On Tuesday, April 5, the governor of the Lugansk region in eastern Ukraine posted a photo of a plume of orange smoke on Telegram. It was the result of a Russian attack on a tank filled with nitric acid.
Nitric acid is used to make ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient in fertilizers. It is also used to make explosives such as nitroglycerin and trinitrotoluene (TNT). This highly corrosive mineral acid cloud prompted a warning from Gov. Serhiy Haidai, who advised residents of the town of Rubizhne to stay indoors, close their windows and doors, and wear masks due to the risk of serious injury if inhaled. When in contact with meat, nitric acid quickly causes severe burns.
Haidai also explained that after rain, the nitric acid is diluted and no longer poses a threat. However, questions remain about the volume of nitric acid in the container and how much of the chemical is absorbed by the surrounding soil, plants, trees and groundwater, as well as the cascading effects on wildlife. During the production of nitric acid, nitrous oxide, an ozone-depleting greenhouse gas and 265 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide, is released into the atmosphere.
In addition to the humanitarian crisis, this is just an attack, an environmental pollution in a day of the Ukraine war.
On the same day, 523 miles northwest of Chernobyl, Ukraine officials informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the country had begun to resume regulatory control over the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Russian troops took over the facility in late February at the start of the invasion, but withdrew to Belarus on Thursday 31 March. The IAEA has been unable to confirm reports of Russian forces being exposed to high doses of radiation while in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Ministry of Defense of Ukraine tweeted, “Russian occupiers left the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Two main reasons: Losses through [Ukraine] Army and Radiation Exposure.”
There were others tweets to support this claim that Russian troops are digging trenches, including a video of a drone flying over the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
If the IAEA confirms that Russian soldiers were exposed while digging in and fortifying their positions at Chernobyl, they may have been suffering from radiation acute syndrome, an acute illness caused by exposure of the whole body – or most of the body – to radiation by a high dose will cause penetrating radiation in a very short time, usually within minutes. According to the CDC, the three main areas affected are the bone marrow, the gastrointestinal tract, and the cardiovascular/central nervous system.
Rubizhne’s nitric acid tank attack and Chernobyl are just a snapshot of the environmental impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine. While the world should rightly focus on the humanitarian catastrophe this war has caused, its ecological consequences are part of this story – and research shows that the Ukrainian people will foot the bill.
Scientists and experts have comparable data from the worldwide “War on Terror”. The Cost of War Project, based at Brown University’s Watson Institute and Boston University’s Pardee Center, was created to document the unrecognized costs of the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. The cost analysis is divided into three categories: budget, human resources and environment. Assessing the environmental costs, the authors conclude: “The US has produced 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases since the beginning of the 20th century [Global War on Terror] in 2001. More than 400 million tons are directly related to war-related fuel consumption.” Note that 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases are equivalent to the annual emissions of 257 million passenger cars, which is more than double the current number of cars who are currently traveling in the United States.
Armed conflicts in cities not only displace, kill or injure civilians, the infrastructure necessary for the functioning of basic services is damaged or destroyed. Damage to wastewater and drinking water can lead to contamination of water resources. Explosions from rockets or fires create huge amounts of debris and debris. The release of hazardous materials such as asbestos, industrial chemicals and fuels amplifies the impact of pollution.
And the Ukrainian country will be permanently damaged by duds or UXO. An explosive device that does not detonate or only partially detonates can deposit toxic explosives in the surrounding soil and water bodies, the authorities said Small War Journal.
Meanwhile, efforts to supply Ukraine with arms and equipment come at a cost of their own. More than 25 nations have sent billions of dollars worth of missiles, ammunition and other items. Transporting military materiel is a Herculean effort that requires kerosene. According to the US Energy Information Administration, jet fuel produces an average of 21.1 pounds of CO2 per gallon and aviation gas 18.4 pounds, while fuel for cars is 19.6 pounds. None of these figures include emissions from explosions, fires, spent ammunition, destruction of vehicles and property. The reconstruction process is also not included in these figures. Consider that the manufacture of cement produces approximately 0.9 pounds of CO2 for every pound of cement.
In February, Flagstok, an independent Belarusian media outlet, noted that an abandoned airbase outside the town of Homyel served as a base for Russian equipment and troops. It was also reported that the Russians have units grouping together far from bases closer to the border with Ukraine. Satellite images showed Russian troops were 25 to 30 miles from Ukraine’s Chernihiv region, which is 125 miles from Kyiv.
Russian convoys fleeing Chernobyl to Belarus would burn gasoline. Those emissions would blanket the Pinsk Marshes — a wetland some 100,000 square miles in size. Wetlands play an important role in carbon storage. Although they are capable of absorbing pollutants from surface water, their ability to do so is limited.
If the war continues with Russian shelling all summer, wildfire in drought-stricken Ukraine will also have cascading effects. Suppressing a wildfire in the hottest months of the year in an attempt to repel an enemy force with limited resources will only add to the damage.
Warfare and the war industry have long had environmental and public health implications. As Russia continues to pursue a strategy of bombing cities into submission, the high cost will be borne by generations to come of Ukrainians.