Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant — the largest in Europe — was completely disconnected from the country’s power grid for the first time in its history Thursday, state nuclear company Energoatom said.
Energoatom said that fires broke out in the ash pits of a coal power station near the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex and interfered with power lines connecting the plant to the grid.
“As a result, the station’s two working power units were disconnected from the network,” Energoatom said in a statement on its Telegram channel.
“Thus, the actions of the invaders caused a complete disconnection of the (nuclear power plant) from the power grid — the first in the history of the plant,” it said.
Officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency said they were told by Energoatom officials that the plant at least twice lost connection to the grid during the day, but it has since been restored.
The vast complex supplied more than 20% of Ukraine’s electricity needs and its loss would pile new strain on the government, which is already bracing for a difficult wartime winter of potentially crippling energy shortages.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February, captured the Zaporizhzhia plant in March and has controlled it since, although it continues to be operated by Ukrainian technicians from Energoatom.
Energoatom said the nuclear plant was still being supplied with power from Ukraine’s energy system through a final power line between the plant and the coal power station.
But an energy official who declined to be identified told Reuters that the two reactors that had been disconnected were being powered by diesel generators.
Each power unit, which includes a reactor, a cooling system and other equipment, has three Soviet-era diesel generators that “are not able to work for weeks,” the source said.
A spokesperson for Energoatom denied the diesel generators had been switched on.
Energoatom said the plant’s security systems were working normally and work was under way to reconnect one of the reactor blocks to the grid.
The power plant has six reactors in total.
Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the site, fueling international fears of the potential for a nuclear catastrophe reminiscent of Chernobyl.
That has prompted calls for an urgent mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency to the site.
Officials from the UN nuclear watchdog are “very, very close” to being able to visit Zaporozhzhia, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said on Thursday.
Negotiations over how the mission would access the plant are complicated but advancing, he said on France-24 television after meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, who pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call last week to allow the U.N. agency to visit the site.
“Kyiv accepts it. Moscow accepts it. So we need to go there,” Grossi said.
With Post wires