The war in Ukraine has been ongoing for three and a half weeks and the number of refugees trying to flee the conflicts is unwavering. According to recent sources, the Russian army is said to be using a special rocket and is projected to take over strategic locations such as nuclear plants. So the question arises: could the Hungarian nuclear power plant withstand a Russian attack?
Many people are worried that the conflict could escalate even further and affect countries neighbouring Ukraine. Some people are even afraid of what might happen if the Hungarian nuclear power plant in Paks suffers a hit.
While this question is somewhat far-fetched, the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority has said that they are ready to order an “enhanced physical protection”. Index asked an expert to explain this term in further detail and shed some light on the dangers a potential direct hit would pose.
Since the Russian forces took over Chernobyl and the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, which is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the International Atomic Energy Agency called on ending the hostilities. In addition, the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority has put forth the potential need for an “enhanced physical protection” at the Paks nuclear power plant.
Máté Szieberth, Associate Professor and Head of Department at the Institute of Nuclear Techniques of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, said that “the Paks nuclear power plant is an important strategic location and is under constant protection by a team of armed security personnel, but in case of heightened danger, such as a war, terrorist or other threat, they can order an ‘enhanced physical protection’ which would involve the Hungarian law enforcement authorities’ help (military, police, air- and cyber defence).
If the situation requires it, they can order immediate austerity measures, however, these are confidential and will be determined by the severity of the threat.
In case of an attack, reactor units are shut down just like it was ordered at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station recently.
While the reaction can be immediately interrupted, the radioactive decay will result in emitting heat for days before it declines, but some heat will still be generated even after years, so the continuous cooling of spent fuel is important.
The expert told Index that it is hard to say what might happen during an attack.
Szieberth said that nuclear power plants are continuously updated for emergencies which can occur during peaceful times but they are not necessarily equipped to ward off military attacks.
The associate professor added that during peaceful times, even passenger airplanes are prohibited to directly fly over nuclear plants and international conventions also prohibit the attack of nuclear power plants.
While they are not designed to protect from outside forces, since safety considerations became important after the Chernobyl disaster, the reactor units have been updated with 15-centimetres-thick steel protection tanks, which can withstand pressures exceeding the atmospheric pressure by 120 times.
Additionally, these thick steel tanks are encased in solid reinforced concrete structures to provide further protection.
According to the associate professor, if an attack hit the spent fuel and radioactive waste repositories, the materials would be scattered within a range of a few hundred metres and even a large explosion could only cause local contamination.
Attacking modern reactors would not cause such large contamination as the Chernobyl disaster, which spread radioactive dust and smoke over half of Europe.
In any way, the expert said that there is no point in attacking a nuclear power plant since the radioactive contamination can reach the attackers as well.
Source: Index.hu, Daily News Hungary