BFP Exclusive: A Nuclear Tinderbox in Ukraine?

To claim that war is the formula for prosperity and unity is to pledge allegiance to the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

The accusers

Europeans hardly had time to drink all the champagne left over from the New Year's Eve parties when George Soros declared to them (yet again) that they are "at war" with Russia and that "they need to start acting like it".[1]

Acting as if Europe is at war means a full-scale political, economic and military mobilization against the enemy. It means the radical reorientation of the EU economies from domestic needs to the needs of the military-industrial complex. It means less schools, hospitals and nursing homes and more missiles, tanks, and helicopters. It means death and destruction instead of life and creation. Isn't it obvious that war turns all the things that a rational person would want for herself, her family and community into its opposites?

And yet Soros insisted not only on the war's ongoing status but also on its beneficial nature. In the discourse that had the elements of a "warmongering frenzy", he even went so far as to claim that it is only the war that can pull the EU from the current economic, institutional and identity crises. He openly articulated the infernal metaphysical thesis that "war is the father of all things" (Heraclitus). In doing so, he appears to have consciously placed himself into the enemies of the open society camp so carefully dissected by his mentor Karl Popper. To claim that war is the formula for prosperity and unity is to pledge allegiance to the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And there is no doubt that Soros has done exactly that.

Some observers speculate that this public statement could be Soros' job application for the position of the chairman of the Central Bank of Ukraine.[2] Be that as it may, the current leadership of Ukraine has repeated, line by line, his basic points. It has been a while since the prime minister Arsenyi Yatsenyuk accused Russia that it wanted to start the World War III.[3] And this sentiment is prevalent in the US-NATO intelligence and military circles.

This powerful behind-the-curtains group is, however, faced with a huge public relations problem. The majority of the Europeans do not believe their fiery rhetoric and do not consider Russia as a threatening enemy. They are not willing to turn their countries into war fortresses and accept the suspension of democracy by military emergency decrees. Clearly they need to be convinced somehow; they need "to start acting" like being at war as Soros put. How is this to be done?

By instigating something big, scary and deadly and pointing the finger of blame to Russia. But, considering the stakes, it has to be on a greater scale than what the world has seen so far. From where can this 21st century "shot in Sarajevo" be fired?

Going nuclear?

Though it is shuddering even to contemplate it, the answer might involve Ukraine's nuclear reactors. As we all know, Ukraine was already the site of one of the two biggest nuclear disasters in human history: the Chernobyl reactor meltdown in April 1986. The radiation spilt into the atmosphere led to many immediate deaths in the affected area, while many more have died from the exposure in the subsequent years both in Ukraine and beyond (including Northern Europe).

Apparently, this disaster also had dramatic political consequences. Influential commentators trace to it the beginnings of the policies of glasnost and perestroika which eventually led to the demise of the Soviet Union and the communist (state capitalist) system.[4] As the narrative goes, the Soviet government elite which attempted to hide the truth from its citizens was eventually punished by them for its mendacity. How come nothing similar ever happens in the West?

At this time, Ukraine has four nuclear power plants (NPP): Zaporizhia (six reactors), South-Ukraine (three reactors), Rivne (four reactors) and Khmelnytskyi (two reactors). None of the plants use the type of the reactor which exploded in Chernobyl.

All except Rivne have official websites.[5] The websites of the South-Ukraine and Khmelnytskyi NPPs are in three languages (Russian, Ukrainian, and English), while the website of Zaporizhia NPP is only in Russian language. This might be accidental and meaningless, but the crux of the matter is always in the details.

The Zaporizhia NPP is the largest and most powerful of them all. In fact, it is the largest NPP in Europe and, according to its website, in a month or so, it will celebrate the occasion of the one billion kWh energy production since its opening. It produces about one half of the total nuclear energy in Ukraine.

And it is precisely this plant that has been most endangered since the fighting began. It is about 200 km from the reported warzone and many observers have already expressed considerable fear for its security.

In June 2014, the Greenpeace nuclear expert Tobias Munchmeyer claimed that the plant was "insufficiently protected" from possible bombardments and that its protective walls could withstand only "a small aircraft crash" (Mind you, this was before the MH-17 crash).[6] The official reply was that it could survive up to 5 tons of TNT explosives within the 200-meter parameter and a direct hit of MiG-29. This is hardly reassuring as somebody could pile up more than 5 tons of TNT, or bring it closer than 200 meters, or send two or three MiG-29s.

Also, RT reported in May 2014 that a group of the alleged members of the neo-fascist Right Sector paramilitaries attempted to storm the plant. According to the grainy video posted on the web, they wanted to "protect the plant" from the pro-Russian groups which supposedly wanted to replace the Ukrainian flags on the roadblocks with the Russian ones.[7] The paramilitaries were eventually surrounded by the regular police and forced to leave the area. However, in a recent article in London's Independent, it is reported that the pro-Russian "agitators" were actually inside of the plant.[8] This of course makes the situation appear much more serious. Another twist to the story is that the Right Sector officially denied that the paramilitaries in question had anything to do with their organization.

To add fuel to the fires of suspicion, last month (December 2014), two of the plant's reactors were shut down (one, on December 3 and the other, on December 28) due to what was publicly explained as "electrical malfunctions". In the instance of the first shutdown, the prime minister Yatsenyuk caused a minor panic when he used the word "the accident", which was notoriously used by the Soviet press to break the news of the Chernobyl disaster.[9] This could have been a test to see how the public and the international community would react.

What is perhaps most worrying is that the delivery of the fuel assemblies to the plants has been the cause of the bitter competition between the American Westinghouse Electric Co. and the Russian state-owned TVEL.[10] For the two decades of the Ukraine's post-Soviet independence, the TVEL had a monopoly, but things began to change recently when some of the plants signed up with the American supplier. This led to the paradoxical situation that in certain cases the assemblies from both the Americans and the Russians are used in the same reactor. Perhaps this would not be much of a problem if one side did not consider itself to be "at war" with the other.

As if to underscore the danger staring us in the face, the Westinghouse official Michael Kirst was quoted as saying that "if you look at a photograph of (the TVEL fuel assembly), you’ll see the space between is so narrow that (Westinghouse) must force its fuel assemblies into the reactor. I don’t have to tell you that (with nuclear fuel assemblies) that is a bad idea. These things can’t be forced.”[11]

Obviously, the fuel assembly issue looks like a fertile ground for things to begin to deteriorate quickly in the direction of Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. And for either side to take advantage to blame the other.

We would of course know who really pulled the trigger, that is to say, placed the
defective fuel assembly. But I doubt that those few survivors of the nuclear winter would really care at all.

# # # #

Filip Kovacevic, Boiling Frogs Post contributing author and analyst, is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco, and can be contacted at



The earlier version of this article was published in the New York Review of Books.










[11] Ibid.

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  1. CuChulainn says:

    why no BFP or Corbett discussion of Paris attacks? at 30 min Kurt Haskell on FBI activity in case of underwear bomber

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