Shutdown of the last reactor of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Europe’s largest nuclear power plant has been reconnected to the Ukrainian power grid, allowing engineers to shut down its last operational reactor in an attempt to avert a radioactive disaster as fighting rages in the region .

The six-reactor Zaporizhzhia power plant lost its external power source a week ago after all its power lines were disconnected following a bombardment. It operated in “island mode” for several days, generating power for crucial cooling systems from its only remaining operational reactor.

Nuclear operator Energoatom said one such power line was restored “to operational capacity” on Saturday evening, allowing the plant’s safety and other systems to operate on electricity from Ukraine’s power system.

“Therefore, it was decided to shut down power unit No. 6 and transfer it to the safest state – cold shutdown,” the company said in a statement.

Energoatom said the risk remains high that outside power will be cut again, in which case the plant would have to switch on emergency diesel generators to keep the reactors cool and prevent a nuclear meltdown. The company chief told The Associated Press on Thursday that the plant will only have diesel fuel for 10 days.

The plant, one of the 10 largest nuclear power plants in the world, has been occupied by Russian forces since the start of the war. Ukraine and Russia blamed each other for bombing the plant which damaged the power lines connecting it to the grid.

Energoatom renewed its call for Russian forces to leave the Zaporizhzhia plant and allow the creation of a “demilitarized zone” around it.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog that has two experts at the plant, confirmed to the AP on Sunday that external power has been restored to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

“After the repair yesterday of the power line – which connects the ZNPP to the switchyard of a neighboring thermal power station – the operator of the ZNPP this morning shut down its last reactor in service which, last week, supplied plant as needed after being disconnected from the grid,” the IAEA said in an emailed statement. “IAEA personnel at the ZNPP were briefed this morning on these new developments, which have also been confirmed by Ukraine.”

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi has called for a safety zone around the plant to avert disaster.

Jon Gambrell and Hanna Ahrirova contributed to this report.

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