The capturing of the Chernobyl power plant by Russian troops is a “worst-nightmare scenario,” according to founder and CEO of Chernobyl Children International Adi Roche.
Ms Roche said that Russian president Vladimir Putin could be considered to be committing a “war crime” by entering what she insists should be a no-conflict zone.
Russian troops yesterday entered Chernobyl from Belarus, with Ukrainian forces waging a battle only to ultimately lose control of the plant.
In an interview on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Ms Roche said that she had hoped this day would never come.
“This is something that if you were to say ‘what is your worst-nightmare scenario?’ well this is it. We were looking at the build-up on the border in Belarus and if we were to think tactically, it would be just at this point. Because it is the point of least resistance.
"It is the place which is not heavily guarded because it is so dangerous. Nobody would dream of coming into the area because it is an exclusion zone because of the dangerous levels of radioactivity. That is exactly what Putin decided to do — to go where he was least expected to move in.”
'Held to ransom'
Ms Roche says it is a sad and worrying situation.
“One of the awful tragedies is that the tanks have rolled in and gone to the site itself. We are hearing that they are holding the staff hostage. We are hearing that there is a possibility of some penetration to some of the nuclear waste repositories.
"The risks are phenomenal and the costs could be catastrophic. I hate to think that Ukraine and indeed Europe and the world would be held to ransom by using the world’s most radioactive environment as a battleground.
“This could be deemed a war crime. When all is said and done, when we look at the definition of a war crime, this is taking modern warfare to a whole new level. This (Chernobyl) should be declared off-limits.”
Ms Roche added that the risks to safety involved are “phenomenal.”
“When the (Chernobyl nuclear) accident happened in 1986, only three per cent of the radioactivity in the reactor got into the earth’s atmosphere and we know what that did. 97 per cent remains. So the consequences are almost unimaginable."
In the early hours of April 26th, 1986, a safety test at the Chernobyl nuclear plant saw reactor number four explode, unleashing a massive cloud of radiation that spread across Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and parts of Europe.
31 plant workers and firemen died in the immediate aftermath of the accident. There are estimates that thousands more later died directly or indirectly as a result of exposure to the radioactivity. However, there are no definitive statistics on the total number of lives lost.
36 years on, many communities in Belarus and Ukraine continue to struggle with the medical, environmental and economic consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.