Reader question: Is Austria in danger of radiation from Chernobyl?

After invading Ukraine, Russia has taken over the site of the former Chernobyl nuclear plant and has reportedly cut power to the site.

An abandoned complex in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in Ukraine. Photo by Viktor Hesse on Unsplash
An abandoned complex in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in Ukraine. Photo by Viktor Hesse on Unsplash

Authorities remain uncertain as to Russia’s motivations for taking over the plant, which was the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986. 

While the situation is concerning, authorities have said radiation levels are normal in both Ukraine and Austria and therefore should not be a source of concern. 

Austria’s climate protection ministry issued a statement on Wednesday confirming that “there is no danger for Austria and no further action is required in Austria.”

“The radiation protection department of the climate protection ministry is closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine and is in close contact with the responsible authorities and the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

Although Russia has cut power to the site, the plants safety systems can be placed on backup diesel-powered generators in the event of a blackout. 

The ministry said the power would need to be off for days before radioactive substances were released and that Austria was too far away to be hit by any possible leakage. 

“Even if there was a complete power failure, it would in the worst case scenario be days before a possible release of radioactive substances. In any case, a possible radiological release would only affect the immediate surroundings in Ukraine and Belarus.”

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REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

Amid fears about what would happen if gas supplies to Austria were disrupted, the Federal Government has put together a package of measures to create a strategic gas reserve.

REVEALED: What is Austria's emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

It has been well reported that Austria is heavily reliant on Russian natural gas – but what would happen if supplies were suspended or stopped altogether?

Austria sources 80 percent of its gas from Russia, so the country would be seriously impacted if supplies were disrupted due to the war in Ukraine, a breakdown of diplomatic relations or any other unforeseen event. 

This is why the Federal Government has now unveiled a package of measures to protect Austria’s gas reserves in the event of an energy emergency.

READ MORE: ‘An unprecedented situation’: How would a gas embargo impact Austria?

What is in the package?

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler and Finance Minister Magnus Brunner presented the plans following a meeting in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, May 18th.

The most important points include an increase of the strategic gas reserve by 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh) to 20 TWh. This would cover Austria’s gas consumption for two winter months but the additional gas would not be sourced from Russia, according to the Kronen Zeitung

Gewessler said: “This measure will significantly reduce dependence on Russian gas.”

Increasing the strategic reserve with non-Russian supplies will reduce Austria’s dependence on Russian gas to 70 percent, Gewessler added.

Additionally, gas storage facilities located in Austria – such as the Haidach facility in Salzburg – must be connected to the Austrian gas grid. Haidach, which is supplied by Gasprom, is currently only connected to Germany’s pipeline network and has not been refilled for some time.

Finally, any unused gas in company storage facilities should be surrendered to the government if needed. Companies will be financially compensated for this.

READ ALSO: Austrian Economy Minister says gas embargo would be ‘red line’

What about next winter?

Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer has already said that gas storage facilities in Austria have to be 80 percent full before the next autumn and winter season.

The storage level is currently at 26 percent, reports Der Standard.

Gewessler also appealed to the Austrian public to make changes to help reduce the dependence on gas for energy, calling for more gas boilers to be replaced with other heating systems.

She said: “Together we are strong and together we can achieve this feat.”

READ MORE: What would an embargo on Russian oil mean for Austria?