UN nuclear chief raises alarm over Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia plant
For the sixth time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, Europe’s largest nuclear plant knocked off power grid.
After another blackout at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in Ukraine, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog has appealed for a protection zone, saying he was “astonished by the complacency” of the organisation he leads, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Russian forces pounded several Ukrainian cities while people slept on Thursday, killing at least six civilians, knocking out electricity, and forcing Europe’s largest nuclear plant off the grid for a sixth time since Moscow’s invasion began last year.
The last time all power was lost at the site was on November 23, 2022, Rafael Grossi told the IAEA board of directors in a meeting on Thursday.
“What are we doing to prevent this [from] happening? We are the IAEA, we are meant to care about nuclear safety,” he said.
“Each time we are rolling a dice. And if we allow this to continue time after time then one day our luck will run out.”
The agency has placed teams of experts at all four of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants to reduce the risk of severe accidents.
ZNPP, which has been held by Russia, can run off diesel generators for 10 days. Nuclear plants need constant power to run cooling systems and avoid a meltdown, and fears remain about the possibility of a catastrophe at Zaporizhzhia.
As in previous attacks, Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the latest blackout.
Grossi has long tried to get both sides to strike a deal, pledging they would not fire at or from the plant and heavy weapons would be removed.
After the attack, the plant lost all external power supply and it relied on diesel generators, a last line of defence to prevent a meltdown from overheating reactor fuel, the IAEA confirmed.
“This morning, at around 5am local time, Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant lost all off-site power when its last remaining 750 kilovolt line was disconnected, its only remaining back up 330 kilovolt line having been damaged a few days ago and under repair,” the IAEA said in a statement on Thursday.
In his statement to the IAEA board, Grossi stressed: “This is the sixth time – let me say it again sixth time – that ZNPP has lost all off-site power and has had to operate in this emergency mode. Let me remind you – this is the largest nuclear power station in Europe. What are we doing? How can we sit here in this room this morning and allow this to happen? This cannot go on.”
The first big volley of missile attacks since mid-February shattered the longest period of comparative calm since Russia began a campaign to attack Ukraine’s civil infrastructure five months ago.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said infrastructure and residential buildings in 10 Ukrainian regions had been hit.
Later on Thursday, Ukraine’s grid operator said the plant had been reconnected to the power grid.