- Work is underway to reconnect the two operating reactors to the grid
- Zelensky led global pressure to force the Russians from the site
- Residents of Kiev are concerned about the conditions at the plant
KYIV, Aug 26 (Reuters) – The world narrowly escaped a radiation disaster when power to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant went out for hours, Ukraine’s president said, as international organizations called for swift action to force the Russian military to evacuate.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday Russian shelling caused a fire in the ash pit of a nearby coal power plant that disconnected the Zaporozhye plant from the power grid. A Russian official said Ukraine was to blame.
Back-up diesel generators ensured power supplies were essential for cooling and safety systems at the plant, Zelensky said, praising Ukrainian technicians who operated the plant under the watchful eye of the Russian military.
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“If our station staff had not reacted after the blackout, we would have been forced to overcome the consequences of the radiation accident,” he said in a video address on Thursday evening.
“Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans in a situation where it is one step away from a radiation disaster… Every minute Russian troops stay at a nuclear power plant there is a risk of a global radiation disaster,” he said.
Residents in the capital, Kiev, about 556 km (345 mi) northwest of the plant, expressed concern about the situation.
“Of course everyone is scared, the whole world is scared. I really want the situation to be peaceful again,” said Volodymyr, a 35-year-old businessman who declined to give his last name. “I want the power shortage to be overcome and additional facilities to be operationalized.”
Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom said that power for the plant’s own needs is now supplied by power lines of Ukraine’s electricity system. It later said one of the plant’s two operating reactors had been reconnected to the grid.
Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in the occupied town of Enerhodar near the plant, blamed Ukrainian armed forces for Thursday’s incident, saying they had set fires in the forest near the plant.
“This happened due to the breakdown of the power line at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant as a result of the provocation by Zelensky’s fighters,” Rogov wrote on Telegram. “Connections were severed due to fire and short circuit in electrical wires.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that its forces had destroyed a US-made M777 howitzer that was used by Ukraine to fire on the Zaporizhia plant. Satellite images showed a fire near the plant but Reuters could not ascertain the cause.
Energoatom said Thursday’s incident was the first complete disconnection of the plant, which has become a hotspot in the six-month war.
Regional authorities in Zaporizhia said more than 18,000 people in several settlements remained without power on Friday due to damage to power lines, without specifying which lines those were.
A Reuters cameraman said electricity was normal in the city of Zaporizhia on Friday.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February, seized the plant in March and has controlled it ever since, though Ukrainian workers still operate it. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of firing, raising fears of a nuclear disaster.
The United Nations is seeking access to the plant and has called for the demilitarization of the area. Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are “very close” to visiting Zaporizhia, the agency’s director general Rafael Grossi said on Thursday.
Germany on Friday condemned Russia’s continued occupation of the plant. “The situation (there) is still very dangerous,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Nuclear experts have warned of the risk of damage to the plant’s spent fuel pool or its reactors. A reduction in the power needed to cool the pool can lead to catastrophic slowdowns.
National security expert and Yale School of Management professor Paul Bracken said artillery or missiles could pierce the walls of the reactor and release radiation, similar to the 1986 Kornobil reactor accident.
A failure at the Zaporizhia plant “could kill hundreds or thousands of people and cause environmental damage over a large area reaching into Europe,” Bracken said.
“Russian roulette is a good metaphor because the Russians are spinning the chamber of the revolver and threatening to blow the brains out of a nuclear reactor all over Europe,” he said.
Russia’s ground campaign has stalled in recent months after withdrawing its forces from the capital Kiev in the opening weeks of the offensive, but fighting continues along the southern and eastern fronts.
Russian forces control territory along Ukraine’s Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts, while the conflict has settled in the eastern Donbass region, made up of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
Explosions were heard early on Friday in the southern city of Mykolaiv as Russian forces tried to push further west along the coast to cut Ukraine off the Black Sea.
The immediate cause of the explosions was unclear, regional governor Vitaly Kim said, adding that two nearby villages had been fired upon. There are no reports of casualties.
Ukraine’s military said its forces repelled Russian attacks on the towns of Bakhmut and Soledar in eastern Donetsk region, and attacked ammunition depots and enemy positions in southern Kherson region.
Ukraine’s military fired about 10 rockets from US-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers into the city of Stakhanov in the eastern Donbass region, Russia’s TASS news agency quoted pro-Moscow breakaway officials in Luhansk as saying.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports from either side.
The Kremlin says it aims to “denazify” and demilitarize Ukraine and eliminate perceived security threats to Russia. Ukraine and the West say this is a baseless pretext for a war of conquest.
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Report by Reuters Bureau; Writing by Daniel Wallis, Stephen Coates and Gareth Jones; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Philippa Fletcher and Tomasz Janowski
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