Situated on the south bank of the Dnieper river at Enerhodar, south-west of the city of Zaporizhzhia itself, the plant occupies an extremely important strategic position both for Russian and Ukrainian forces. Russia use it as a so called “sheltered” artillery park, using the facilities to fire on Ukrainian positions in the belief that Ukraine would not fire back and risk a nuclear accident.
The reactors are designed to withstand substantial impact, protected with steel and reinforced concrete as well as fire protection systems, although a strike from a substantial missile might be more problematic. The buildings housing the spent fuel, however, are not built with a similar level of protection, meaning that a release of spent fuel material is probably a greater risk from fighting than a catastrophic breach of a reactor, although more limited.
The reality is that the situation at the plant in terms of safety operations is probably the most serious issue, as a deteriorating safety regime caused by the conflict has been exacerbated by a risk of a strike. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, described the ongoing crisis of safety oversight as a dire threat to public health and the environment in Ukraine, and far beyond its borders, describing the situation as “completely out of control.”