Risks to Ukraine’s Nuclear Power Plants Are Small—but Not Zero

Nuclear power plants rely on a principle of layered safety mechanisms. The risk of any one safety system failing is low—and so the risk of multiple systems collapsing like dominoes is exceedingly low. But an active war zone trips up that system, according to James Acton, codirector of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.

On Twitter, Acton noted the increased risks of “common mode” failure, where both primary and backup systems simultaneously fail. In one scenario, a Russian attack on Ukraine’s power systems disconnects the nuclear plant from the grid, and then a safety incident, like a fire, occurs. Ordinarily, if the power goes out and

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