Lukashenko to take Skabeyeva to the nuclear weapons storage
Ukraine fears the war with Russia raging on its soil for over a year now could become nuclear at any moment.
The country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, last week cautioned Vladimir Putin’s forces were “technically ready to provoke a local explosion” at the Zaporizhzhia power plant – the largest of its kind in Europe.
The sceptre of nuclear conflict has been raised a number of times since the invasion began last February, but entering this new deadly phase has so far been averted.
A fierce and early opponent of Putin’s aggression under Boris Johnson’s leadership, the UK has already been singled out as a likely target in the event of a Russian missile attack by a former Kremlin official.
If so, where would Putin aim his missiles? Express.co.uk has plotted where the UK’s early Cold War Governments consider most at risk.
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The consequences of a meltdown at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southern Ukraine would be calamitous. Aside from the destruction in the immediate 30km (19-mile) radius, the plume of radioactive elements could see contaminated matter fall all over Europe.
This was the case when one reactor in Chernobyl blew back in 1986 – Zaporizhzhia has six. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commanding officer of the UK’s Joint Chemical, Biological and Nuclear Regiment, previously told Express.co.uk that “when Chernobyl blew up a lot of contamination actually landed in north Wales, so at this stage one can’t predict it.”
He added that current weather conditions would have the invisible radiation cloud blow “westwards” – putting the South of the UK at risk.
Even more dangerous, however, is the fact that once detonated, the nuclear threshold would have been crossed in war for the first time since 1945.
Back in May, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Rogozin admitted Moscow was facing defeat in the war against Ukraine unless Putin unleashed tactical nukes.
In early June, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said his country had started taking delivery of such weapons. Despite being less powerful than ballistic missiles, some of them are said to be three times more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On its own soil, however, Russia has 15 bases from which to launch much larger, longer-range warheads easily capable of reaching the UK, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
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Last September, ex-adviser to Putin Sergey Markov told BBC Radio 4: “For Western countries, for you, British listeners, I would say that Vladimir Putin told us he would be ready to use nuclear weapons against Western countries, including nuclear weapons against Great Britain.”
He added that “your cities will be target…” before being taken off the air by the broadcaster.
Cold War documents in the National Archive from Edward Heath’s Government reveal the 106 locations in the UK designated as “probable nuclear targets”.
They included major population centres such as London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Glasgow and Sheffield, as well as 23 RAF bases, 14 USAF bases, 10 radar stations, eight military command centres and 13 Royal Navy bases.
Just one Soviet-era Tsar Bomba – the most powerful nuclear warhead ever designed – dropped on London would cause almost six million fatalities, according to The Nuclear Secrecy Blog, with the blast cloud engulfing Reading, Bedford, Southend and Brighton.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia has a larger total stockpile of nuclear weapons than any other country on Earth, at 5,889.
Of these, 1,674 are thought to be currently deployed on land-based missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases. A further 2,815 are in storage and would require some degree of readiness preparation before launch.
The US has the second-highest total with 5,244 – no one else comes close to matching the two Cold War rivals in this regard. In fifth place behind both China and France, the UK has just 225 warheads with which to retaliate.
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