The first war actions affected the exclusion zone of the damaged Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the KINR nuclear research centers in Kyiv and NSC-KIPT in Kharkiv, the latter badly damaged by the bombings of March 3 and June 25, but without external radiological effect. The greatest current radiological risk in Ukraine is due to the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, with six VVER-1000 Russian-designed reactors, militarily intervened since March, operated by Ukrainian teams and Russian property by decree since October 5. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was able to arrive in Zaporizhia on September 1 and concluded that its seven general security pillars to assess risks in a war context were compromised, and recommended specific actions and establish a security protection zone around the power station, already occupied by Russian troops.
Zaporizhia produced 27% of Ukraine’s electricity and is crucial for the electricity supply of Crimea and the Donbass. Between October 8 and November 3, the external high-voltage connection was out of service several times, affected by bombardments. The plant site suffered new bombardments on November 19 and 20 that did not affect critical equipment, and on the 23rd the external electrical connection was lost again. With all this, the safety functions of the Zaporizhia power plant depended, for four periods, and for the first time in its 37-year history, exclusively on its emergency diesel generators to cool its reactors and spent fuel, with a clear loss of security concept in depth. These attacks on the plant and the frequent loss of electricity supply represent a totally unacceptable situation. Zaporizhia needs to be protected, as its operational situation is unsustainable in the medium term.
The operational situation of the nuclear power plant is unsustainable in the medium term
In the current state of the reactors, a Chernobyl-type accident cannot occur for physical and technological reasons, but if essential parts of the plant were badly damaged, there would be a risk of not being able to ensure sufficient cooling and approaching scenarios with fuel damage and emissions. of radioactive products (levels 4 or higher on the INES nuclear event scale) as in Fukushima. Radioactive leaks would have indiscriminate consequences, affecting several countries and escalating the dimension of the war.
Meanwhile, technicians from Zaporizhia left the city of Enerhodar with their families, with supply and supply problems. At the beginning of November, 60% of the 11,000 pre-war employees were still at the plant and some 100 Ukrainian operators signed contracts with the Russian state-owned Rosatom to keep their jobs, while the Russian operator Rosenergoatom had implemented a new operating structure. , also with Russian personnel and command in Moscow. Despite the professionalism of the operators, these insecurities accentuate the fragility of the plant, hinder maintenance work and affect its safety.
Attacks on the unstable power grid simultaneously shut down the other three Ukrainian power plants, Rivne, Yuzhznoukrainsk and Khmelnytsky, on September 23, which relied exclusively on their emergency diesel generators for a day. All this confirms the risk of all Ukrainian nuclear power plants that can currently experience real emergency situations at any time.