Bulletins

Chernobyl’s safety systems are running on backup power

The IAEA has also access to data transmission from Chernobyl as well as the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Chernobyl

The IAEA can no longer access data from Chernobyl, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant after Russian forces overtook the sites.

Photo: German Meyer/Getty Images

When the Russian military took over the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant following its invasion of Ukraine, one of the primary concerns was whether troop movements and fighting would unleash radiation.

But while no elevated radiation has been reported in the immediate aftermath of the disaster site and nuclear power plant being captured, the International Atomic Energy Agency no longer has data transmission from the sites. In short, it’s even harder to monitor nuclear safety from the outside.


"The Agency is looking into the status of safeguards monitoring systems in other locations in Ukraine and will provide further information soon," the IAEA said in a statement, referring to technical protocol it takes to deter the spread of nuclear weapons and contamination. The IAEA did not immediately return Protocol’s request for comment.

Monitoring radiation levels has become an increasing concern since the Russian military invasion. Staff and a network of sensors are on site at Chernobyl, a former power plant that's home to the worst nuclear disaster in history, and Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, to keep track of radiation. But they have been taken hostage and working conditions at the plants have worsened. Workers at Zaporizhzhia are reportedly in “very bad psychological conditions,” according to Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state-owned atomic energy firm Energoatom. Staff at Chernobyl haven’t left the plant for about two weeks.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that staff need to be able to rest and work in regular shifts to properly operate nuclear facilities.

“I’m deeply concerned about the difficult and stressful situation facing staff at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and the potential risks this entails for nuclear safety,” Grossi said. “I call on the forces in effective control of the site to urgently facilitate the safe rotation of personnel there.”

Chernobyl also lost power Wednesday morning local time, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine wrote in a Facebook post. Emergency diesel generators were activated, and they can supply electricity for about 48 hours. But disruption in the area “makes it impossible” to control nuclear and radiation security parameters, the agency said. While there's no risk of a meltdown at Chernobyl, the site still poses a risk if safeguards fail due to lack of power or increased fighting in the area.

“Already two weeks the Chornobyl NPP personnel has been courageously and heroically performing their functions without rotation to ensure the safe operation of the facilities,” the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine wrote.

Last week, the Ukrainian government demanded that the United Nations boot Russia from a number of advisory bodies, including those dealing with nuclear waste. The government pointed to the shelling at Zaporizhzhia, which sparked a fire at the power plant (though thankfully no radiation was released), as well as taking over the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which is home to hazardous nuclear waste. It said the Chernobyl invasion “has jeopardized international environmental security as a whole.” That claim pales in comparison to what the government said about what’s happening at Zaporizhzhia, an active nuclear power plant. Any issues there, the government said, could be “a threat to nuclear and radiation safety of the whole world.”
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The tweet came from Jessica Rose, a developer relations advocate, founder of a meetup series for programmers and aspiring programmers and co-founder of Trans*Code, a hacker org devoted to drawing attention to transgender issues and opportunities.

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'Don’t touch me'

The tweet thread was full of varied responses, but the paradox of unlimited vacation was the clear favorite. “Wow, people are just so suspicious about unlimited paid time off,” Rose told Protocol when we caught up with her to ask about the tweet.

Other workers balked at in-office massages (“don’t touch me”), free booze, open-plan offices (did anyone in the history of the world ever call this a benefit?), fitness rooms, nap rooms, escape rooms (really any rooms), and something called “blameless retrospectives.” Um, what?

If employees are going to be suspicious of whatever perks you offer, why offer any perks at all?

“So I'm aware of how wonderfully spoiled it is to complain about perks being given out in some kinds of tech workplaces,” said Rose. “I'm the most unimpressed by ‘perks’ which either directly undermine employment rights (like unlimited paid time off can do in some regions) or are intended to throw work/life balance out of kilter in the workplace's favor.”

Unlimited or flexible vacation time can work, but it helps when the culture is one where people are encouraged to take time off and experts agree that mandatory minimums go a long way in helping create that kind of culture.

Your best interests or mine? Why can’t it be both? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

A director of engineering at Google who formerly worked at Microsoft and Zillow called employer-sponsored coaching an anti-perk. “I’ll spring for a coach who is looking out for my best interests, not the company’s, thanks,” she said, adding, “I know I am lucky to be offered this, but it always feels like a trap.”

There’s good reason to be at least a little wary of these programs. Last year Protocol reported that when tech companies work with coaching programs like BetterUp and Bravely the conversations themselves are confidential, but the company often receives aggregated reports on the issues workers are expressing in general, the topics they’re discussing, what's going well for them at work, and what's not.

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“Thoughtful, meaningful perks can benefit both employers and team members, by helping keep their team members happy and hopefully keep them in their role for longer,” Rose said.

Free SunChips < values-based work culture

Research shows that today’s employees don’t want snacks as much as they want work that aligns with their values, and that extends to benefits.

  • “I love work perks that demonstrate an employer's ethics and commitment to meaningfully supporting their team members,” said Rose.
  • These benefits can include big structural benefits like location-agnostic pay and support for different kinds of employee leave, but also smaller things like “sending people a small bonus on their birthday to buy a cake,” Rose added.
  • Rose also looks for “employers who don't subcontract out cleaning or security staff, to make sure that all of their team members get access to the same kinds of pay and support.”

What your 'perks' say about your corporate culture

Some “anti-perks” are just common decency and respect, such as believing your employees are telling the truth when they call in sick. In response to Rose’s prompt, one senior system admin pointed out a job listing that offers an “honor-based sick leave policy” in addition to its “commitment to an open, inclusive and diverse work culture.”

And think twice about listing your game room in your job description, tweeted a product designer from Miro:

“When they advertise a ping-pong table in the job listing, it's a huge 🚩 for me. And I love ping-pong. If a silly perk like this [is] such a relevant part of your benefits package, that says a lot about what the company values, and likely its culture."

A version of this story appeared in Protocol's Workplace newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox three times a week.

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Companies that selectively enforce attendance requirements may wind up with unfair outcomes, Kropp said.

“If you have a mandated set of days where you have to come to the office, but it’s unevenly enforced across the company, then you run into issues of fairness,” Kropp said. “That just creates more variability across the company, which then creates more risk as well in terms of that inconsistency.”

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To run high-performing teams in a flexible environment, managers need to be “half social worker, half engineer,” Kropp said. That means more empathy and more capacity for planning and organization.

While companies may seem settled into their hybrid ways of working, many leaders are leaving policies open to change with time rather than overcommitting themselves. The world is unpredictable, as we’ve learned in the last 2.5 years. “A lot of these executives — the way that they’re framing it now is, ‘This is our hybrid strategy for now, and it could evolve and could change,’” Kropp said.

Amazon falls into that category. As Andy Jassy put it at the Code Conference on Wednesday, Amazon doesn’t have a plan to force employees back to the office: “We’re going to proceed adaptively as we learn.”

A version of this story appeared in Protocol's Workplace newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox three times a week.

Bulletins