Why did Russia fight for control of Chernobyl, the site of a nuclear disaster?

Forces from Russia and Ukraine fought on Thursday for control of Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident.

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The now-shuttered power plant was the scene of intense fighting as Russian troops moved toward Kyiv, the country’s capital. Eventually, Russian forces took the area on Thursday as they continued the invasion of Ukraine.

Many are wondering why Russia would fight so hard for a dismantled nuclear plant surrounded by still-radioactive grounds.

The reason is a simple one — the Russians want it because of its location.

Russia likely does not consider the nuclear power plant itself of any military use, except for the fact it is located between Belarus and Kyiv.

“It was the quickest way from A to B,” James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Reuters.

Chernobyl sits about 10 miles from Ukraine’s border with Belarus and about 65 miles to Kyiv.

“The location is important because of where it sits,” retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, said in an interview. “If Russian forces were attacking Kyiv from the north, Chernobyl is right there on the way, almost in the way.”

Gen. Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the United States Army, said Chernobyl “doesn’t have any military significance” but sits on one of the four “axes” Russian forces used to invade Ukraine.

A large “exclusion zone” surrounds the power plant and the nearby city of Pripyat, which was abandoned after the accident. The fourth reactor at the Chernobyl plant exploded in April 1986 during a botched safety test.

After the core explosion, a radioactive cloud drifted across much of Europe. The radioactivity of the area around the plant has decreased in the decades since the disaster, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation concluded that, apart from some 5000 thyroid cancers resulting in 15 fatalities, “there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 20 years after the accident.”