Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant partially reconnected to Ukraine grid

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said the world narrowly avoided a “radiation disaster” on Thursday when electricity to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant was cut for hours after fires broke out around the plant.

Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock© Provided by The Guardian

Back-up diesel generators ensured power supply that was vital for cooling and safety systems at the plant, the Ukrainian president said, praising the Ukrainian technicians who operated the plant under the gaze of the Russian military.

Ukrainian authorities and international experts have warned of the potential for nuclear catastrophe because of fighting around the facility.

Problems with the electricity supply to the plant appeared to remain perilous on Friday morning. The plant was disconnected twice on Thursday when a blaze affected the fourth and last connection into its reactors. Three other lines had already been taken out during the war.

Satellite images published by Ukraine’s Radio Liberty showed plumes of smoke rising near the plant.

Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear agency, said one of the two working reactors had been reconnected to the grid.

Energoatom said it could not comment on the safety of the equipment or the systems.

The nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, relies on electricity to keep its reactors cool. Disconnecting it from the grid is dangerous because it raises the risk of catastrophic failure of the electricity-run cooling systems for its reactors and spent fuel rods.

During the outage, the plant still received supplies of electricity from one remaining backup line connected to the nearby conventional power plant, Energoatom said. There were three of these lines before the war but two have been cut.

If all the external connections go down, the plant must rely on diesel-fuelled generators for power. If these break down, engineers only have 90 minutes to stave off dangerous overheating.

A mission from the International Atomic Energy Agency was scheduled to visit next week, Lana Zerkal, an adviser to Ukraine’s energy minister, said on Thursday night on Ukraine’s Radio NV.

“All the logistical routes are now being worked out, how they will get there,” Zerkal said. “Despite the fact that the Russians agreed that the mission will go through Ukrainian territory, they are artificially creating all the conditions so that the mission does not reach the object given the situation around [the plant].”

Zerkal said the mission was travelling to the plant to monitor the situation and take necessary measures to protect the world from possible disaster.

Russia’s takeover of the plant is the latest of a long list of challenges Russia and its occupying authorities are facing in running their newly conquered territories.

Video footage released on Thursday show the occupying authorities are attempting to build a pontoon bridge across the river to replace the Antonovskiy bridge struck by Ukrainian forces last month, rendering it unusable.

The Russian authorities are set to hold referendums in the newly occupied parts of southern Ukraine, although it appears they will take different forms and may be conducted on different dates.

In the city of Melitopol, in the occupied-Zaporizhzhia region, pollsters will go door-to-door instead of voters attending polling stations, according to its mayor-in-exile, Ivan Fedorov, citing sources on the ground.

The authorities are trying to operate while apparently being attacked from within. The Russian news agency RIA reported that a bomb exploded in the building from where the referendum was being planned and Russian passports were issued.

The previous day, on Ukraine’s independence day, the head of another occupied city nearby, Ivan Sushko, was killed by a car bomb, another member of the Zaporizhzhia occupying authorities reported on Telegram.

Sushko’s death is the latest in a string of assassinations that have targeted members of the occupying authorities. On 23 August, Ihor Telehin, the deputy head of the internal policy department for occupying Kherson region, was also targeted with a bomb but survived, according to Russia’s state news agency, Tass.