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All contact with Chernobyl LOST and second nuclear power plant 'compromised' by Russia


Chernobyl — the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster — was captured by invading Russian forces on February 24. The complex is thought to be of strategic importance to the Russian army, as it lies on the route between the Belarus–Ukraine border and the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Since the takeover, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator has reported issues communicating with technical staff at the power plant, although email channels had previously remained open.

According to reports received by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), all communications from Chernobyl ceased on Wednesday following the severance of the plant from the Ukrainian grid after both of its power lines were damaged.

Both Ukraine and Russian authorities have blamed each other’s forces for the damage to these offsite power links.

The Ukrainian nuclear regulator has said that, for now, electricity is being provided to Chernobyl’s facilities by means of emergency diesel generators.

However, these only have enough fuel to last for two days, meaning that either additional fuel will need to be delivered to the generators, or the power lines will need to be repaired.

Both possibilities are logistically difficult given the present situation in Ukraine.

Power is required to operate systems important for safety at the power plant, including those that handle spent nuclear fuel, water control and chemical water treatments.

According to the nuclear regulator, some of the plant’s usual functions — including radiation monitoring, normal lighting and operation of ventilation systems — have been suspended.

On Wednesday Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted: “Reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity to power the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

“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.”

While agreeing that the power issues are “likely to lead to a further deterioration of operational radiation safety at the site”, the IAEA — as well as the Ukrainian regulator — have been at pains to explain that Chernobyl’s disconnection from the power grid will not have a “critical impact” on essential safety functions at the site.

An IAEA spokesperson said: “Specifically, regarding the site’s spent fuel storage facility, the volume of cooling water in the pool is sufficient to maintain effective heat removal from the spent fuel without a supply of electricity.”

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For the IAEA, concern at present is focussed on the 210-strong complement of nuclear technicians and guards at the Chernobyl site, who have been unable to rotate for more than a fortnight — meaning that they have in effect been living there around the clock.

The present situation, they noted, is likely to cause the staff even more stress.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi added: “From day-to-day, we are seeing a worsening situation at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, especially for radiation safety, and for the staff managing the facility under extremely difficult and challenging circumstances.

“I repeat my urgent appeal to the forces in effective control of the plant to respect internal radiation protection procedures, to facilitate the safe rotation of staff and to take other important steps to ensure safety.”

Director General Grossi has said that he is ready to travel to the site in person to secure a universal commitment to the safety of all of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.

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Chernobyl is not Ukraine’s only nuclear power plant whose connection to key external power supplies has been compromised.

South-eastern Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya facility — which is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant — has lost two of its offsite high-voltage power lines due to damage in the conflict.

According to the national nuclear regulator, Zaporizhzhya still has three functional power lines, two of which are operational and the third of which is on standby.

They have also said that only one power line is required to supply the whole complex’s off-site power needs — and, as was the case with Chernobyl, emergency diesel generators are ready to step in if all five lines end up non-functional.

Yet Director General Grossi said: “This is another example of where the safety pillar to secure off-site power supply from the grid for all nuclear sites has been compromised.”

It has also been reported that Zaporizhzhya’s Unit 6 transformer has had to be taken out of service for emergency repairs following damage when the Russian military captured the site on March 4.

Yesterday evening, Director General Grossi reported during a press conference in Vienna that the IAEA had “scheduled physical inspections”, although it is unclear at present when exactly these assessments might be taking place.

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