukushima – shows that the danger is serious enough. There are further indications that the West is not ruling out either a major nuclear accident or the tactical use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Danger 2000 kilometres away
Even in peacetime, the probability of a nuclear accident in Western Europe was 2% – that was the conclusion reached by scientists at the Max Planck Institute in 2012, which is very bad news, because it is around 200 times higher than previously thought. At the same time, the report also mentioned the shocking scale of the supposed radioactive contamination, but we will come back to that later and give a little history.
Until the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, even specialised scientific bodies knew very little about the spread of radiation pollution. The incidents that had occurred up to that point were either very small or the result of a desire to cover up the event as quickly as possible, as was the case with the Mayak plant accident in 1957, when no data was collected over a larger area to avoid causing panic. It was only many years later those investigations showed that the Kyshtym incident, formerly known as the Kyshtym incident, when a tanker of nuclear waste exploded at the military plant, contaminated over 52 000 km2 and the radioactive footprint stretched over 300 kilometres. Incidentally, the tank that exploded then contained about the same amount of waste as a standard railway tanker, and the explosion itself was not nuclear, but, as you can see, it was enough to cause an ecological catastrophe for many decades. Incidentally, some of the contaminated areas are still uninhabitable today.
The Chernobyl disaster was significant because the world first heard about it from the Scandinavians, not the Soviets, when detectors at nuclear power plants more than a thousand kilometres away began to signal abnormally high radiation levels. Only then were the Soviet authorities forced to admit that all was not well in their nuclear power industry. The fact that radioactive particles are capable of travelling enormous distances became quite obvious, and it was from then on, that specialised research began, including the aforementioned research carried out by the Max Planck Institute.
The results are shocking – for example, only 8% of Caesium-137 particles will settle within a 50 km radius of the crash site, while another 50% will travel up to 1000 km. and 25% will reach the 2000 km mark. It is easy to calculate that e.g. In the event of an accident at the nuclear power plants in Ukraine, the radioactive particles carried by the wind would reach all of Western Europe except the British Isles, and this is far from being a fact, since the processes of air convection in the upper atmosphere are not well known. For example, in the case of volcanic eruptions, an interesting effect is sometimes observed where ash is not deposited in a continuous band but over a widely separated area, i.e., if it is not ash but radioactive dust from a nuclear incident, the consequences will be unfortunate.
Too many risks
But let’s go back to the network of radiation detectors that is being installed quietly and rather non-publicly in Ukraine, which is complex and inexpensive, and let’s be clear: governments clearly see the risks. And the risks are increasing, because with the onset of the Ukrainian counter-attack, which is being talked about by official sources in this country, in the West and even in Russia, all variants of nuclear incidents are possible, from the unintentional damage of a nuclear facility to a nuclear strike with tactical weapons.
Let us first remember the Zaporizhzhia NPP, which will inevitably find itself in the zone of active hostilities, not only with 5 reactors, but also with fuel and waste storage facilities. The bad news is that, according to both Ukrainian and Western sources, there is sufficient intelligence to indicate that this plant has been mined. Moreover, even now, incidents involving the explosion of projectiles on the site are not rare, the last one having occurred in the middle of last month, when a mine exploded near Unit 4, from an unknown source. With the onset of hostilities, where not only 152 or 155 calibre artillery and mines will be used, but also missile systems, dangerous strikes on the plant will be almost inevitable. Other power plants in Ukraine and the Chernobyl storage complexes are also unsafe. We would remind you that Russia is actively using e.g., X-22 missiles, which were developed in the 1950s and 1960s and, even after modernisation, are of such pathetic accuracy that a 4-kilometre error is perfectly normal. There is nothing surprising about this, because, in general, this missile was not intended to hit tactical land targets and was intended to carry a nuclear warhead to the enemy fleet, and here a few hundred metres of perceived error (in reality, as we have said, up to 4 km) is nothing. Now imagine if this one, with almost a tonne of explosives, were to “get lost” somewhere near a nuclear power station?
Speaking of nuclear weapons, experts are increasingly pointing out that with Russia’s conventional weapons stockpiles running low and its army weakening, it will be very difficult to stop a Ukrainian counter-offensive with conventional weapons. Recent news reports include sightings of Russian BTR50 armoured personnel carriers (production stopped in 1970), T62 tanks (production stopped in 1975) and even T54/T55 tanks on the front line, i.e., the situation is close to critical and nuclear weapons are exactly what the Russians are likely to resort to.
What kind of weapons are these? Let us start, of course, with the nuclear devices designed for the Iskander system, with a yield of up to 50kt. The use of one or two missiles on the front line will not lead to a major breakthrough in military terms, but the collateral damage can be very unpleasant, and even the trail of an explosion from such a device will stretch for tens of kilometres. There is also a whole range of air-launched missiles with low-yield charges, and it does not matter that the yield is low – what matters is that the missiles themselves in the Russian arsenal are mostly 70-80-year-old models, and no one can guarantee that they will fly exactly where they are sent. And if you look at the distances that these missiles will reach in the event of a fault or failure, again, that is most of Europe.
Are there any safe areas?
Not at the moment, and the experts are absolutely unequivocal about this. Already at the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the experts of the US Nuclear Threat Initiative have shown several scenarios in which nuclear weapons could be used in this war, not even as part of a pre-conceived plan, but through a chain of coincidences. Accordingly, the area of possible use is not limited to Ukraine. It is therefore wise to assume that any point in the primarily Western world is not safe, and to prepare for a possible strike now, for the sake of your own peace of mind and that of your family.
A small individual/family shelter equipped with a Castellex NBC air filtration system will save health or even life during the most dangerous time after a nuclear incident, i.e., the first week. It does not matter what causes the incident, whether it is an exploded nuclear power plant hit by a missile or a “lost” missile with a nuclear warhead.