Nuclear power plants well-protected from natural disasters and other attacks, expert says

Ukraine Nuclear power plant
Posted at 5:36 PM, Mar 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-05 10:01:14-05

PHOENIX — On an average day, the Ukranian Zaporizhizhia nuclear power plant reactor that Russia targeted provides 5,700 megawatts of electricity.

As Europe's largest nuclear power plant, it provides enough energy to keep the light on for four million homes.

By comparison, the Palo Verde nuclear power plant west of Phoenix, the largest of the United States, produces 4,000 megawatts.

"Certainly, the news caught my ear and eye and so I was curious what had been hit," said Professor Keith Holbert, Ph.D., the director of ASU's Nuclear Power Generation Program.

It turns out the missile strike hit a building outside the plant boundaries.

Holbert says nuclear power plants are built to survive natural disasters and other attacks.

APS says Palo Verde can withstand earthquakes as well as a direct hit from a passenger jet.

"Most of the modern containment buildings are reinforced concrete. Very thick, in fact. Measured not in inches but sometimes feet," Holbert said.

Professor Holbert says the Ukrainian power plants of today have much better containment buildings than the Chernobyl reactor.

In 1986, a fire in a Chernobyl reactor building released a radioactive cloud across Europe and Scandanavia. It remains the world's worst nuclear accident, something Holbert suspects Russians were aware of when they attacked Thursday.

"I don't think the Russians would intentionally cause a release because they're effectively downwind too. But does the right information reach the battlefield? Only they know," Holbert said.

The Russians are now in control of the nuclear power plant. There are no reports of any damage to its nuclear core or threats of any leaks of radioactive material.