Ukraine’s besieged Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant lost its last external power source as a result of renewed artillery fire and is now relying on emergency diesel generators.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the plant’s link to a 750-kilovolt line was cut at 1am on Saturday. All six reactors at Europe’s biggest nuclear plant are shut down but they still require electricity for cooling and other safety functions.
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Engineers started the work to repair the damaged power line and the plant’s generators. Each generator has sufficient fuel for at least 10 days, the IAEA noted.
“The resumption of shelling, hitting the plant’s sole source of external power, is tremendously irresponsible,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in a statement.
Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of attacking the plant and of “nuclear terrorism”.
If the cooling system fails, this could lead to an uncontrolled heat build-up, a meltdown, and a fire that could release and spread radiation from the containment structures. Because of the plant’s geographic location, a “catastrophic” radiation release could hit any part of the European continent, experts say.
Grossi said he will soon travel to Russia and then to Ukraine in attempts to set up a “nuclear safety and security protection zone” around the plant.
“This is an absolute and urgent imperative,” he said.
Zaporizhia, where the plant is located, is one of the four regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin has annexed in violation of international law. While the facility has been under Russian control for months, Zaporizhzhia city remains under Ukrainian control.
Putin signed a decree on Wednesday declaring that Russia was taking over the plant. Ukraine’s foreign ministry called it a criminal act and said it considered the move “null and void”.
Ukraine’s state nuclear operator, Energoatom, said it would continue to operate the plant.
In September, the six-reactor Zaporizhzhia plant was cut off from the grid after all its power lines were disconnected as a result of fighting in the area. It ran in “island mode” for several days, generating electricity for crucial cooling systems from its only remaining operational reactor.
On October 1, Russian troops detained the director general of the power plant, Ihor Murashov, and whisked him away to an unknown location, reigniting fears over the facility’s security.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for the area around the plant to be demilitarised.