Ukraine has appealed to Russia for a temporary ceasefire to allow repairs to be made to a power line to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, warning that there could be a radiation leak if the electricity outage continued.
Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company Energoatom said on Wednesday fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces made it impossible to immediately repair the high-voltage power line to the plant, which has been captured by Russian forces.
Energoatom said radioactive substances could be released if the plant cannot cool spent nuclear fuel, and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said reserve diesel generators can power the plant for only 48 hours.
After that, “cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent,” he wrote on Twitter.
Reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity to power the Chornobyl NPP. After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent. Putin’s barbaric war puts entire Europe in danger. He must stop it immediately! 2/2
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 9, 2022
“The only electrical grid supplying the Chernobyl NPP and all its nuclear facilities occupied [the] by Russian army is damaged,” Kuleba said in another Tweet.
“I call on the international community to urgently demand Russia to cease fire and allow repair units to restore power supply,” he added.
The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said the event does not have a critical impact on safety.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wrote on Twitter that the “heat load of spent fuel storage pool and volume of cooling water at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant [are] sufficient for effective heat removal without [the] need for electrical supply”.
In a note released on March 3, the IAEA had said that the site has backup emergency diesel generators available “should there be a total loss of power”.
The Chernobyl plant was seized by Russian forces on February 24, the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
IAEA says heat load of spent fuel storage pool and volume of cooling water at #Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant sufficient for effective heat removal without need for electrical supply. IAEA update from March 3: https://t.co/x5IlduZQOn
— IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency (@iaeaorg) March 9, 2022
But Energoatom said there were about 20,000 spent fuel assemblies at Chernobyl that could not be kept cool during a power outage, and that their warming could lead to “the release of radioactive substances into the environment.
“The radioactive cloud could be carried by wind to other regions of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Europe,” it said in a statement.
Without power, ventilation systems at the plant would also not be working, exposing staff to dangerous doses of radiation, it added.
The IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi on Tuesday raised concerns about reports that the plant’s 210 staff members had been on duty without rotation since the day before the start of the war.
Ukraine’s nuclear regulator has previously warned that staff had limited access to food, water and medicine and that the situation for them was worsening.
“I’m deeply concerned about the difficult and stressful situation facing staff at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and the potential risks this entails for nuclear safety,” Grossi said. “I call on the forces in effective control of the site to urgently facilitate the safe rotation of personnel there,” he added.