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News: 24 Feb 2024

Two years of war in Ukraine – statement from Adi Roche

24 Feb 2024

On 24 February 2022, exactly two years ago today, Chernobyl re-entered ‘centre stage’ for all the wrong reasons. News of the Russian invasion of Ukraine came spilling menacingly into our lives telling us troop movement en route to Kyiv came via the world most toxic environment…the dreaded ‘Chernobyl Exclusion Zone’, re-releasing deeply buried toxic radioactive elements into the environment. This shocking invasion assault, driving thousands of troops in trucks, personnel carriers and other deadly war making assault weapons, enormous tanks and artillery…all careening through the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, signified to the world that the nature of modern warfare had changed forever. The take-over of the entire Chernobyl reactor site was akin to making a deadly nuclear threat without making a nuclear threat.

Emboldened by their cavalier actions at Chernobyl, Russian forces moved onwards to one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants, and we now watch with bated breath as the occupied Zaporizhzhia falls further and further away from the confines of safety and regulation. This weaponising of nuclear power facilities directly violates the Hague Convention, which defines any attack on a nuclear facility to be a ‘war crime’, bringing with it a sense of foreboding for wars of the future. The nuclear risk is further exacerbated as neighbouring country, Belarus, has agreed to place tactical nuclear weapons on their territory facing Ukraine, bringing mankind closer to the precipice of humanitarian Armageddon. Ukraine is sitting on a nuclear powder keg and we must wake up to this reality.

The latest reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) paints an alarming picture of the situation at Zaporizhzhia; leaking steam generation circuits and safety systems, inadequate staff, and no 2024 maintenance plan. Three reactors have various leaks, and occupying forces have no plans to fix them. There are vulnerable and unreliable external power connections, with blocked access, broken promises, and landmines ominously plaguing the site. Zaporizhzhia is currently operating on it’s back-up electric generators, and is regularly subject to power-losses. Pipelines bring cooling water to the tanks are being attacked and the main supply of cooling water, Khakova Dam, was attacked last June. The cooling water is essential for management of the toxic, spent nuclear fuel. If these systems fail, we will have either an explosion or a meltdown far beyond the scale of Chernobyl or Fukushima.

There are deep concerns about the possibility of an accident happening due to the stressful conditions and torture that the staff at Ukraine’s nuclear plants are working under. Working at a nuclear power plant is a stressful job in normal circumstances but considering the duress that the plant staff are working under, the risk of human error, malfunctions and safety issues is particularly high.

Any potential explosion or meltdown at Zaporizhzhia, or any of the Ukrainian Nuclear Plants, would cause irreversible damage to the environment and human life, that will last for thousands of years. The Uranium 235 housed within the susceptible Zaporizhzhia plant has a half-life of more than 700 million years, which would change the world forevermore if expelled from the reactors. As Zaporizhzia is on the front-line of the war, there would be no opportunity to evacuate the warzone surrounding the nuclear power plant if a nuclear accident occurs. We neglect Ukraine at our peril.
The intensifying nuclear threat in Ukraine is an inconvenient truth, but one we must not shy away from…and by denying the realities, we are only doing a disservice to generations of children.

Every day that peace in Ukraine is denied, we are rolling a dice. If we allow this to continue, one day our luck will run out and risk Zaporizhzhia becoming the next Chernobyl.

Just last month, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists confirmed the position of the metaphorical ‘Doomsday Clock’ at 90 seconds to Midnight – the closest it has ever been – citing war in Ukraine as a key reason why humanity is in a time of ‘unprecedented danger’. This announcement should have been a wake-up-call and a call-to-action for discussions for peace in Ukraine, yet we remain in an ever-increasingly precarious situation with Zaporizhzhia.
Let us not forget, that with the spate of new devastating tragedies in the world, public consciousness of the humanitarian need in Ukraine has waned significantly in recent months, and the needs of the most vulnerable children and families have increased exponentially. As with most tragedies, it is the most vulnerable in society who pay the highest price.

This war is playing chess, with tens of millions of lives on the line.

Sometimes it takes just two hands to take away the fear and the pain…sometimes it takes a world of effort to end that suffering.

The people of Ireland can take solace and be proud of the outpouring of love and generosity that has been shown to the people of Ukraine over the past two years, opening our hearts and our homes. We are on the frontline of the humanitarian response. Today, I once again call on the Irish People to stand up, speak out and use our voices to advocate for peace. Given Ireland’s history, we know the power of diplomacy and peace, which is reflected in the Good Friday agreement, showing us that there can be hope amidst turmoil, even after a decades-long conflict.

I plea with the Irish Government to scale up diplomatic initiatives so we can avoid any nuclear conflagration. Our neutrality is greatest asset, let us use that strength to call on World Leaders to invoke the Hague Convention, which defines occupation of nuclear facilities as a ‘war-crime’ and call for an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine.

This Earth is our common and only home; a beautiful, unique, fragile grain of life spinning in the depths of the universe…but now, in a nuclear age, a time of grave mortal danger, our very existence on the cusp, a planet that has become so fragile in the hands of man.
In these turbulent times of war and planetary degradation, it is easy to become despairing, paralysed and hope-less. So much is lost in the cacophony of noise from the beating drums of winnerless wars; it is easy to forget the power of all the goodness around us.

Our compassion for others is the heartbeat of our society. And YES, we are living in complex and very challenging times, but our ancestors faced similar and worse challenges throughout history and always rose up and faced them with bravery, unity and courage…so we can build on that! We stand on the shoulders of the ancestors! The power of our humanity is strong…together in that spirit of love in action we can save the world by giving that powerful transfusion of hope and love! And let that ACTION be the ANTIDOTE to despair!

So today, let us put pen to paper and rewrite the narrative of this war. Let us use our voices to sing a song of peace and justice, and show that we are strongest when we stand together. Let us be ambitious for peace!