The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has taken the nuclear industry into uncharted territory. It is the first time a country with nuclear power plants has been invaded. It is the first time a nuclear power plant has been attacked. And it is the first time disinformation and public fear of nuclear has been used by both sides to rally support.
Having explained things, fought disinformation, and done media for the last two weeks in collaboration with other independent voices, I took the opportunity of my column in Nuclear Engineering International magazine to make a call to action.
There has so far been no significant damage to nuclear plants in Ukraine and only marginal reductions to nuclear safety. But the first two weeks of fighting have already made clear that Russia ignores the rules of war and that both countries’ governments are prepared to spread disinformation about nuclear when they think they will get an advantage. Nuclear power is taking considerable reputational damage while the terms of the future energy debate shift around it.
The nuclear industry must stop hiding and field a serious, unified response to the nuclear safety risks in Ukraine and the purposeful stoking of public fear. It must demand with one voice that there be no more fighting at nuclear power plants, that the principles of nuclear safety be fully respected, and that if sites change hands it happens according to a protocol that ensures ongoing operational safety.
Industry should stick up for Ukrainian nuclear workers facing appalling conditions and the threat of attack at their workplace. It must publicly put its full support behind the International Atomic Energy Agency and its head Rafael Mariano Grossi on questions of non-proliferation. It must contribute its knowledge and experience to the public conversation about nuclear safety risks from the war in Ukraine.
Like it or not, the peaceful nuclear power industry itself is a battlefield in this war and there is no way its leaders can pretend otherwise or opt out.