A satellite photo from Maxar Technologies shows all six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodar, Ukraine, on August 19. The image reveals no significant signs of shelling or damage. Photo courtesy Maxar Technologies via EPA-EFE
Aug. 26 (BP) — There was more shelling on Friday near the nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine that’s the focus of serious concern — and has been knocked off the country’s power grid — as U.N. inspectors worked on planning a mission to the facility.
Ukrainian officials said that an area near the Zaporizhzhia plant came under heavy Russian mortar fire early on Friday, which is only heightening grave concerns about a possible nuclear disaster in a country that’s still haunted by the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986.
That accident killed hundreds of people and contaminated the area with heavy radiation that will last for decades to come.
The Zaporizhzhia plant was knocked off the country’s electrical grid when fire damage cut a main transmission line at the facility. It’s not believed that the damage to the line was intentional, but Russian forces have been launching attacks from areas near the plant for weeks, leading experts to think they’re using it as a shield — knowing that the Ukrainian military will not want to fire anywhere close to the facility.
Ukraine’s state nuclear agency Energoatom said all six reactors at the plant were still disconnected from the grid early on Friday. The plant has been under Russian control since March.
Thursday marked the first time in the plant’s history that it’s been disconnected from the main power grid. It is the largest nuclear plant in Ukraine, and is also the largest in all of Europe.
Damage from an explosion is seen at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Kyiv, Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union, on April 26, 1986. Experts say an accident at the Zaporizhzhia plant could lead to a similar catastrophe. BP-INS Photo/File
Energoatom said that work was underway to fix the plant’s connection to the grid, which includes restoring electricity that the plant also needs from the main power system. Without the connection, the plant must rely on highly vulnerable diesel generators for power. If those were to fail, nuclear engineers would only have about 90 minutes to prevent disastrous overheating of the nuclear towers, experts have said.
International energy experts and the United Nations warned for weeks about a potential disaster if sustained shelling continued around the large nuclear facility. A disaster there could be on the scale of Chernobyl and affect much of Europe.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is planning to send a mission to the Zaporizhzhia plant next week, when inspectors could check on key systems and get a better picture of the plant’s health. Ukrainian officials said details of the trip are being worked out.
“We are very, very close to that,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told France24. “We need to stabilize the situation.”
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin, at least publicly, agreed to allow a team of IAEA inspectors to survey the plant.
In other fighting Friday, Mykolaiv Oblast Gov. Vitaliy Kim said Russian troops targeted two villages in the region’s Shyroke community — and Russian forces shelled Dnipropetrovsk Oblast using Grad and Uragan multiple rocket launchers, a regional governor said. The shelling targeted the Nikopol, Synelnykove and Kryvy Rih districts.