Ukraine’s propaganda feeds green activist hysteria – Ivo Vegter - Biznews

22 April 2022 - In the frenzy for clicks, likes and shares, even the Associated Press quotes a rabid anti-nuclear activist in an attempt to sensationalise apocalyptic fears.

As usual Ivo Vegter goes to the nuclear heart of the matter, rendering a vitally sobering response to the Associated Press’ (AP) irresponsible, selective and sensationalist reporting on Russia’s briefly idiotic occupation of Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear site. The AP story, like our own Sunday Times’ erstwhile and journalistically unforgivable furthering of the state capture agenda, also proves the old maxim that in war, the first casualty is truth. Quoting Ukrainian government spokespeople who eagerly embellished the consequences of Russian soldiers digging in on contaminated soil around Chernobyl and holding hostages there, plus a prominent European Green Party anarchist, the AP wrote a terrifying story of another potential nuclear disaster. Vegter did the requisite fact-checking, which the click-seeking global press agency reporters ignored. It’s more illuminating than a radioactive Russian soldier retreating at speed upon realising the enormity of his folly. It’s also highly entertaining and adds weight to the lessons the reckless and cavalier Sunday Times Zuma-era reportage provided in recent years. Story courtesy of the Daily Friend. – Chris Bateman

Ivo Vegter

In the frenzy for clicks, likes and shares, even the Associated Press quotes a rabid anti-nuclear activist in an attempt to sensationalise apocalyptic fears.

The occupation of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant site near the town of Prypiat in northern Ukraine by invading Russians on 24 February 2022 has, predictably, been exploited by radical, anti-nuclear activists to stir up fear, uncertainty and doubt.

One cannot accuse the Russian army of being very smart. They proved themselves to be dazzlingly stupid, digging trenches and churning up dust in highly contaminated soil surrounding the site of the infamous 1986 explosion and fire that spread radioactive material all over the place.

After hundreds of soldiers unnecessarily acquired radiation sickness, the panicked Russians fled Chernobyl. They called it a strategic retreat. They also backtracked on claims  they had only sent professional soldiers into Ukraine, presumably so they could blame their failures on poor conscripts.

Who or what they thought they were fighting at Chernobyl is anyone’s guess. It isn’t a strategic site. It is a spectacularly poor location for a staging post or base of operations. There weren’t any women and children to rape and murder. Perhaps they just enjoyed the flourishing wildlife in the exclusion zone.

Europe in danger
Having dazzlingly stupid conscripts rooting around the scene of the world’s most serious nuclear accident is, of course, not without its risks. It is not, however, the end of the world.

Ukraine’s valiant president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, called it “a declaration of war against the whole of Europe”. His information policy and media adviser, Mykhailo Podoliak, said the “totally pointless attack” was “one of the most serious threats in Europe today”.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry warned of another ecological disaster, and the foreign minister himself, Dmytro Kuleba, took to Twitter on 9 March to warn that the electricity supply to the disused plant had been cut.

“Reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity to power the Chornobyl (sic*) NPP [nuclear power plant],” he wrote. “After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent. Putin’s barbaric war puts entire Europe in danger. He must stop it immediately!”

This was early in the war, and the Ukrainians were waging a propaganda offensive to solicit and solidify support from potential allies. Scaring Europeans about the potential consequences of Russia’s takeover of Chernobyl was just the ticket.

Loss of cooling
Expertly manipulated, Associated Press (AP) reporters this week penned a terrifying piece under the headline, ‘Russia’s Chernobyl seizure seen as nuclear risk “nightmare”.’

Seen? Seen by whom?

As one might expect, those responsible for the safety of the plant expressed their concern to the AP about the loss of electricity and active cooling, even though the warnings of terrifying consequences of cooling pumps dying within 48 hours from 9 March never materialised.

The AP didn’t bother to fact-check this information, however.

A stress-test conducted on the entire Ukrainian nuclear fleet revealed that a loss of all electricity at Chernobyl would not lead to a nuclear accident of any kind. In particular, it says: “[I]n case of loss of pool water cooling function, SFA [spent fuel assembly] temperature will increase but will not exceed 70°С (under water presence in the cooling pool), and thus it will not cause an accident.” (PDF, p113ff.)

Vanity Fair quoted Seth Grae, a nuclear energy expert formerly on the governing board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who said Ukraine’s catastrophic warnings were “very much an overstated danger”.

Grae told the magazine: “Even in the ultimate worst-case scenario – if some extreme temperatures evaporated the water or somehow that water is removed from the pool, which evaporation is not likely to do – the fuel at this point could be cooled by air and any radiation released would still be very local.”

He added that the water in the pools could be replenished with “a small hose”.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, was concerned about the safety of the hostages at the power plant, but said that it saw no critical impact on safety from the power loss. It said that the heat load of the spent fuel storage pool and the volume of cooling water at Chernobyl was sufficient for effective heat removal without the need for an electrical supply.

Ironically, the AP’s own coverage at the time quoted the IAEA. It didn’t think it necessary to include this expert opinion in its latest alarmist piece, however.

Activist opinion
Instead, the AP reporters sought the opinion of Rebecca Harms.

Harms is a retired European Union (EU) parliamentarian and anti-nuclear activist, whose political career was born in the left-wing ecological movement of the 1970s in Germany. Her highest educational attainment appears to be an apprenticeship in plant nursery and landscape gardening, according to her German biography.

She is a member of the German party Alliance ’90/The Greens, which is part of the European Green Party, which itself is part of the Greens–European Free Alliance group, of which Harms was co-president from 2009 to 2016. (Nothing is ever simple in the bureaucratic dystopia of the EU.)

She calls herself an anarchist and has her entire life been steadfastly opposed to nuclear power in all its forms, including fusion, describing it (falsely) as “certainly one the most dangerous… energy sources of our time”.

No prizes, then, for what Harms told the AP. She said Russia’s invasion marks the first time that occupying a nuclear plant was part of a nation’s war strategy, calling it a “nightmare” scenario in which “every nuclear plant can be used like a pre-installed nuclear bomb”.

Yeah, no, that’s not how nuclear power plants work, Ms Harms, and you know that.

Nuclear plants are not bombs
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Nuclear Reactor Laboratory, a nuclear reactor cannot explode like a nuclear bomb.

“A nuclear explosion cannot occur because the fuel is not compact enough to allow an uncontrolled chain reaction,” it writes in its FAQs. “Even an uncontrolled reaction would happen too slowly to cause an explosion.”

Explosions can occur at nuclear power stations, but they typically involve steam or hydrogen, and not the nuclear fuel. In extreme cases, such as the Chernobyl accident, this could lead to a dirty-bomb type scenario in which dangerous levels of radioactive material is released into the surrounding environment.

However, claiming that nuclear power plants can be used “like a pre-installed nuclear bomb” is laughably ignorant, or more likely, given Harms’ experience, maliciously false.

Even in the case where the Russian army shelled Europe’s biggest active nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, causing a fire, the risk was not explosion, but loss of cooling of the spent fuel pools. This would constitute a nuclear accident, but not one comparable to the Chernobyl explosion.

Again, though, Zelenskyy was in full agit-prop mode, hysterically announcing: “If there is an explosion, that’s the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe.”

No, it wouldn’t be. It would, at worst, be an accident on the scale of Fukushima, in which nobody died of acute radiation syndrome, and only one nuclear plant worker has died subsequently of cancer likely caused by exposure, but 2,200 people died as a consequence of the panicked evacuation.

If we give Harms the underserved benefit of the doubt, she could have meant that nuclear power plants could be looted for radioactive materials for use in ‘dirty bombs’, conventional bombs that spread radioactive contaminants.

As it happens, nuclear material does appear to have been stolen from Chernobyl by Russian soldiers. However, even this is of minor concern. The materials stolen could not be used to make a nuclear weapon, and materials to build a dirty bomb could far more easily be obtained from radiology labs in hospitals.

Of all the places where one might acquire dirty bomb materials, a nuclear power plant is perhaps the worst.

False panic, real death
The dangers facing Ukraine, or any other country that has the misfortune to be on the receiving end of an aggressive invasion by land, have nothing to do with nuclear power plants.

The true ‘nightmare scenario’ is the devastation Russian soldiers and artillery are wreaking on infrastructure, hospitals, schools, theatres, train stations and blocks of residential flats.

Ukrainians are dying not because of their embrace of the cleanest, safest form of energy on the planet, but because they’re being murdered in war crimes committed in the course of a conventional land war.

People like Harms should be ashamed of themselves for exploiting such tragedy to further their narrow and misguided causes.

News organisations such as the AP should be ashamed of themselves for exploiting such panic-mongering for the sake of sensational headlines.

We’re supposed to be able to rely on reporting bureaux such as the AP to present us with objective and unemotional coverage of the facts, instead of trying to earn gutter-press clicks by promoting the hysterical opinions of unqualified propagandists.

Of all the dangers Ukraine has faced in the last two months, and will face in future, nuclear catastrophe is the least.

* This is not an error on the part of the Ukrainian foreign minister. The transliteration of names from Cyrillic depends on which language it is being transliterated from. While the West learnt to call it Chernobyl, as transliterated from the Russian Чернобыль, Chornobyl is the correct transliteration of the Ukrainian Чорнобиль. The same happened with Kiev (Russian) and Kyiv (Ukrainian), and with Pripyat (Russian) and Prypiat (Ukrainian).

Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. Follow him on Twitter, @IvoVegter.

This article was first published on the Daily Friend