Pavlo Pavlyshyn, the director of the Rivne nuclear power plant, has been working in Ukraine’s atomic power industry since 1992. He spoke to FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg about the current dangers at Ukraine’s power plants, only three of which – including Rivne – remain under Ukrainian control.
What are the dangers that Ukraine’s nuclear power plants are facing?
There are a lot of different potential scenarios depending on the type of incident. If there is damage to the auxiliary equipment, that is one thing. If there is damage to the primary circuit and the reactor, then that could be something comparable to the Chernobyl disaster or to what happened at Fukushima in Japan – that’s the biggest risk.
Do you think Russian forces might try to deliberately damage the plants?
It’s hard to say whether or not they would do it deliberately or by accident, but the risk exists, and it’s a very big risk in my assessment.
What will you do if the Rivne power station is attacked?
I want to make it absolutely clear that giving up the station is not an option. No matter the threat to ourselves and the whole world, under no circumstances, no matter how severe the emergency – no one will abandon the power station. This is absolutely certain; you must understand this.
So you will fight for the station even if that means the risk of facing a nuclear disaster?
So be it – we will not surrender the station.
… Why should we? It’s our power station, these are our people, our staff, why should we give up anything? That’s why we are ready to fight, ready to defend ourselves, we will defend the power station and no one will surrender it.
But what if there’s a risk of a nuclear accident and everyone would die? What are the chances of this happening?
Well, then we will die. But no one will surrender the power station.
The war is really happening. In Europe or America maybe you think that this war is not really happening. But look what is happening in Mariupol: they are burying people in mass graves, innocent children and civilians are dying. And Kyiv, Kharkiv, Bucha, Hostomel … So what difference does it make? Why should anyone surrender anything? No one will do that. That’s the one thing I can guarantee you.
Could the plant withstand a possible missile hit?
Our blocs are designed to withstand an aeroplane crashing onto them. But an airplane crash and a direct hit by missiles of different calibres are absolutely not the same thing. The maximum impact the power station was designed to resist is a plane falling on its roof. As to what would happen in the case of several missiles hitting the station, no such studies have been done.
Why do you think Russia took over the defunct Chernobyl power station?
It’s very close to the Belarus border and there are very few people there, so it’s a useful bridgehead for amassing forces and materiel. That’s the first thing. And the second thing, clearly, is that there is an element of blackmail involving radioactive material, because there are quite a lot of storage sites at and near the Chernobyl power station containing used fuel, liquid radioactive waste and other things.
Do you think the Ukrainian workers at Chernobyl and at the Zaporizhzhya plant are doing the right thing by continuing to work there?
First, these are our power stations, this is our territory, this is our country. They are going to work and not abandoning their posts. And they are generating electricity for our country. They are doing this today at gunpoint and under great psychological pressure. What this says about how nuclear technicians act in situations of stress, it’s hard to say.
What would you like to hear from Ukraine’s Western partners?
First, there are organisations that oversee nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations across the world. There is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and there is the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) that brings together power station operators from all over the world. We have so far heard nothing concrete from them. Nothing. They mumble something or other but it’s completely ineffective, and they give the impression that they are just trying to cover for themselves somehow. So the first thing I’d like is for those organisations to start seriously warning the world of the dangers of combat operations taking place near nuclear installations, of the huge problem that might become for the world.
As for our European neighbours – first I want to say a huge thank you to the many countries that are today providing us with both humanitarian aid and weapons. This is very important and we will repay you. But you should not be afraid to gather the political will and take stronger steps to defend the European country that is Ukraine.
Do you not worry that the nuclear risks could lead Western countries to pressure Ukraine into compromises?
I’m not a politician, I’m an engineer, I’ve worked in nuclear energy my whole life. So I can’t really comment on this question. All I know is that the time will come when we will all know who was right and who was wrong.
After talking to you I’m more inclined to think that we’ll all be dead soon…
I don’t think that. We don’t think about that. I hope that everything will be OK and the war will end, and then we’ll have a lot of work to do to rebuild this country. My whole family is in this town and we’re not running away, we’re not emigrating.
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