The UN atomic watchdog agency has called on Russia and Ukraine to create a nuclear safety and protection zone around the Zaporizhia power plant amid growing fears that the fighting could trigger a disaster in a country still scarred by the Chernobyl disaster. We are playing with fire and something very, very catastrophic could happen, Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned the UN Security Council days after leading an inspection visit to the plant.
The IAEA said in a detailed report on its visit that shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant should stop immediately. This requires the agreement of all relevant parties to establish a nuclear safety and security zone” around the plant, it said. At the Security Council meeting, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also demanded that Russian and Ukrainian forces pledge to stop all military activity around the plant and agree on a demilitarized perimeter.
Guterres said this would include a commitment by Russian forces to withdraw all military personnel and equipment from that perimeter and a commitment by Ukrainian forces not to move into it. Russian state media quoted Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, as saying that Russia does not consider the IAEA’s proposal for a safety zone around the Zaporozhye NPP to be serious. The Ukrainian government did not immediately comment on the proposal, although it also called for the demilitarization of the nuclear power plant.
Shelling around the plant continued on Tuesday, a day after it was again disconnected from Ukraine’s electricity grid and left in the precarious position of relying on its own power to operate its security systems. Normally, the plant relies on outside power to run critical cooling systems that keep its reactors and spent fuel from overheating. Loss of these systems could lead to a meltdown or other release of radiation.
It’s a very worrying time for radiation protection experts, for Ukrainians and even for Russians and people from central Europe, and that’s an understatement, said Paul Dorfman, a nuclear safety expert at the University of Sussex in England. Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling Enerhodar, the town where the factory is located. Ukrainians also accused Kremlin forces of firing from the power plant at a town across the Dnieper River.
The Ukrainian mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, reported a strong explosion in the city around noon. The explosion caused the city of 53,000 people to be cut off from electricity and water supplies. It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion. World leaders have called for the demilitarization of the plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since the first days of the war but is run by Ukrainian engineers.
In its report, the IAEA did not assign blame for the shelling of the power plant. The agency tried to stay out of the political fray. He noted that on several occasions the plant has lost all or part of its external power supply due to military activity in the area. The UN agency said the backup power line should be restored and asked that “all military activities that may affect power systems cease. In addition, the IAEA warned that Ukrainian personnel operating the plant under Russian military occupation are under constant high stress and pressure, especially with limited personnel available, a situation that “could lead to increased human error with implications for nuclear safety.”
He recommended that an appropriate work environment, including family support, be re-introduced. The IAEA also said that employees do not have unrestricted access to some parts of the plant and must obtain permission from the Russian occupation forces to access cooling tanks where spent fuel is stored. Grossi expressed concern that this could compromise the response of personnel in the event of an emergency. The report said the team saw Russian military personnel, vehicles and equipment in various locations, including several military trucks on the floor of two turbine halls. He called for the removal of vehicles from areas that could interfere with the operation of safety and security systems and equipment.
Two inspectors from the IAEA mission remained at the power plant, a decision welcomed by Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoljak. Now there are Russian soldiers who do not understand what is happening, do not assess the risks correctly, Podoljak said. There are a number of our workers there who need some protection, people from the international community are standing by them and saying (to the Russian troops): Don’t touch these people, let them work.”
On Monday, the IAEA said Ukrainian authorities said the plant’s last transmission line, which connects it to the national electricity grid, had been disconnected so workers could put out a fire caused by shelling.Ukraine’s Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko told Ukrainian TV: Any repairs are impossible at the moment, combat actions are taking place around the power plant. In the meantime, the plant’s only remaining operational reactor will generate the power the plant needs for its safety and other functions, the IAEA said.
Mycle Schneider, an independent analyst at Nuclear Energy Canada, said this means the plant was likely operating in island mode or generating electricity for its own operation. Island mode is a very shaky, unstable and unreliable way to ensure uninterrupted power to a nuclear power plant, Schneider said. He said that “many, if not most, attempts at an island fail.The Zaporizhia plant has diesel emergency backup generators that produce power for operation in the event of an external source disruption. But Schneider said the plant’s operators may have decided to go into island mode first.
If the plant switches to diesel generators as a last resort and those fail, the reactor and spent fuel could quickly overheat, he said.Experts say the Zaporozhye reactors are designed to withstand natural disasters and even plane crashes, but unpredictable fighting has repeatedly threatened the cooling systems. Ukraine was the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, the Chernobyl explosion.
Ukrainian intelligence reported that residents of Enerhodar are fleeing the city out of fear. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russia should organize safe corridors for women and children living nearby. “People are turning to us en masse for help. They are trying to leave the dangerous area, but there are no corridors,” Vereshchuk told Ukrainian television.
Gunfire and explosions were heard in the Russian-occupied southeastern Ukrainian city of Berdyansk on Tuesday afternoon, with Russian state media reporting that the car of the city’s Kremlin-installed commander was blown up. RIA Novosti reported that official Artem Bardin was in serious condition and that the assassination attempt was followed by a shootout. The agency cited Russian-backed local officials as saying they had launched a search for the Ukrainian saboteurs responsible.