They were about fifty Sunday, men, women and children, to demonstrate in Slavoutitch, a small Ukrainian town where employees of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant live.
“Ukraine does not need a second Chernobyl”, chanted the crowd, “Save our loved ones!”.
Because since the capture of the site by the Russian army on February 24, at the beginning of the war, a hundred technicians, who were finishing their night service, have not been authorized to return home. The day team, she could not relay them in the plant, testify their relatives interviewed by AFP on condition of anonymity.
Somehow, in degraded sanitary conditions, the captives of Chernobyl have been trying for three weeks to ensure the maintenance of the site, now inactive, having experienced on April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear disaster in history. Surrounded by weapons and Russian soldiers, tell their relatives.
“Our guys are not just hostages, but prisoners of a Russian concentration camp”, denounced a woman with a serious face during the Slavoutitch demonstration, filmed by local television.
Those around them not only recount their painful daily life but also the risks that this situation poses to a power plant whose security they believe is largely compromised.
“Physically and morally, they are exhausted”, narrates the wife of a technician. “They think nobody is interested in them, neither the Russian government nor the Ukrainian government,” she says.
Malnourished, they receive two meals a day made up of “small portions, poorly prepared”, they “can take showers, but without soap or shampoo”, have no access to any medicine, and sleep “on the floor, on desks or on chairs,” she laments.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, was moved by the fate of these employees living “under enormous stress and without the necessary rest”, which ” jeopardizes “according to the IAEA one of the” pillars “of nuclear security, namely that staff can make decisions without undue pressure”.
Especially since employees feel “on the front line if an accident occurs”, a possibility that could come closer as the lines supplying Chernobyl with electricity were cut for several days last week, explains a Chernobyl engineer to the AFP.
According to her, the nuclear waste storage pool is “overcapacity by 40%” and all the “emergency basins are filled”, which is “contrary to international nuclear security rules” in the event of a disaster, if she frightens, of the wrongs she attributes to the Ukrainian leadership of Chernobyl.
Contacted by AFP, the Ukrainian atomic agency was unable to respond to these accusations.
“There is no risk of explosion on the site”, reassures however Karine Herviou, deputy director-general of the French Institute for radiation protection and nuclear safety (IRSN), was questioned by AFP.
While Chernobyl had to rely on generators for several days to operate its safety systems, “the lasting loss of the site’s power supply would not (cause) an accident”, according to her, “unlike nuclear power plants operating”.
There remains the risk linked to the war, while the Russian army has installed “a military base” within the walls of Chernobyl, affirms a relative of a technician retained on the site, who himself worked in this plant.
“The strategy is brilliant from a war point of view (…) No one is going to fire a missile at Chernobyl” to target the Russian army, he explains. “But in the name of humanity, this is absolutely insane.”
While the main risk for Chernobyl is, according to him, “human error”, the current situation is a “catastrophe” for the plant, with Russian soldiers “unaware” of the nature of the site on which they are.