Kyiv, Ukraine – Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant was reconnected to the national electricity grid on Friday afternoon, but its time offline renewed concerns about the plant’s safe operation and the consequences for millions of Ukrainians if there were more blackouts.
Ukrainian engineers were able to restore damaged external power lines after repeated bombing Thursday, ensuring the facility can meet its energy needs and continue to operate safely, according to Ukrainian and international officials, but efforts to reconnect it to the grid have taken longer. .
With fires raging around the plant, new bombing in and around the facility on an almost daily basis and an exhausted and overworked team of Ukrainian engineers tasked with keeping the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant running safely, however, calls for international intervention grew louder.
Negotiations with Ukraine and Russia to allow safety experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit and inspect the plant are gaining momentum, with UN officials saying they expect an agreement soon. “We are in active consultations regarding an imminent mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” an IAEA spokesman said.
The stakes are high.
“Nowhere in the history of this world has a nuclear power plant become part of a combat zone, so this must stop immediately,” Bonnie Dennis Jenkins, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, reporters in Brussels Thursday. She said Russia’s actions “created a grave danger of a nuclear accident – a dangerous radioactive release – that could threaten not only the people and environment of Ukraine, but also neighboring countries and the entire international community.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Use his night address To underscore the risks, he said emergency systems worked on Thursday, but if they failed, the country and the world, would face a nuclear accident.
Although the immediate threat was averted, the plant’s disconnection from the national grid caused widespread blackouts throughout southern Ukraine, adding to the misery caused by the war. When the plant is operating at full capacity, it provides electricity to about 20 percent of the country, including nearly four million homes.
The Zaporizhzhya regional government said that as of Friday morning, energy supplies had been “partially” restored from other sources. Residents across the area reported widespread power outages overnight and into the morning.
The station was reconnected to the Ukrainian grid at 2:04 pm, according to Ukraine’s nuclear energy agency Energoatom. The agency, in a statement, praised the factory workers who “tirelessly and resolutely carry the nuclear and radiological safety of Ukraine and the whole of Europe on their shoulders.” It was not immediately clear how many people were still without electricity.
Ukrainians in the occupied areas are already living in difficult conditions. In eastern Ukraine, Russian bombing and intense fighting have destroyed nearly all infrastructure needed to provide heating, electricity and clean water, prompting the Ukrainian government to issue a mandatory evacuation order for the less than 200,000 people still living in Ukraine’s eastern region known as Donbas.
The situation in the occupied south is more complex. Many towns and cities fell there in the early days of the war and survived the widespread devastation of the East. But if the nuclear plant stops working again, the power of hundreds of thousands of people living in the occupied territories could be put at risk.
“Southern Ukraine – the occupied territories – is already in a state of humanitarian catastrophe,” said Mr. Zelensky. “In addition to all the evils brought by the occupiers there, electricity, water and sewage were cut off.”
Although the plant’s disconnection from the national grid has been linked to close combat, Ukrainian officials have warned for weeks that Moscow wants to divert power from the plant for its own needs by disconnecting it from the Ukrainian grid and then reconnecting it to the Ukrainian grid. The Russian network, a potentially complex operation in a war zone leaves room for an accident.
Ms Jenkins, a State Department official, said the United States was working through the United Nations Security Council to persuade Moscow not to attempt such a potentially risky move.
“We don’t want that to happen,” she said. “We continue to talk with Russia and through these discussions in the Security Council and persuade Russia not to do that.”