Ukraine says Zaporizhzhia plant off-grid after Russian strikes

Ukraine’s nuclear firm Energoatom says Russian shelling hit energy infrastructure, knocking out power supplies to Zaporizhzhia plant.

A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant
Energoatom has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Russian forces from the plant and the creation of a demilitarised zone around it [File: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Russian shelling and missile strikes have hit energy infrastructure across Ukraine and knocked out electricity supplies to Europe’s largest nuclear plant, Ukrainian officials have said.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in southern Ukraine was disconnected from the power grid after shelling damaged the remaining high-voltage lines, leaving it with just diesel generators, Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom said on Thursday.

The plant, in Russian hands but operated by Ukrainian workers, has 15 days’ worth of fuel to run the generators, Energoatom said. Its reactors need power to keep the fuel inside cool and prevent a meltdown.

“The countdown has begun,” Energoatom said, noting it had limited possibilities to “maintain the ZNPP in a safe mode”, raising fears of a potential nuclear disaster.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the plant’s latest switch to backup power further underlines “the extremely precarious nuclear safety and security situation at the facility and the urgent need to establish a protection zone around it”.

The development “again demonstrates the plant’s fragile and vulnerable situation”, Rafael Grossi, the director general of the UN nuclear watchdog, said.

Relying on diesel generators “is clearly not a sustainable way to operate a major nuclear facility”, Grossi added. “Measures are needed to prevent a nuclear accident at the site. The establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone is urgently needed.”

A senior official in Moscow said Russian special forces had prevented a Ukrainian attack on the plant.

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, also said Ukrainian forces “continue to shell the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant with Western weapons which could lead to a global catastrophe”.

Widespread power cuts

Both sides have repeatedly accused the other of shelling the plant, accusations that both deny.

Russian forces occupied the plant during the early days of the war that began when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The plant is located in the Zaporizhia region, one of the four Ukrainian provinces that Putin illegally annexed last month.

Energoatom has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Russian forces from the plant and the creation of a demilitarised zone around it. Grossi has spent months trying to negotiate such a security zone.

The latest loss of reliable electricity overnight came when Russia shelled two power lines that connected the plant to the Ukrainian grid in “an attempt to reconnect the nuclear plant to the Russian power system”, Energoatom said.

The company claimed the Russian side would try to repair the power lines to connect the plant to the Russian grid and therefore supply power to occupied Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region that Russia also currently controls.

Russian strikes were also reported in Kriviy Rih, in central Ukraine, and in Sumy and Kharkiv, in the northeast. There was heavy fighting in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

“The enemy is trying to keep the temporarily captured territories, concentrating its efforts on restraining the actions of the Defence Forces in certain areas,” Ukraine’s general staff said.

Moscow has said it targeted infrastructure as part of what it calls its “special military operation” to degrade the Ukrainian military and remove a potential threat to Russia’s security.

As a result, Ukrainian civilians have endured power cuts and reduced water supplies in recent weeks.

Russia denies targeting civilians, though the conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions and left some Ukrainian cities in ruins.

Foreign ministers from the G7 group of rich democracies will discuss how best to coordinate further support for Ukraine when they meet on Thursday in Germany.

Source: News Agencies