Kyiv, Ukraine – Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant was cut off from the country’s power grid on Thursday for the first time in its history, Ukrainian officials said, causing widespread blackouts in all Russian-occupied cities in southern Ukraine.
The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant — which provides one-fifth of Ukraine’s electricity but has been occupied by Russian forces for several months — is still able to generate power for its own needs and keep essential systems operating safely, according to Ukraine’s Energy Agency.
The agency blamed the Russians for the bombing of key infrastructure around the plant that led to its “complete disconnection” from the electricity grid, “a first in the plant’s history.”
The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, said Thursday afternoon that the incident highlights the grave danger of the plant, as the bombing damaged power lines and other infrastructure.
The director, Rafael Marino Grossi, said in a statement that off-site power supply from the power grid is essential to ensuring nuclear safety. He pointed out that the station has diesel generators and a separate coal-fired station to provide backup power if external power is lost.
Standby power is required to ensure the continued operation of the cooling systems that remove heat from the reactors. Without cooling, nuclear fuel can heat up and melt, which can release radiation.
Mr Grossi said that on Thursday the plant’s two operating reactor units were disconnected from the power grid and emergency protection systems were turned on, but all safety systems were still operating.
“We can’t afford to lose any more time,” he said. “I am determined to personally lead the IAEA mission to the plant in the next few days to help stabilize the nuclear safety and security situation there.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky Use his night address To emphasize the dangers of the moment. He said the emergency systems worked during the time the power plant was cut off from the power grid, but if they failed, the country and the world would respond to a nuclear accident.
“Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans in a position one step away from a radiological catastrophe,” Zelensky said.
The high-voltage lines that allow the plant to transmit the power it generates to more than four million homes, or to draw the power it needs from elsewhere, have come under frequent attack in recent weeks. Ukraine and Russia traded blame for the bombing, which continued despite international ultimatums and calls for a demilitarized zone around the plant. Russia rejected this proposal.
Mr. Grossi said his agency is in the midst of negotiating the terms of the planned visit to the factory. “We are very, very close to that,” Mr. Grossi For France 24 news networkAlthough he emphasized that the terms of the visit and security arrangements to allow the inspectors to travel through the active combat zone, they had not yet been finalized.
In recent days, the bombing has hit infrastructure outside the plant, damaging three of four high-voltage lines connecting the nuclear facility to the national grid.
On Thursday, Energoatom said the fourth line was damaged twice. Each time the engineers raced to fix the lines. The streak was cut for seven minutes shortly after noon and then again briefly at 2:14 p.m.
The Unstable working conditions in the factory and the recent bombing of the facility It aroused global concern. Britain’s military intelligence agency on Thursday released new satellite images showing Russian military equipment parked near operating reactors.
But the immediate impact of the fighting around the plant is being felt by hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who live in Russian-occupied towns and cities in southern Ukraine.
Dmitro Orlov, the exiled mayor of Enerhodar, said the city was “once again on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe”.
“Today, as a result of enemy bombing, the city is without electricity and water,” he said.
Several hours later, he said, workers at the nuclear power plant were able to restore electricity to the city. But outages in other southern cities continued, including in the Russian-controlled port city of Berdyansk, more than 130 miles to the south.
Residents of the city said that mobile phone service on the Russian mobile phone network was not working and that there were long queues for fuel and drinking water. Similar conditions have been reported in other towns and cities throughout the occupied south.