Today, Monday, Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, declared that “the day has come”, marking the beginning of his journey to Europe’s largest nuclear plant located on the line of fire between Russian occupiers and Ukrainian forces. .
On Thursday, a group of 14 inspectors led by Grossi receipt At the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in southern Ukraine, despite fears of continued bombing in the area.
Since early March, when Russia seized the plant, international and domestic experts have issued serious warnings, not only for the safety of the plant’s workers, but also for fear of a nuclear disaster that could affect thousands of people in the surrounding area.
Here is a closer look at the precarious situation at the plant:
Ukraine relies heavily on nuclear power — about half of its electricity comes from 15 nuclear reactors at four plants across the country, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Zaporizhzhia NPP, with six reactors, is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. It was built mostly in the Soviet era and became a Ukrainian property after declaring its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Until recently, only two reactors were connected to Ukraine’s national grid to provide power, although the units have been out of service at various points – and for various reasons – since the invasion.
Zaporizhzhia NPP is located on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River in Ukraine. The area and the nuclear complex were under Russian control Since the beginning of the warbut the plant is still mostly Run by Ukrainian workers.
At the start of the invasion, Ukrainian forces prevented Russian forces from capturing a second nuclear facility – the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine – and forced them to retreat to Dnipro, according to Petro Kotin, head of Energoatom, which operates nuclear power plants in Ukraine. . The front line hasn’t moved much in months.
Replacing each of the Zaporizhia reactors would cost $7 billion, making the plant a target for the Russians to take it over without getting damaged, hoping to serve their electricity market, according to an analysis by Defense and Security Intelligence. If Russia maintains this, Ukraine will lose 20% of its capacity to generate electricity domestically.
Local reports said shelling in the surrounding towns as well as near the power plant is common.
Ukraine accused Russian forces of stockpiling weapons and launching attacks from the plant, knowing that Ukraine could not return fire without risking hitting the nuclear facility. Russia, in turn, claims that Ukrainian forces are targeting the site.
The international community has been on high alert about nuclear safety, yet experts believe A Chernobyl-style disaster is unlikely. The plant is fitted with modern security systems, which means that even if its maintenance was neglected, or a major military action caused massive damage, the result would be akin to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima — which was locally contained, according to Jens and Energoatome. .
However, there are still risks, one of which is potential damage to nuclear waste stored outdoors — in tubs and in barrels, according to Cotten of Energoatom.
Kotin also warned that Russian attempts to switch the plant from the Ukrainian grid to the Russian power grid would require all reactors to be disconnected from power for a certain period, and to rely on never-fail emergency power generation — a “very dangerous” prospect, he told CNN. In an interview conducted on August 22.
The main restricted security zone of the plant, where the reactors and nuclear fuel are located, is surrounded by the waters of Dnipro to the northwest and the city of Enerhodar to the east.
The satellite image below shows the plant’s facilities, which are vital to the accompanying timeline of events since the war began. They showed how narrow the Zaporizhzhia NPP was in avoiding a nuclear catastrophe.
Reporting and writing: CNN Staff and Henrik Peterson
Digital design and graphics: Natalie Crocker and Byron Manley
photo rate: Clint Wahab
Editors: Anna Brand, Nick Thompson and Eve Bauer
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