Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant 'disconnected from grid'

Fears of a possible nuclear disaster have been heightened by recent fighting near the power station

A Russian serviceman guards the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in south-eastern Ukraine. AP
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Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, controlled by Russian forces since the early days of the war, has for the first time been disconnected from the national power supply, the state energy operator said.

Loss of power to the Ukrainian plant is a major concern since a disruption of electricity supply could knock out cooling systems that are essential for the safe operation of the reactors, and emergency diesel generators are sometimes unreliable.

“The actions of the invaders caused a complete disconnection of the [plant] from the power grid — the first in the history of the plant,” Energoatom said on the Telegram messaging app.

The plant, Europe's largest, has previously been the target of military strikes, which each side blames on the other. It was not known whether the plant had been reconnected to the grid.

Russia’s occupation of the Zaporizhzhia power plant poses major risks to nuclear safety because of potential damage to backup power supply and possible errors by exhausted workers, the British Army has said.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence said Moscow could be willing to exploit any activity by the Ukrainian military in the area “for propaganda purposes”.

A satellite image of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine appears to show Russian military vehicles parked near reactors. Photo: Ministry of Defence of UK / Twitter

The seizure of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, on the banks of the Dnieper River, by Russian forces in early March caused concern among the international community.

Continued fighting near the plant has heightened fears of a catastrophe that could affect nearby towns in southern Ukraine, and the wider region.

In recent days, shelling of Nikopol, a city about three kilometres across the river from Zaporizhzhia, has further increased fears of a nuclear accident.

The ministry has published a satellite image taken on Sunday which appears to show Russian armoured vehicles and other military vehicles parked near reactors at the site.

The location of the vehicles “approximately 60 metres from reactor five” suggests the Russians were “probably attempting to conceal the vehicles by parking them under overhead pipes and gantries,” the ministry said.

“Russia is probably prepared to exploit any Ukrainian military activity near ZNPP for propaganda purposes,” it said.

“While Russia maintains the military occupation of ZNPP, the principal risks to reactor operations are likely to remain disruption to the reactors’ cooling systems, damage to its backup power supply, or errors by workers operating under pressure.”

The site remains close to the front line and has come under repeated fire in recent weeks.

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the plant.

Kyiv alleges Russian troops are holding the Soviet-era nuclear plant hostage, storing weapons there and launching attacks from around it.

Moscow, on the other hand, claims Ukrainian fighters are recklessly firing on the power station, which is in the city of Enerhodar.

“Anybody who understands nuclear safety issues has been trembling for the last six months,” said Mycle Schneider, an independent policy consultant and co-ordinator of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

Before the war, about 11,000 people worked at Zaporizhzhia.

A staff member at the site was quoted by The Daily Telegraph as saying Russian security forces were torturing some workers.

“Now I understand that their army is weak, but their FSB service is working. One of their methods here is to take the control room workers to the basement,” the engineer said, using a Russian phrase for detention and torture by secret police.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, is in south-eastern Ukraine.

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu discussed the situation at Zaporizhzhia with his French counterpart during a phone call, the ministry said on Thursday.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt armed attacks on Ukraine and said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant must be demilitarised.

In a speech on Thursday marking the end of her term as high commissioner for human rights, Ms Bachelet said “the international community must insist on documentation” to be able to one day prove war crimes in Ukraine.

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Updated: August 25, 2022, 3:58 PM