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Energoatom: Russia-seized Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant survives eight full blackouts since invasion started

At the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest nuclear station, eight blackouts and one partial outage have occurred amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine since 2022, raising concerns about nuclear safety risks under Russian occupation.
Russian troops stand near the Zaporizhzhia NPP
Russian soldier stands near the Zaporizhzhia NPP. Illustrative photo: Energoatom
Energoatom: Russia-seized Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant survives eight full blackouts since invasion started

Since the outset of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), occupied early in the all-out war by the Russians, has faced a dire situation with eight complete blackouts and one partial outage. According to Ukraine’s national nuclear operator Energoatom, five of these blackouts occurred in 2022 and three in 2023.

The complete shutdown of a nuclear power plant is considered the greatest threat to nuclear and radiation safety. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is Europe’s largest nuclear station

“Each complete blackout carries the risk of an accident at nuclear power units. It was possible to prevent this at the occupied ZNPP only thanks to the professional actions of the Ukrainian staff, who, until 1 February 2024, were still able to perform their duties at their workplaces,” Energoatom wrote.

Since 11 September 2022, the power units at Zaporizhzhia NPP have not been generating electricity, but the plant still requires external power for critical cooling systems of the reactor core and nuclear fuel in the spent fuel pools to function.

The first blackout hit on 25 August 2022 when Russian shelling damaged the last remaining high-voltage power line connecting the plant to Ukraine’s grid. Despite Energoatom’s warnings, the Russian military continued striking power lines, causing four more blackouts by year’s end, on October 8 and 12, November 3 and 23.

In 2023, there have been three full blackouts reported on 9 March, 22 May, and 2 December. Each time, Ukrainian repair crews raced to restore power lines under challenging circumstances. The plant has repeatedly survived by a single connection to Ukraine’s power system.

“ZNPP overcame seven complete blackouts by remaining on the only main line of communication with the Ukrainian power system. It was only on 3 July 2023, that backup power was finally restored from the national power grid via a 330 kV line,” Energoatom wrote.

The latest blackout on 2 December 2023 again left the nuclear site running on diesel generators after losing both external power lines. Disturbingly, when this happens, the plant faces a countdown that could end in disaster if fuel for the generators runs out within ten days.

On 21 February 2024, Russian strikes yet again disabled one of the two remaining power lines to Zaporizhzhia. Energoatom’s head Petro Kotin emphasizes that each blackout is extremely dangerous:

“Each such situation is extremely dangerous for nuclear and radiation safety of the entire continent. During these hours, the plant is powered by diesel generators, and each time a countdown begins, which can result in a catastrophe,” said Petro Kotin.

Currently, the Zaporizhzhia plant’s tenuous situation rests on just a single power line from Ukraine. Its damage would trigger another harrowing blackout at the Russian-occupied nuclear facility in the middle of an active war zone.

Russia’s occupation of ZNPP

On 3 March 2022, during heavy combat, a fire broke out near the Zaporizhzhia plant during the Russian shelling of the station, damaging some surrounding areas but not affecting reactor safety or essential equipment.

Russian troops seized the nuclear power plant on 4 March 2022, the ninth day of the full-scale invasion, during the battles for the NPP’s satellite city of Enerhodar.

Russian occupation authorities claimed on 12 March 2022, that the plant ostensibly belonged to Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear power company, but Ukrainian staff continued to operate it under Russian control. Satellite imagery showed Russian bases and defensive positions near the plant.

An IAEA delegation visited the plant on 3 September 2022, documenting damage and threats from shelling and occupying troops.

Despite Russia’s claimed annexation of Zaporizhzhia oblast in late September 2022, the actual control over the plant’s operations remained unclear, while Russian forces detained several Ukrainian plant employees.

On 5 February 2023, President Zelenskyy imposed 50-year sanctions on Russia’s nuclear sector, targeting entities managing Zaporizhzhia NPP. Sanctions included terminating trade agreements, blocking assets, banning trade operations, revoking licenses, and prohibiting technology transfer.

In June 2023, Russia’s destruction of the nearby Kakhovka Dam posed no immediate risk to the plant.

On 20 June 2023, Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Chief Budanov stated that Russian occupiers had planted explosives at Zaporizhzhia NPP, endangering the plant under their temporary control. On 25 June, President Zelenskyy warned that four units of Zaporizhzhia NPP, along with its cooling system, were mined, posing a grave threat.

The IAEA reported in January 2024 the presence of mines along the plant’s perimeter, violating safety standards. Mines found earlier were removed in November 2023.

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