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Dirty Warfare? The Application of International Law to Attacks on Nuclear Power Plants in the Conduct of Hostilities


Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine poses multiple threats to international security, with nuclear safety and nuclear weapons returning to the forefront of global politics. Alongside verbal threats of using tactical nuclear weapons, Russia’s invasion plans have included attacks on nuclear power plants (NPPs), such as the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia complex in Ukraine. These actions raise critical questions about the application of international law to military operations involving NPPs and liability for resulting nuclear damage. This paper examines the scope of international law in such scenarios and concludes with implications from the perspective of strategic studies and NATO nuclear policy.

Revised version of a paper presented at the 5th edition of the Early-Career Nuclear Strategists Workshop, held at the NATO Defense College in Rome on 21-23 June 2023.