Last updated on March 6, 2022
Joseph Cirincione, distinguished fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, and author of multiple books on nuclear weapons, appeared on CNN recently to discuss the Russian takeover of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
During the segment, co-host Alisyn Camerota asked Cirincione about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions.
Cirincione said that while he doesn’t believe Putin wants a nuclear incident, “he does want to terrorize the population of Ukraine,” and “cut off their electrical supply.” He added that with any other energy source, such a takeover wouldn’t be as concerning, but a nuclear plant is an extremely delicate operation the mishandling of which could lead to disaster.
He continued, noting that there are numerous other nuclear facilities in Ukraine, and that we could see this again.
Co-host Victor Blackwell then asked Cirincione to explain the danger of overworked or stressed operators in this facility.
After suggesting that none of the invading forces would know how to operate a nuclear family, Cirincione stated:
…the people at Chernobyl didn’t intend to cause an accident; the people at Three Mile Island didn’t intend to cause an accident — but accidents happen under perfect condition. And this is war.
Cirincione concluded by saying this “could lead to a mass destruction event.”
In a statement following the seizure of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called Russia’s actions “nuclear terror.”
“Russian tanks are shooting at the nuclear blocks. These are tanks equipped with thermal imagers, so they know what they are shooting at. They have prepared for it,” Zelensky said, later adding: “No country has ever shot at nuclear blocks except for Russia. … First time ever. For the first time ever in our history, in the history of human kind, the terrorist country has reverted to nuclear terror.”
CAMEROTA: Here again, I ask the question I’ve been asking all week, which is: What is Vladimir Putin’s endgame here? If there’s a nuclear accident or nuclear explosion, obviously that hurts Russia as well. So, what is he thinking right now?
CIRINCIONE: Yeah, thank you, Alisyn. I don’t think that Putin intends to cause a nuclear accident, but he does want to terrorize the population of Ukraine, and he’s doing that. He does want to cut off their electrical supply, so, you seize an electric power plant. Now, if this was a coal plant or a wind farm, and you cut it off or you blew it up, it wouldn’t matter — but this is a nuclear facility. This thing has to be maintained at a very high level of integrity at all times.
And anything like this — completely unprecedented. No one has ever attacked a nuclear power plant in the history of the nuclear age. Not even during wars in the Middle East, no one’s attacked a power plant. We’re seeing this for the first time, and we could see it repeated. Remember, they have 15 nuclear power plants in Ukraine. And, you know, I don’t want to be alarmist, I don’t want to scare people, but I follow the advice of the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi. [You] look at his Twitter feed, he is extremely concerned, he says; the facilities are at severe risk. The Russians are not respecting the fundamental principle that the integrity of these plants must be maintained at all time[s]. We are in deep trouble here, and I’m afraid it’s going to get worse.
BLACKWELL: Explain for our viewers the vulnerability of these workers at gunpoint. These are not people you want to be stressed or overstretched, working around this type of technology.
CIRINCIONE: That is exactly right, Victor, that is exactly right. You think these tank commanders know how to run a nuclear power plant? Do the political operatives traveling with the Russian force know how to run a nuclear power plant? Is there any indication that any of the Russians have any idea what they’re doing here? No. That’s why the director general of the IAEA wants to go to the plant; he’s urging them to let him into the plant, to let the IAEA ensure the safety of these things. You know, the people at Chernobyl didn’t intend to cause an accident; the people at Three Mile Island didn’t intend to cause an accident — but accidents happen under perfect condition. And this is war. This is an act of terror by these Russian forces, even though they’re wearing Russian army uniforms. This is a terrorist act against a nuclear power facility that could lead to a mass destruction event. We should be deeply concerned about what is going on in Ukraine overall, but particularly at its nuclear power facilities. I’m afraid our nuclear nightmares in Ukraine are multiplying.
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