On Thursday, shortly after Vladimir Putin officially started the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian army took control of the Chernobyl and Pripyat area, the scene of the famous 1986 explosion. The area is located a few kilometers from the border with Belarus, which provides logistical support and not only to Russian forces.
The news was confirmed by the Russian defense ministry and the Ukrainian government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky , who – rightly or wrongly – used information to support their cause. “Our defenders are giving their lives so that the 1986 tragedy does not happen again,” tweeted the president shortly before the Russian conquest.
Two members of the presidential staff have upped the ante with speculation, probably aimed at eliciting a Western reaction. “It is impossible to say that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe after a totally useless attack by the Russians,” said Mykhailo Podolyak , adding that “this, today, is one of the most serious threats in Europe”. Oleksiy Arestovych , on the other hand, suggested that the Russians could use the site to blackmail the West. Official statements
The Ukrainian defense ministry has announced that the staff of the former central has been taken hostage by Russian troops. The White House called the report credible and called for the Chernobyl workers to be released.
On Friday, the Ukrainian nuclear authorities communicated an increase in the levels of gamma radiation, citing the fact that Russian heavy vehicles passed by, which would have moved the earth on the surface and raised radioactive dust in the air. “It is not critical for Kiev at the moment, but we are monitoring,” the interior ministry said.
Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russian air troops were protecting the facility to prevent any possible “provocation” and insisted that levels of radioactivity in the area remained normal.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Thursday it had been informed by Ukraine that Russia had taken control of the area. He also announced that the Ukrainian regulatory body has not registered any victims or damage to the industrial site of Chernobyl. Watch out for fakes…
The developments have unleashed a digital storm of concern, scenarios and catastrophic theories on social media and tabloid sites. Starting with the unverified news that the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces had damaged the nuclear waste storage facilities (a translation error helped to validate this hypothesis).
There are already those who speculate that now radioactive waste can spread, by natural causes or by human action, outside the containment area. But it is highly unlikely. At the moment the remains of the reactor that exploded in 1986 are confined to a special “sarcophagus”, renovated in 2017, designed to withstand a tornado and also monitored from a distance. Even if Russia suspends all security operations, there is no immediate risk.
If the radiation levels really turn out to be higher, a containment reaction can be expected. Moreover, it would be interesting to understand what interest the Russians should have in bombing or incurring the costs and risks of uncovering the “sarcophagus” and disseminating the waste (they are not particularly useful for other reactors, nor for creating atomic weapons, of which Russia already disposes), in a territory so close to its own and that of Belarus, over which it also exercises a certain level of control.
Much of the fissile material in the other reactors is also safe by the most modern dry containment standards. The remainder, according to experts, should not present problems (an accident has never occurred anywhere due to exhausted fissile material) and the surrounding area – mostly deserted – does not present particular risks as long as you do not move there. Not to mention that any kind of material dispersion would decrease the concentration, therefore the danger; we might as well worry about the natural decay of rocks or cosmic radiation. … And not to play Putin’s game
For their part, the Russian authorities have been careful not to deny them – indeed, they have ridden fears through Russian propaganda channels, also active in Italy. Not surprisingly, the Russian tension strategy makes extensive use of extreme words and concepts – chemical and nuclear attacks, genocide and Nazism (one of Putin’s pretexts for the invasion and indeed the “denazification” of Ukraine).
As a senior European official recently confirmed, it is one of the keystones of the Russian infowar for use and consumption by Ukrainians, Westerners, and even Russians themselves. Public hypersensitivity on the nuclear question is welcome in this plan: it catalyzes the diffusion of frightening and therefore destabilizing contents. And while the Ukrainian spin can probably be traced to despair, the Russian desinformation is used as a tool against Kremlin rivals.

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