op_ramberg2_ANDREY BORODULINAFP via Getty Images_ukrainenuclear Andrey Borodulin/AFP via Getty Images
en English

The Danger of Nuclear Reactors in War

Russia's scorched-earth war of aggression in Ukraine poses a threat to nuclear reactors unlike anything the world has ever seen. After decades of inaction, the international community can no longer afford to rely on loosely defined norms and warring parties' own self-restraint.

LOS ANGELES – The Russian Army’s march into Ukraine on February 24 was horrific for many reasons, not least because it introduced the prospect of a military strike on any one of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear power reactors and spent-fuel pools, risking an immense release of radioactive elements. Fortunately, that has not happened – yet.

Whatever does happen next, the Ukraine crisis has shown that wars and reactors make for a dangerous mix, raising troubling questions for other simmering conflicts around the world: Israel and Iran, China and Taiwan, and North and South Korea, among others. All have large nuclear power or weapons plants, and all are at risk of war.

Complicating matters further, there is no international convention that bans attacks on nuclear plants in wartime. The only global accord that even purports to address the matter is the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977 (the “Protocol Additional”), and it is too ambiguous to be effective.