NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS
April 28, 2022: Russia has threatened to use nuclear weapons rather than lose in Ukraine. Then came a defeat in Ukraine due to radiation. This defeat was self-inflicted and did not reflect well on Russian military leadership. This led to more internal opposition to using nukes on Ukraine.
This all began at the start of the Ukraine invasion in which one objective was seized easily. This was Chernobyl, a radioactive town north of Kyiv. Russian troops did not encounter any resistance as they entered the Chernobyl radioactive exclusion zone. A large region around the Chernobyl power plant is still highly radioactive because of the 1986 nuclear meltdown of one of the five reactors. This nuclear disaster, which the Soviets tried to keep quiet, was quickly exposed as a major disaster and one of the reasons Ukrainians were so eager to leave the Soviet Union five years later. Most of the victims of the radioactivity were Ukrainian.
The invading Russians replaced the Ukrainian security guards keeping people out of the 2,600 square kilometers (thousand square miles) radioactive exclusion zone near the Belarus border. After 1986 about 250,000 people were moved from the zone and since then only tourists were allowed in, under escort, for short periods. About 5,000 people guard the security zone and monitor the enormous concrete and steel structure now surrounding the still highly radioactive power plant uranium core. Those monitors spend fifteen days at a time in the zone and then two weeks outside it, with their radioactivity levels carefully monitored. Those monitor personnel were allowed to remain, but under Russian control.
While Ukrainians comprised most of those killed by the 1986 meltdown, about 70 percent of the initial radiation fell on what is now Belarus. For that reason, it seems unlikely the Russians would arrange for another accident at the entombed nuclear core. Most Belarussians oppose Russia and their own dictator, which is currently kept in power by Russian forces. The main reason for taking control of the exclusion zone was that it is a key element on one of the shortest routes to Kyiv.
Chernobyl is still an active work site because two of the other three reactors kept generating power until 2000 and are still undergoing decommissioning. This includes a fifth reactor that was under construction when the disaster occurred right next to the construction site. This exposed the unfinished 5th reactor to high levels of radioactivity. One of the reactors that continued to generate power suffered a fire in 1991 that led to an immediate and safe shut down shortly after Ukraine became independent. Nine years later Ukraine shut down the last two reactors and sought to concentrate on limiting the radioactivity danger in areas outside the exclusion zone. This involves safely storing radioactive materials and making the exclusion zone less of a danger zone.
The Russian troops occupying Chernobyl were either not aware of, or ignored the dangers they faced and what to avoid at all costs. The Russian officers were warned that keeping their troops in the exclusion zone for longer periods would lead to higher exposure to radioactivity that would increase the probability of developing cancer or fathering children with birth defects. These warnings had no impact on the Russian troops until some were ordered to dig defensive positions (trenches) in the “Red Forest”. This was the area close to the reactor explosion that absorbed the most radiation. Personnel are warned to stay out of the area or limit their presence to short visits. Under no circumstances should soil be deliberately disturbed. The Russians did dig the trenches, and commercial satellite photos verified that trenches were indeed dug in the Red Forest and shortly thereafter came reports of Russian soldiers in the Red Forest developing debilitating radiation sickness, something that only occurs to those who receive a very high exposure to radioactivity. That would happen if you dug trenches in the Red Forest. By the end of March Russia withdrew their troops from Chernobyl and sent Ukrainians belonging to the Chernobyl security force to Belarus as prisoners of war. The disturbed soil left the ambient radiation levels 20 times higher than usual and the prevailing winds took the radioactivity to Belarus where it was noticed and generated more public protests. By April 2nd Ukraine was again in control of Chernobyl and working to repair the damage the Russians had done during five weeks of occupation.