The decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant and its spent fuel facilities have been cut off from electricity, increasing the risk of radioactive release, Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom warned on Wednesday.
However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) noted that the cooling pools at the Chernobyl power plant are “sufficient for efficient heat removal without the need for electrical power”, adding: “In this case, the IAEA does not see any critical impact on safety”.
Some 20,000 spent fuel assemblies are stored on site in retention basins that must be permanently cooled.
Damage to two 750-kilovolt power transmission lines, sustained during Russian attacks in the region, led to the complete disconnection of Chernobyl and the neighboring town of Slavutych, both in the Kyiv administrative region.
“Standby diesel generators have a capacity of 48 hours to supply” the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and its facilities, said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba noted Wednesday, adding, “I call on the international community to urgently call on Russia to cease fire and allow repair units to restore power supplies.”
“Fighting is currently underway, making it impossible to carry out repairs and restore power,” Energoatom said. “As a result, the temperature in the retention basins will increase … and the release of radioactive substances into the environment will occur. The wind may transfer the radioactive cloud to other regions of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Russia. Europe.”
Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate said regular work, maintenance and repairs at Chernobyl have not been carried out since it was seized last week by Russian troops. He added that “the occupier” is not complying with radiation safety requirements in the 30-kilometre exclusion zone around the plant, “which aggravates the radiation situation…and contributes to the spread of radioactive contamination outside”.
The lack of electricity means the ventilation system is not working, leaving staff on site vulnerable to radiation exposure, the company added. “The fire extinguishing system is also not working, and this is a huge risk in the event of a fire that could occur due to a projectile,” the notice said.
Claims and counterclaims in the war zone are very difficult to verify.
The Chernobyl alerts come on top of dire warnings about the “degrading” security situation at the former power plant and at Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine’s largest operating nuclear power plant, which is also believed to have fallen under Russian control.
Some 210 workers and guards are on site at Chernobyl, and although they have food and water, they have not been moved or allowed to leave since the invasion began two weeks ago, the IAEA said on Tuesday.
In Zaporizhzhia, two of the plant’s six reactors are operating, the operator said on Wednesday, one reactor having undergone emergency repair attributed to “damage during the Russian bombardment of the transformer block”.
A representative of the Russian National Guard denied the account, telling Interfax that a fire at the factory on Friday was caused by “a deer from a Ukrainian sabotage group”.[ing] an armed provocation.”
On Wednesday morning, Energoatom reported that Zaphorizhzhia workers “are under strong psychological pressure” and stressed that they had to work under the orders of the Russian military. On Tuesday, staff were asked to make positive comments to pro-Russian journalists visiting the site, the operator added.
“All this negatively affects work and endangers nuclear and radiation safety,” the nuclear operator said. “An accident can happen at any time, and its consequences are unpredictable!”
So far, no changes in the radiation status of the Zaphorizhzhia site and adjacent territories have been recorded, Energoatom added.
In Chernobyl, the handling of nuclear materials has been suspended and remote radiation monitoring systems intended to transmit safety data have ceased to do so since Tuesday, the IAEA said. Ukraine’s nuclear regulator added that telephone communication with on-site personnel “has not been restored”.
On Tuesday evening, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, suspended Russia’s observer status in protest.
This article is part of POLITICO Pro
The one-stop solution for policy professionals fusing the depth of POLITICO journalism with the power of technology
Exclusive and never-before-seen scoops and ideas
Personalized Policy Intelligence Platform
A high-level public affairs network