Surveillance image Ukraine Zaporizhzhia NPP

Russian troops have set fire to at least one building at one of Ukraine’s 15 atomic reactors.
The invaders have shot at firefighters, aiming to kill them while they’re trying to save the plant.
In the land of Chernobyl, Vladimir Putin has delivered an unmistakable message:  he is willing to threaten the future of the entire human species.
The Apocalyptic calculus is simple.
On April 26, 1986, Chernobyl Unit Four exploded from a combination of human error and bad design.
The radioactive cloud carpeted much of Ukraine, Belarus and western Europe. It circled the globe at least twice, being detected in North America within ten days.
Global impacts on animals were immediately apparent. At the Point Reyes sanctuary north of San Francisco, bird births dropped by sixty percent after the spring rains.  
In 2007, a comprehensive report drawing from more than 5,000 studies indicated some 985,000 human deaths worldwide.  The Soviets also ran some 600,000 draftees through the reactor to help clean it up. They died in droves.  The heavily irradiated nearby city of Pripyat (population 50,000) was abandoned.  Hundreds of surrounding square miles are designated a “dead zone,” stripped of human life.
Putin’s attack has exposed thousands more soldiers by marching them straight through the Chernobyl site, kicking up clouds of radioactive isotopes, destabilizing the region. The last of Chernobyl’s four reactors shut in 2000, but thousands of tons of radioactive wastes are tenuously stored there, including the still-hot Unit Four core, recently encased in a $1.7 billion sarcophagus.
Ukraine’s 15 reactors are now far more dangerous. Twelve were built by the Soviets and opened more than thirty years ago. The deadly fallout from an explosion at any of them could dwarf anything the world has seen. They are bigger, older and more decayed than Chernobyl 4 when it blew. Their collective inventory of hot offal would dwarf anything that was thrown into the atmosphere back then, or by Fukushima, or by the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the tests that followed.  
In fact, the combined cloud from all 15 could very likely end all human life on Earth.
It wouldn’t take much to set these nukes on fire. Nearly all are Soviet remnants.  Poorly designed and built, marginally maintained, they are embrittled, cracked, decayed, vulnerable to power outages, cooling failures and cyber-attack.
Many operators are poorly trained or at the end of their careers. It’s unclear what they’d do under military assault, for which they’re not trained.  Right now many are suffering through unsustainable shifts, flirting with exhaustion.  Operator errors were key to the melt-downs at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. As Putin’s attack continues, they become a virtual certainty in Ukraine.
But by far most critical is Putin’s clear signal that he is willing to attack Ukraine’s nukes and work to have them overtaken by fire or other forms of catastrophic destruction, with no apparent concern for the threat to all of humankind.
Nuclear missiles are no longer the most critical issue. These reactors are pre-deployed weapons of radioactive mass destruction whose fallout could match or exceed that of an atomic Bomb attack. Putin could cause any or all of these reactors to explode with very small shells or other forms of disruption in direct or indirect moves that could compromise basic operations, cooling systems, back-up power and far too many other contingencies to list here.  
In short, it would take a minuscule piece of Russian might to quickly and easily turn these fifteen nukes into a Doomsday Cloud that could kill us all.
This kind of thing was flagged fifty years ago by safe energy activists warning that the “Peaceful Atom” was in fact suicidal folly. More than four hundred reactors have since followed, with 93 here in the US and at least 15 now sitting in the crosshairs of a Trumpian madman.  
Immediately shutting them all might lessen the danger. But they supply half of Ukraine’s electric power. And properly closing them down would not be easy.  Nor would it fully guarantee their safety.
Which means the fate of the human race is now in the hands of a deranged tyrant who has clearly signaled he does not care if one or more of these reactors blows up…or if life on Earth perishes as a result.




Harvey Wasserman’s PEOPLE’S SPIRAL OF US HISTORY is just being published at Most Mondays he co-convenes the Grassroots Emergency Election Protection Coalition zoom via He has been fighting nuke power since 1973, and co-wrote KILLING OUR OWN: THE DISASTER OF AMERICA’S EXPERIENCE WITH ATOMIC RADIATION (free on the web).