Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in Zaporozhye, Ukraine.
Photo: Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency
Against the backdrop of a tense stalemate in the six-month war in Ukraine, fighting around the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant is once again raising fears of a nuclear catastrophe. The 37-year-old facility, located on the Dnieper River in southeastern Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, has come under repeated shelling in recent weeks, for which Ukraine blames Russia, and Russia blames Ukraine. The plant is under the control of Russian troops shortly after their invasion of the country, but is still run by Ukrainian workers and is only a few kilometers from territory still held by Ukraine. This week, damage from a suspected artillery strike caused a temporary power outage at the plant, exacerbating the risk of a nuclear accident and spurring an ongoing international effort to send a team of outside experts to assess the site’s condition. That visit may finally take place next week, but there was more shelling on Saturday and the situation remains as volatile as it is frightening. Below is what we know about this still evolving crisis.
Energoatom, a Ukrainian nuclear power company, said on Thursday that two ZNPP reactors were disconnected from the Ukrainian power grid due to damage to a power line feeding the plant, which the company blamed on Russian shelling, while Russia blamed Ukraine. The facility was able to switch to local diesel generators and then to a nearby geothermal power plant for emergency backup power. This kept the reactor’s cooling systems powered, which are critical to preventing a nuclear meltdown. However, Energoatom warned that damage to infrastructure and the loss of off-site electricity increased the threat of “hydrogen leaks and radioactive spray” and the risk of fire at the station.
Fortunately, the workers were able to reconnect the reactors to the power grid within 24 hours, and on Saturday both Ukraine and Russia said radiation levels at the station remained normal. However, the episode renewed concerns that it was only a matter of time before nearby fighting would lead to disaster. On Friday, in the nearby city of Zaporozhye, Ukrainian authorities began distributing iodine tablets (which could help prevent absorption of radiation if exposed) to residents.
People receive iodine tablets at a distribution point in Zaporozhye, Ukraine on Friday.
Photo: Andrey Andrienko/AP/Shutterstock
A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency hopes to visit ZNPP as early as Monday after repeated, often unsuccessful attempts to negotiate access with both Ukraine and Russia. Wall Street Journal On Friday, it was reported that “two people familiar with the situation said that an IAEA mission would almost certainly visit the Zaporozhye plant early next week, although final details are still being worked out. One expert with ZNPP experience, Excel Services Corporation nuclear supervisor Morgan D. Libby, told reporters. Magazine that it could take weeks for the team to assess and correct the situation, emphasizing that “after Chernobyl, this is the most important mission the IAEA has ever undertaken – everything else pales in comparison.”
It’s not clear. Both sides continue to blame each other, and they did so again after more shelling on Saturday. Both sides also recently warned that the other side would stage a false flag attack on the plant. Ukraine throughout the war called on Russian troops to leave the area so that the fighting would not threaten the ZNPP. Russia has said its forces are guarding the plant to ensure nothing bad happens to it.