Ukraine says nuclear plant offline after Russian shelling

Russian and Ukrainian flags Source: iStock/3dmitry

Europe's largest nuclear plant was knocked off Ukraine's electricity grid Monday, its last transmission line disconnected because of a fire caused by shelling, the facility's operator and the U.N. atomic watchdog said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said it was informed Monday by Ukrainian authorities that the reserve line “was deliberately disconnected in order to extinguish a fire.''

“The line itself is not damaged, and it will be reconnected once the fire is extinguished,'' the IAEA said.

In the meantime, the plant's only remaining operational reactor would ``generate the power the plant needs for its safety and other functions,'' the agency said.

Mycle Schneider, an independent analyst in Canada on nuclear energy, said that would mean the plant was likely functioning in “island mode,'' producing electricity just for its own operations.

“Island mode is a very shaky, unstable, and unreliable way to provide continuous power supply to a nuclear plant,'' Schneider said.

The incident fueled fears of a potential nuclear disaster at Zaporizhzhia, one of the 10 biggest nuclear plants in the world. Experts say its reactors are designed to protect against natural disasters and incidents such as aircraft crashes, but leaders around the world have appealed for it to be spared in the fighting because of the risk of a catastrophe.

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of attacking the plant, which the Kremlin's forces have held since early March. The plant's Ukrainian staff continue to operate it.

The plant's operator, Energoatom, said Monday that Russian forces have kept up “intensive shelling'' around Zaporizhzhia in recent days despite the warnings. The Russian military accused Ukrainian forces of staging “provocations'' there, including sending a drone, which was intercepted, and shelling the adjacent city of Enerhodar.

Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said on Facebook that fighting around the power station made it impossible to repair damaged power lines, putting the world ``once again on the brink of a nuclear disaster.''

The developments at Zaporizhzhia came on the eve of a report to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday by the IAEA inspectors about what they found on their visit. The IAEA still has two experts at the plant after a perilous inspection that required its inspectors to travel through the fighting last week.

Ukraine's presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, applauded the IAEA's decision to leave some experts at the plant.

“There are Russian troops now who don't understand what's happening, don't assess the risks correctly,'' Podolyak said. “There is a number of our workers there, who need some kind of protection, people from the international community standing by their side and telling (Russian troops): ‘Don't touch these people, let them work.’”

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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