Nuclear power stations as targets in war-time

For some reason very little has been written publicly on this very important subject. More than thirty nations have operating nuclear power stations at the time of writing.

A nuclear power station would be susceptible to attack by conventional or nuclear bombs or missiles. If the containment vessel of a nuclear power station was breached by explosives the resulting mess and contamination would be similar to that of Chernobyl and Fukushima.

This page written 2017/01/18, last edited 2022/01/17
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©


It is fortunate that, to the present, no nation with a well developed nuclear power station network has been involved in an all-out war. A bombed nuclear power station would cause radioactive contamination similar to that following the Chernobyl or Fukushima disasters. (As of 2021/11/11 Wikipedia listed "Military attacks" on nuclear reactors, but none of these were full-scale military attacks on operating nuclear power stations.)


Bomb proof?

I've heard it claimed that the containment vessels of nuclear power stations are too strong to be damaged by bombs. I find this quite unbelievable.

In any case, the cooling ponds in which spent fuel is kept until its radioactivity decreases sufficiently for more permanent storage would be very easy targets. They also contain huge quantities of highly radioactive material.

Gentleman's agreement?

I've also heard it claimed that there is some sort of agreement between nations to not target each other's nuclear power stations. Even supposing that such agreements exist between all those nations with nuclear power stations, how likely is it that, in an all out desperate war, the agreement would be broken?
The radioactive contamination from a bombed nuclear power station would be far worse than that from a nuclear bomb. The nuclear material in a bomb is measured in kilograms, that in a nuclear power station is measured in tonnes.

A nation with half a dozen or more nuclear power stations destroyed by bombing would suffer huge contamination and crippling containment costs. In December 2016 the ABC reported that the Fukushima clean-up would cost Japan Aus$250 billion. (The Japan Center for Economic Research, a private think tank, has estimated that the cleanup costs could mount to from $470 billion up to $660 billion.) The Japanese people were going to face increasingly large electricity bills to cover the costs, and it was expected to be a significant burden on the Japanese economy for many years.

So why does there seem to be so little written in the public domain on this subject?

Why write about it?

Why write this page and frighten people? Because people who live anywhere near where a nuclear power station has been proposed have a right to know the risks involved.

The factor that moved me to write the page was a proposal by a man who has been suggested as a future Premier of my state, South Australia, Sean Edwards, that the state build the first nuclear power station in Australia.

In late 2019 the federal Liberal/National coalition government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison was pushing for the development of nuclear power in Australia (probably because of their corrupt and unethical opposition to renewable energy).

Should we worry about it?
Response from a nuclear proponent and my reply

I wrote the following post on a pro-nuclear Facebook page named Nuclear for Climate Australia on 2022/01/16. The group had proposed a number of small modular nuclear reactors for power generation around Australia. I live in Australia. At the time of writing there were no nuclear power stations in the nation.
"I wonder if anyone in this group would care to comment on what would result if the proposed nuclear power stations were built and then bombed out in some future war? It seems to me that bombed out nuclear power station would make a mess like Chernobyl or Fukushima. I have never heard this question addressed by pro-nuclear power people."
The answer from the administrator of Nuclear-for-climate-Australia:
"I know lets [SIC] gas light the nuclear issue and pretend this question is asked all the time and nuclear supporters can't answer it. Why frame it like that if you aren't just trying to provoke? 99% of the time wars are fought to occupy land, subdue the residents and TAKE POSSESSION OF THE RESOURCES."
The next morning both my post and the reply had disappeared from the Facebook page.

The last sentence in the reply has a grain of truth in it, but it is mostly false as I show below. Is this the best counter that the pro-nuclear people can put against my point? It's very weak. Let's look at some of the wars that my country, Australia, has been involved in over the last century.

World War Two

Germany did 'occupy land, subdue the residents and take possession of the resources' in the early part of the war. Then there was The Blitz in which the aim of the Germans was to demoralise the British people and diminish their ability to wage war. If Britain had nuclear power stations at that time they would have been great targets for both aims.

Later in the war, Germany was sending V1s and V2s into Britain, again to demoralise the British people. They were desperately fighting and losing the war by this point. Can we doubt that they would have targeted British nuclear power stations if there were any?

Then there was the other side - for example the carpet bombing of Dresden; the allies wanted to demoralise the German people as well as destroying their military industries. The allies had no aim of 'taking possession of the resources' of the Germans. Would they have refrained from bombing nuclear power stations? I don't think so.

Japan had aims of an Asian empire. It had no aim of occupying the USA or Australia, but it bombed Pearl Harbour to weaken the US's ability to wage war and bombed Australia's northern ports for the same reason. If the USA and Australia had nuclear power stations at the time and if Japan had any ability to bomb them, would they have resisted the temptation? It would certainly have diminished both country's ability to wage war.

Late in the war the USA was fire-bombing Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. Again, there was no aim of 'taking possession of the resources' of Japan; the aim was to demoralise the Japanese people and destroy their ability to wage war. Would the Americans have resisted the temptation of bombing nuclear power stations if there were any?

(I can recommend the book 'Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath' by Paul Ham.)

The Vietnam War

The USA and its allies had no aim of occupying Vietnam, they wanted to destroy the communists' threat to non-communist South Vietnam. Would the USA have targeted nuclear power stations in North Vietnam in their bombing campaign had there been any? I strongly suspect they would have. The desperation of America to win the war was demonstrated by their criminal bombing of Cambodia. At the time Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater suggested using nuclear weapons against North Vietnam.

The first Gulf war

Saddam Husain's forces set fire to oil wells as they retreated from Kuwait with the intention of leaving as much damage behind them as possible. Had there been nuclear power stations I strongly suspect they would have been bombed out.

Related pages

Related pages on external sites...

Vulnerability of nuclear plants to attack; Wikipedia. A quote:
"Nuclear power plants, civilian research reactors, certain naval fuel facilities, uranium enrichment plants, fuel fabrication plants, and even potentially uranium mines are vulnerable to attacks which could lead to widespread radioactive contamination."


"Nuclear reactors become preferred targets during military conflict and, over the past three decades, have been repeatedly attacked during military air strikes, occupations, invasions and campaigns"
It seems that no fully functioning nuclear power station has been entirely breached to the point of the radioactive contents being released and scattered to the time of writing.

Military and terrorist attacks on nuclear plants; Nuclear-Free Campaign, Friends of the Earth Australia. A quote:
"If and when nuclear-powered nations go to war, they will have to choose between shutting down their power reactors, or taking the risk of attacks potentially leading to widespread, large-scale dispersal of radioactive materials. Spent fuel stores, which typically contain enormous quantities of radioactive materials, may be more vulnerable than reactors as they are generally less well protected."
The page also discusses nuclear power stations in failed states, the Ukraine situation and military attacks on nuclear-related targets.

Related pages on this site...

Why use nuclear power?

Pros and cons of generation methods

Australia's proposed low-medium level waste repository, a storm in a teacup.

South Australia's huge success in changing from fossil fuels to renewable energy (there is no need for nuclear power).