Ukraine’s largest power plant was again disconnected from the grid two days ago. Its last remaining backup powerline has been damaged while two others were disconnected, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Although the nuclear powerplant reportedly still has power, it was relying on its last remaining reactor to power its cooling systems.
The damage to the last connected backup line on Tuesday highlighted the vulnerabilities faced by the plant which has been subjected to numerous strikes since it was occupied by Russian forces back in March.
The IAEA said in a statement: “Renewed shelling has damaged a back-up power line between Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and a nearby thermal power station, further underlining significant nuclear safety risks at the facility, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) learnt at the site.
It added: “The ZNPP lost the connection to all its four main external power lines earlier during the conflict, the last one on September 2.
“Of the three back-up lines between the ZNPP and the thermal power station, one is now damaged by shelling, while the two others are disconnected, senior Ukrainian operating staff informed IAEA experts present at the plant since last week.”
Although Russian forces occupy the plant, Ukrainian operators continue to work there. There have been accusations of coercion and even torture at the plant.
The IAEA has called for the urgent implementation of what it called “a nuclear safety and security protection zone at the ZNPP”.
While the organisation inspected the nuclear plant, it found widespread damage in several important areas including the roof of the building where radioactive spent fuel is stored.
The plant has faced regular shelling over the past several weeks and months and reports of fires and damage there have become common.
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Experts have warned that if cooling equipment was not continuously powered it could lead to a radioactive disaster or even a nuclear meltdown which could affect large areas of Europe and even parts of the Middle East.
The most recent disconnection has led to speculation that Russia might be trying to switch ZNPP to its own power grid, allowing it to power the Crimean Peninsula or even the Krasnodar region in Russia proper. Ukraine, however, has said that this would be technically difficult.
Acting head of Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate Oleh Korikov told a news briefing that Kyiv was considering shutting down the power plant entirely.
He said: “The option of switching off the station is being assessed, if conditions necessitating the station to be switched off arise.”
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He claimed ZNPP was supplying its own electricity needs, but that backup diesel generators would have to be fired up if it remained disconnected, though he gave no time frame.
It would be extremely difficult to replenish the reserves of diesel because of the war, he said.
He added: “We could potentially reach a situation where the diesel runs out, which would cause an accident involving the damage of the active zones of the reactors, which would cause the expulsion of radioactive substances into the environment.
“This would have consequences not only for the territory of Ukraine, but also cross-border consequences.”