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The Race to Protect Zaporizhzhia

As tensions heat up, world leaders are scrambling to stave off a potential nuclear accident.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
A Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.
A Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.
A Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in Enerhodar, Ukraine, on May 1. ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following the race to protect Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Taiwan’s growing defense budget, and Myanmar’s arrest of a former British ambassador.

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Officials Scramble to Protect Zaporizhzhia 

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following the race to protect Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Taiwan’s growing defense budget, and Myanmar’s arrest of a former British ambassador.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Officials Scramble to Protect Zaporizhzhia 

As tensions heat up around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, world leaders are in a race against time to inspect the facility and stave off a potential nuclear disaster. 

Zaporizhzhia has been caught in the crossfire of the Ukraine war since Russia took control of the plant in March and effectively converted it into a military base. As the plant was struck by shelling, global leaders warned of grave consequences. “Any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

In a worrying development on Thursday, the plant disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid after shelling-induced fires damaged a power line, the Ukrainian firm Energoatom said. The temporary break wiped out electricity in large stretches of southern Ukraine—and reignited calls for emergency action.

“Almost every day there is a new incident at or near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. We can’t afford to lose any more time,” said International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi. “I’m determined to personally lead an IAEA mission to the plant in the next few days to help stabilize the nuclear safety and security situation there.”

But protecting Zaporizhzhia has proven to be difficult. The United Nations has called for a demilitarized zone and said the IAEA is currently preparing for an inspectionalthough that ultimately hinges on ongoing negotiationsBoth Kyiv and Washington have denounced Moscow for endangering the plant and urged it to relinquish control, whereas the Kremlin has in turn blamed Ukraine.

Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko told the Financial Times that he hoped a delegation of IAEA and U.N. experts could inspect the facility in early September while also stressing the importance of a long-term international mission. 

In the United States, dozens of former U.S. officials and experts have signed a letter urging U.S. President Joe Biden to push for immediate action over Zaporizhzhia, as the Wall Street Journal reported. 

“There is no place in the 21st century for the illegal seizure and use of a nuclear facility to terrorize a population,” the letter said. “We hope you will take urgent action to help secure the IAEA visit to prevent a potential humanitarian and ecological disaster.”

There is, however, a problem with the U.S. position, Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski argued in FP this month: Washington hasn’t ratified a key provision of international law that would help protect civilian nuclear infrastructure—the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Convention. “The United States would be in a much stronger position to complain about Russia’s violations, including at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, if it itself accepted the obligation to adhere to the Additional Protocol,” they wrote.

In the meantime, many Ukrainians already scarred by Chernobyl’s legacy are bracing for the worst-case scenario, as Liz Cookman reported for Foreign Policy from Nikopol, Ukraine. 

“Now it could all happen to me again—but worse,” Volodymyr Plashihin, a 61-year-old Ukrainian man who suffered health complications linked to Chernobyl, told her. “I can hardly explain the fear to anyone who has never experienced this.”


What We’re Following Today

Taiwan’s defensive focus. Taiwan is planning to increase its defense spending next year by 13.9 percent, it announced on Thursday. The record military boost comes weeks after China intensified military drills in the wake of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial trip to the island.

Myanmar’s arrests. Myanmar has arrested former British ambassador Vicky Bowman and her husband, Ko Htein Lin, on charges of breaching immigration laws. From 2002 to 2006, Bowman was the British ambassador to the country. Her husband is an artist and was previously a political prisoner. 

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, slammed the arrest, calling it an “absurd, ridiculous & vengeful action.” They are “just making things up to strike back at critics any way they can,” he tweeted


Keep an Eye On

Russia’s expanding forces. Russia’s military is set to grow from 1.9 million personnel to 2.04 million personnel under a new order that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed on Thursday. The Kremlin’s military boost comes amid reports of mounting casualties: In August, U.S. officials estimated that as many as 70,000 to 80,000 Russians had been injured or killed during the war. 

Delayed U.N. report. U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has hinted that she may not publish a key human rights report on China’s Xinjiang region before her term ends next week despite her original pledges to do so and repeated delays

Bachelet’s work on Xinjiang has previously been the subject of considerable scrutiny. After a high-profile trip to the region in May, she was widely criticized for appearing to echo Beijing’s rhetoric and talking points


Thursday’s Most Read

Why Quantum Computing Is Even More Dangerous Than Artificial Intelligence by Vivek Wadhwa and Mauritz Kop

Imran Khan’s Revolution by Azeem Ibrahim

After Pelosi’s Visit, Most of the Indo-Pacific Sides With Beijing by Derek Grossman


Odds and Ends 

U.S. researchers have discovered a way to recycle wind turbine blades into a sweet treat: gummy bears. With the development of a new type of resin, scientists from Michigan State University said, components of the blades can be transformed into potassium lactate. That compound can then be purified to eventually create the chewy candies. 

“We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candies, which I ate,” John Dorgan, one of the researchers, told the Guardian.

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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