What Happened After Russia Seized Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Site?

The Associated Press files this report from Chernobyl, where invading tanks in February “churned up highly contaminated soil from the site of the 1986 accident that was the world’s worst nuclear disaster…”

“Here in the dirt of one of the world’s most radioactive places, Russian soldiers dug trenches. Ukrainian officials worry they were, in effect, digging their own graves.”

For more than a month, some Russian soldiers bunked in the earth within sight of the massive structure built to contain radiation from the damaged Chernobyl nuclear reactor. A close inspection of their trenches was impossible because even walking on the dirt is discouraged…. Maksym Shevchuck, the deputy head of the state agency managing the exclusion zone, believes hundreds or thousands of soldiers damaged their health, likely with little idea of the consequences, despite plant workers’ warnings to their commanders. “Most of the soldiers were around 20 years old,” he said….

The full extent of Russia’s activities in the Chernobyl exclusion zone is still unknown, especially because the troops scattered mines that the Ukrainian military is still searching for. Some have detonated, further disturbing the radioactive ground. The Russians also set several forest fires, which have been put out.
Ukrainian authorities can’t monitor radiation levels across the zone because Russian soldiers stole the main server for the system, severing the connection on March 2. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Saturday it still wasn’t receiving remote data from its monitoring systems. The Russians even took Chernobyl staffers’ personal radiation monitors….
When the Russians hurriedly departed March 31 as part of a withdrawal from the region that left behind scorched tanks and traumatized communities, they took more than 150 Ukrainian national guard members into Belarus. Shevchuck fears they’re now in Russia. In their rush, the Russians gave nuclear plant managers a choice: Sign a document saying the soldiers had protected the site and there were no complaints, or be taken into Belarus. The managers signed.

The article includes more stories from Chernobyl’s staff:
Even now, weeks after the Russians left, “I need to calm down,” the plant’s main security engineer, Valerii Semenov, told The Associated Press. He worked 35 days straight, sleeping only three hours a night, rationing cigarettes and staying on even after the Russians allowed a shift change. “I was afraid they would install something and damage the system,” he said in an interview….

Another Ukrainian nuclear plant, at Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine, remains under Russian control. It is the largest in Europe.

Long-time Slashdot reader MattSparkes also notes reports that researchers at Chernobyl “had been looking for bacteria to eat radioactive waste — but they now fear that their work was irreparably lost during the Russian invasion of the facility.”

New Scientist reports (in a pay-walled article) that scientist Olena Pareniuk “was attempting to identify bacteria that could consume radioactive waste within Chernobyl’s destroyed reactor before the Russian invasion. If her samples are lost it will likely be impossible to replace them.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

The Drone Operators Who Halted Russian Convoy Headed For Kyiv

“Ukrainian special forces teamed up with IT professionals on ATV four-wheelers to target the infamous Kiev convoy,” writes longtime Slashdot reader darkseid. “Every Help Desk Geek’s Walter Mitty fantasy!” The Guardian reports: One week into its invasion of Ukraine, Russia massed a 40-mile mechanized column in order to mount an overwhelming attack on Kyiv from the north. But the convoy of armored vehicles and supply trucks ground to a halt within days, and the offensive failed, in significant part because of a series of night ambushes carried out by a team of 30 Ukrainian special forces and drone operators on quad bikes, according to a Ukrainian commander.

The drone operators were drawn from an air reconnaissance unit, Aerorozvidka, which began eight years ago as a group of volunteer IT specialists and hobbyists designing their own machines and has evolved into an essential element in Ukraine’s successful David-and-Goliath resistance. […] The unit’s commander, Lt Col Yaroslav Honchar, gave an account of the ambush near the town of Ivankiv that helped stop the vast, lumbering Russian offensive in its tracks. He said the Ukrainian fighters on quad bikes were able to approach the advancing Russian column at night by riding through the forest on either side of the road leading south towards Kyiv from the direction of Chernobyl.

The Ukrainian soldiers were equipped with night vision goggles, sniper rifles, remotely detonated mines, drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras and others capable of dropping small 1.5kg bombs. “This one little unit in the night destroyed two or three vehicles at the head of this convoy, and after that it was stuck. They stayed there two more nights, and [destroyed] many vehicles,” Honchar said. The Russians broke the column into smaller units to try to make headway towards the Ukrainian capital, but the same assault team was able to mount an attack on its supply depot, he claimed, crippling the Russians’ capacity to advance. “The first echelon of the Russian force was stuck without heat, without oil, without bombs and without gas. And it all happened because of the work of 30 people,” Honchar said. “The Aerorozvidka unit also claims to have helped defeat a Russian airborne attack on Hostomel airport, just north-west of Kyiv, in the first day of the war,” adds the Guardian. Similar to the convoy ambush, they “[used] drones to locate, target and shell about 200 Russian paratroopers concealed at one end of the airfield.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Ukraine Alleges Russia Is Planning ‘Terrorist’ Incident At Chernobyl

According to the latest updates from CNN, Ukraine’s defense ministry claims Russia is planning to carry out “some sort of terrorist attack at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant” and blame Ukraine. The plant is currently without power and under Russian control. From the report: The Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence claimed on its Facebook page Friday that “the available intelligence says Putin has ordered that his troops to prepare a terror attack at Chernobyl for which the Russian invaders will try to blame Ukraine.” The directorate also repeated that the plant “remains completely disconnected from the monitoring systems run by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence also alleged Friday that Russian forces had denied a Ukrainian repair team access to Chernobyl. It claimed without offering evidence that “Belarusian specialists” went there posing as nuclear power experts and that Russian saboteurs were arriving to set up a terror attack. The ministry claimed that “without receiving the desired result from the ground military operation and direct talks, Putin is ready to resort to nuclear blackmail of the international community.”

The IAEA said last week that it had not been able to re-establish communication with systems installed to monitor nuclear material and activities at either the Chernobyl or Zaporizhzhia plants following the loss of remote data transmissions from those systems. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said Thursday that the situation at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, occupied by the Russian forces, was degrading as the IAEA was losing “a significant amount of information” on safeguarding monitoring systems. However, he said he was “quite encouraged […] on one important thing, is that Ukraine and Russian Federation want to work with us, they agree to work with us.” “Both Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly claimed without substantiation that the other side is planning to provoke an incident involving nuclear, chemical or biological agents,” notes CNN.

On Wednesday, Russian’s foreign ministry claimed that the U.S. operates a biowarfare lab in Ukraine, “an accusation that has been repeatedly denied by Washington and Kyiv,” reports Reuters.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Europe’s Largest Nuclear Power Plant On Fire After Russian Shelling

Russian forces shelled Europe’s largest nuclear plant early Friday in the battle for control of a crucial energy-producing city, and the power station was on fire. The Associated Press reports: Plant spokesman Andriy Tuz told Ukrainian television that shells were falling directly on the Zaporizhzhia plant and had set fire to one of the facility’s six reactors. That reactor is under renovation and not operating, but there is nuclear fuel inside, he said. Firefighters cannot get near the fire because they are being shot at, Tuz said. A government official told The Associated Press that elevated levels of radiation were detected near the site of the plant, which provides about 25% of Ukraine’s power generation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information has not yet been publicly released. Tuz said it is urgent to stop the fighting to put out the flames.

Mayor Dmytro Orlov and the Ukrainian state atomic energy company reported that a Russian military column was heading toward the nuclear plant. Loud shots and rocket fire were heard late Thursday. […] Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal called on the West to close the skies over the country’s nuclear plants as fighting intensified. “It is a question of the security of the whole world!” he said in a statement. The U.S. and NATO allies have ruled out creating a no-fly zone since the move would pit Russian and Western military forces against each other.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

FedEx Asks FAA To Let It Install Anti-Missile Lasers On Its Cargo Planes

With the right military equipment, a single person can target a plane from three miles away using a heat-seeking missile. While such a nightmare is a rare occurrence, FedEx has applied to the FAA seeking approval to install a laser-based, anti-missile defense system on its cargo planes as an added safety measure. Gizmodo reports: FedEx’s request to the Federal Aviation Administration, filed on Jan. 4, didn’t come completely out of left field, however. In 2008, the company worked with Northrop Grumman to test its anti-missile laser-based defense systems on 12 of the shipping company’s cargo planes for over a year. At the time, Northrop Grumman announced that its “system is ready to be deployed on civilian aircraft,” although no commercial orders had been placed at the time, according to a company spokesperson. That may have changed, however.

FedEx’s application to the FAA (PDF) to allow it to install and use anti-missile systems on its Airbus Model A321-200 cargo planes doesn’t specifically mention Northrop Grumman’s hardware, so the shipping company could now be working with another company, but the proposed hardware is basically the same as what was tested back in 2008. In the application document (PDF), which is “scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Jan. 18,” FedEx cites “several incidents abroad” where “civilian aircraft were fired upon by man-portable air defense systems” which are nearly impossible to detect given their range of operation, but undoubtedly a serious threat when operating aircraft in some parts of the world.

The biggest problem with FedEx’s application seems to be that the FAA’s “design standards for transport category airplanes did not envisage that a design feature could project infrared laser energy outside the airplane” and that the “FAA’s design standards are inadequate to address this capability.” As a result, the defense system is being considered a “novel or unusual design feature” and as such will be subjected to several special safety regulations given how dangerous intense infrared light can be to the skin and eyes of “persons on the aircraft, on the ground, and on other aircraft.” These regulations will include the ability to completely disable the system while the airplane is on the ground to prevent “inadvertent operation,” a design that prevents inflight use from ever damaging the aircraft itself or risking the safety of the crew and passengers, even in the event of a system failure or accidental operation. They also require extensive markings, labels, warnings, and documentation for everyone from maintenance staff to ground crew, to pilots, warning them of the laser’s class and risks, including an addendum to the flight manual explaining the complete use of the system.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.