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UN Issues Urgent Warning Over Ukraine’s Nuclear Power Plant Disruption

Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant
The power supply to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine was cut off in the early hours of the morning after a Russian missile strike. Credit: IAEA Imagebank / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

On Thursday, the UN issued an urgent warning after the power supply to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine was disrupted following a barrage of Russian missile strikes.

Nuclear power is a crucial component of Ukraine’s energy grid. Four plants and 15 actors are responsible for supplying over half the country’s energy. However, since October last year, Russia has been targeting Ukraine’s energy grid, raising serious concerns over the country’s energy security.

Director General Rafael Grossi of the  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) treated the incident with the utmost seriousness. “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,” he said on Thursday.

Disruption to nuclear power plant in Ukraine

Power to the nuclear power facility in Zaporizhzhia, a city on the Dnieper River in southeastern Ukraine, was interrupted after an overnight missile barrage conducted by Russian forces hit targets within Ukraine.

Over 80 missiles were fired by Russian forces – the largest missile strike in weeks. At least nine people were killed. Although the missile barrage coincided with the disruption to the power supply, according to a report by the BBC, it is unclear whether this was the cause of the disruption.

Today marks the sixth time that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been cut off since the war began. At around 04:00 or 5:00 local time, the 750kv line bringing electricity to the facility was damaged by shelling.

Roughly 12 hours later, engineers from Ukrenergo, the Ukrainian state energy company, were able to repair the damage and restore the power supply.

IAEA comments

During a meeting in Vienna on Thursday morning, Director General Rafael Grossi of the IAEA expressed his concerns about the incident.

“This is the first time the site has lost all power since 23 November 2022 and follows reports of missile strikes across Ukraine overnight,” he said.

“However, yet again Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is running on emergency diesels – the last line of defense. 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,” Grossi continued.

“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.”

“I am astonished by the complacency – what are we doing to prevent this happening? We are the IAEA, we are meant to care about nuclear safety,” said Grossi.

“I call on everyone in this room today and elsewhere – We must commit to protect the safety and security of the plant. And we need to commit NOW,” he implored.

Strategic significance

Zaporizhzhia is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and was responsible for generating 20 percent of Ukraine’s electricity supply before hostilities commenced in February last year. As such, it is of immense strategic value to both sides in the war.

On March 4, Russia captured the Zaporizhzhia power plant and stationed troops there. Russian engineers have also been trying to take control of power production there.

According to analysis by the Wilson Center, Russia’s capture of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant presents a range of threats, including “radiation accidents, energy deficits, security and economic loss, and industrial espionage”.

Russian forces have been targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with missile strikes, artillery barrages, airstrikes, and drones since October 2022. The likely purpose of these attacks is to demoralize civilians and disrupt logistics.

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