22 May 2023

Ukrainian nuclear power plant switches to emergency generators

22 May 2023

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant spent hours operating on emergency diesel generators after losing its external power supply for the seventh time since Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbour, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said.

“The nuclear safety situation at the plant (is) extremely vulnerable,” Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a tweet.

Hours later, national energy company Ukrenergo said on Telegram that it had restored the power line that feeds the plant.

“We must agree to protect (the) plant now; this situation cannot continue,” Mr Grossi said, in his latest appeal for the area to be spared from the fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

IAEA staff are deployed at the plant which is occupied by Russian troops.

The plant’s six nuclear reactors, which are protected by a reinforced shelter able to withstand an errant shell or rocket, have been shut down.

But a disruption in the electrical supply could disable cooling systems that are essential for the reactors’ safety even when they are shut down. Emergency diesel generators, which officials say can keep the plant operational for 10 days, can be unreliable.

Fighting, especially artillery fire, around the plant – which is Europe’s largest atomic power station – has fuelled fears of a disaster like the one at Chernobyl in 1986.

Then, a reactor exploded and spewed deadly radiation, contaminating a vast area in the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe.

Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear company, blamed Russian shelling for the loss of the last high-voltage transmission line to the plant in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine, about 300 miles from Kyiv.

The facility is “on the verge of a nuclear and radiation accident”, Energoatom warned.

Mr Grossi said it was the seventh time the plant had lost its outside power supply since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is one of the 10 biggest atomic power stations in the world.

Russian officials have begun training for a planned evacuation from the plant of 3,100 staff and their families, a representative of Energoatom said last week.

The plant employed around 11,000 staff before the war, some 6,000 of whom remain at the site and in the surrounding town of Enerhodar.

More Russian military units have been arriving at the site and are mining it, the representative told The Associated Press.

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