'If he were to drop even one nuclear weapon on Europe, it would start a nuclear war that would destroy everybody.'
Will Vladimir Putin use the nuclear bomb?
This was the question on the minds of many Europeans as Rediff.com's Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal travelled recently through Germany, Switzerland and France.
The European public at large believe that with the war entering its 175th day on Wednesday, August 17, 2022, and with both sides suffering heavy losses, and with the US supplying Ukraine with more and more sophisticated weapons, Russia's President Putin could resort to the use of a nuclear weapon if he found the tide turning against the Russian army.
The latest bout of fighting around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant -- the largest nuclear plant in Europe -- has also heightened fresh fears of a nuclear radiation fallout.
Dr R Rajaraman, emeritus professor of theoretical physics at the School of Physical Sciences at JNU and former co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, tells Rashme, "Both armies should realise the grave implications of fighting close to nuclear reactors."
IAEA Director-General R M Grossi expressed concern that on August 8 shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant near a fuel storage facility caused some damage to the walls, windows, roof and injured a security guard, but radiation levels have remained under control so far.
Russia had seized the plant in March, but the Ukrainians are launching a counter offensive.
It is a difficult situation. The Russians had taken over the reactor to ensure that Ukraine's electricity supply being generated by these reactors was cut off.
The Ukrainians would obviously want these reactors back in their control.
Grossi says the continued shelling once again poses a real risk of nuclear disaster which will affect public health and the environment and can potentially have catastrophic consequences.
Grossi recently issued a statement expressing his grave concern at this fresh round of shelling and also expressed the need for the IAEA to send a nuclear safety mission to the site at the earliest.
According to reports, the DG had been informed that the shelling had damaged the plant's external power supply system and this had triggered the emergency protection system of one of the plant's three operating reactors.
This unit was disconnected from the grid as a result. But two power lines I understand have been operationalised.
Would it be correct to call this a serious breach of nuclear safety rules?
Yes, to say the least. Both armies should realise the grave implications of fighting close to nuclear reactors, but this does not seem to be the case.
Ukraine was operating 16 nuclear plants prior to the invasion. Building protection in the event of a full scale war was never part of nation planning at least in terms of commercial nuclear power.
Correct. Normally, commercial nuclear powers are not built to withstand wars.
Newspaper reports highlight how Russian troops are using the nuclear plant as a shield to fire artillery shells at the Ukrainians.
When the Russians took over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant with its six reactors in March I had emphasised that each of these reactor buildings has a double containment concrete dome.
Unless the reactor is bombed directly on the head, it will not release radioactivity.
I understand the reactors within the complex had been turned off when the Russians took over. They restarted some of them for the electricity supply to have resumed.
I do not know the latest position as of now, but according to the statement Grossi issued, the Ukrainian staff operating the plant under Russian occupation has succeeded in ensuring two out of the six units are working.
There is apprehension that if Putin's strategy fails in Ukraine, he may resort to the use of a tactical weapon as a 'game changer' to break a stalemate or to avoid defeat.
Sadly, it seems as though this is going to be a long drawn war with grave consequences for Europe.
But as I have said earlier also, Putin will not use the bomb.
If he were to drop even one nuclear weapon on Europe, it would start a nuclear war that would destroy everybody.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com