Ukraine’s closed Chernobyl nuclear power plant has been disconnected from the nation’s power grid by Russian forces, Ukraine’s state-owned grid operator UkreneDirgo said Wednesday, potentially jeopardizing the cooling of nuclear material still stored at the site.
“Because of military actions of Russian occupiers the nuclear power plant in Chornobyl was fully disconnected from the power grid. Ukrenergo stated that the nuclear station had no electricity supply in an statement on its Telegram page. He used Ukraine’s spelling of the plant.
Electricity is needed for cooling, ventilation and fire extinguishing systems at the closed site. In a statement on its Facebook page, Ukrenergo also said emergency diesel generators have been turned on but that that fuel would last for only 48 hours.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday demanded a cease-fire with Russia to allow repairs.
“The only electrical grid supplying the Chornobyl NPP and all its nuclear facilities occupied by Russian army is damaged,” he tweeted. “I call on the international community to urgently demand Russia to cease fire and allow repair units to restore power supply.”
He warned that after reserve diesel generators run out of fuel, “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.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday on Twitter that the power loss “violates [a] key safety pillar on ensuring uninterrupted power supply,” but it added that “in this case IAEA sees no critical impact on safety.” The agency said factors including the volume of cooling water at the Chernobyl were “sufficient for effective heat removal without need for electrical supply.”
Reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity to power the Chornobyl NPP. The cooling system for the spent nuclear fuel storage will be shut down, causing radiation leaks to occur. Putin’s barbaric warfare puts whole Europe at risk. It must be stopped immediately. 2/2
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 9, 2022
The IAEA also said Tuesday that it lost contact with monitoring systems that transmit data on nuclear material from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog’s director general “indicated that remote data transmission from safeguards monitoring systems installed at the Chornobyl NPP had been lost,” the IAEA said in a statement Tuesday.
” The Agency is currently investigating the situation of safeguards monitoring system in Ukraine. It will soon provide more information, it said.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted Wednesday that the IAEA had “unexpectedly lost connection” with the monitoring systems, calling it an “extremely dangerous situation.”
The IAEA has unexpectedly lost connection with the Chornobyl monitoring systems of guarantees. No one knows what’s happening in Chornobyl or what is threatening it. This is a very dangerous situation.
— Mikhailo Podoliak (@Podolyak_M) March 9, 2022
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, then under the Soviet Union’s control, was the scene of a 1986 disaster when explosions and fires sent a huge radioactive cloud over parts of Europe and left contaminated soil and other fallout, which remains dangerous.
The catastrophe ranks as the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident.
Last month, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that its forces had taken control of the area near the power plant site as part of Russia’s wider invasion of Ukraine, sparking global alarm.
The European Union said in a statement Wednesday that it was “extremely concerned” by the nuclear safety risks “caused by the Russian invasion on Ukraine and the potential damage to its nuclear facilities.”
It issued an “urgent call” for Russia to end its military operations near all nuclear facilities in Ukraine and to allow their safe operation. We must take all measures to avoid a radiological emergency, accident or incident that may seriously affect the local population, as well as neighbouring countries, and international communities. The statement stated that it was time for us to take action to prevent such an outcome.
Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko also said Wednesday, according to Reuters, that authorities do not know what the radiation levels are at the Chernobyl power plant and have no control over what is happening at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear plant, which was seized by Russian forces last week.
The IAEA this week reiterated an offer to both sides for the director general to travel to Chernobyl and other sites in Ukraine to help protect nuclear facilities amid the conflict.
The Chernobyl zone, one of the most radioactively contaminated places in the world, has remained closed since 1986, although a small number of people still live in the area — mostly elderly Ukrainians who refused to evacuate.
The building containing the exploded reactor from 1986 was covered in 2017 by an enormous shelter aimed at containing radiation still leaking from the accident. The shelter houses robots that work in dismantling the reactor and removing radioactive waste. It’s expected to take until 2064 to finish safely dismantling the reactors.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Ukrainian authorities have told the agency that it was “increasingly urgent” to rotate out the Chernobyl plant’s 210 technical employees and guards to ensure “safe management” amid “worsening” conditions. Since Russian forces took over the plant, they have worked there.
” I am deeply worried about the stressful and difficult situation that staff members at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant are facing and the possible risks it poses for nuclear safety,” Grossi stated. “I call on the forces in effective control of the site to urgently facilitate the safe rotation of personnel there.”
Annabelle Chapman contributed to this report.