Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant: history, control and major developments since the beginning of the war


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.

Major developments in the factory since the beginning of the war

March 4, 2022

Russian forces control the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant (NPP), with operators operating “at gunpoint,” according to Ukrainian nuclear officials. Russian bombing has destroyed buildings around a nuclear reactor and Ukrainian authorities say a fire has broken out at a training center outside the main site. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ international atomic energy agency, condemns the move.

Smoke rises from the administrative buildings of the Zaporizhzhia NPP on March 5, 2022. (IAEA/Energoatom via Telegram)

March 6

The United Nations and Ukrainian nuclear regulators lost reliable lines of communication with plant workers as Russia shut down some of the plant’s mobile phone and internet networks.

March onwards

Two out of every six reactors at the plant are active. Meanwhile, the front line – along the Dnipro River on which the plant stands – has not moved much since early March. Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russian forces of storing heavy weapons inside the compound and using them as cover for attacks.

Russian military patrols in the territory of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant on May 1. (Andrey Borodulin/AFP/Getty Images)

April 2

At least four people were injured in explosions amid protests against the Russian occupation in the town of Enerhodar, which is closest to the Zaporizhzhya plant.

Gunfire and explosions disperse a crowd in Enerhodar, Ukraine, on April 2. (from telegram)

April 26

Two guided missiles hit the city of Zaporozhye, less than 40 miles northeast of the plant. Energoatom claims that the missiles flew at low altitudes directly over the nuclear power plant site. This is one of several local reports of hostilities in the vicinity of the factory.

A plume of smoke rises from behind an apartment building after a missile strike in Zaporizhia, Ukraine, on April 26 (Albert Koshelev/Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

June 6

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said that he was determined to send an expert mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency to the Zaporizhzhia NPP to assess the safety of operation and working conditions. The International Atomic Energy Agency spent weeks negotiating a trip with Ukraine and Russia.

July 19

A Ukrainian drone attack targeted a Russian tent complex inside the plant’s main security exclusion zone, including a parked BM-21 “Grad” missile launcher. The attack caused a fire but did not damage the reactors or fuel storage areas.

Smoke rises as soldiers run out of tents at the main Zaporizhzhia NPP site, Enerhodar, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Defense Intelligence)

August 5-6

The International Atomic Energy Agency said the reported explosions near an electrical switchboard caused one of the reactors to temporarily shut down. Separately, the missiles fell within approximately 30 to 60 feet of a dry storage facility containing barrels of spent nuclear fuel, according to Energoatom. Ukraine and Russia continue to accuse each other of bombing the Zaporizhzhia NPP in early August.

A missile fragment near the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in the territory under Russian military control, according to a still image of a video released by the press service of the Russian Defense Ministry on August 7. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service/AP)

August 11

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, told the United Nations Security Council that the situation “has deteriorated so rapidly that it has become very worrying.” The representative of Ukraine accuses Russia of resorting to “manipulations and unjustified conditions for visiting the site”, despite public declarations of cooperation.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi addresses the United Nations Security Council via videoconference on August 11 at United Nations Headquarters. (Mary Altaver/AFP)

August 12

Ukrainian authorities say the Ukrainian-controlled towns of Nikopol and Marhanets, across the Dnipro River from the factory, have been attacked by Russian missiles for several nights in a row.

August 20-22

The International Atomic Energy Agency, citing Ukrainian officials, said the bombing damaged laboratories and chemical facilities inside the main plant complex and caused a temporary blackout at a nearby backup thermal power plant.

August 24

Kyiv says the Russian military has killed three Ukrainian workers since March, and at least 26 others have been detained on charges of leaking information.

August 25-26:

Ukraine has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that a power outage cut off all six reactors from the national grid for the first time in the plant’s history after the last remaining power line was damaged. By August 27, it was fixed.

A satellite image shows the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the nearby fires in Enerhodar on August 24 (EU/Copernicus Sentinel-2/Reuters)

around August 28

Authorities in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia are making iodine tablets available to residents as concern grows of a possible nuclear accident: the pills protect users from radioactive iodine and help prevent thyroid cancer.

Residents of Zaporizhzhia line up at the local administration office to receive iodine tablets in the Khortytskyi district east of the city on August 29 (Dmytro Smolienko/Reuters)

September 1

After striking a tough deal with Ukrainian and Russian officials, a group of 14 international nuclear inspectors, including International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi, arrive at the station after a perilous journey. Just hours earlier, Energoatom accused Russia of bombing the plant, shutting down the fifth reactor and activating the emergency protection system.

Staff of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations prepare to leave for Zaporizhzhya from a hotel in Kyiv, Ukraine, on August 31 (David Ryder/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Source: IAEA, United Nations, Institute for the Study of War with AEI Critical Threats Project, Jens, Energoatom, Ukrainian State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate, Ukrainian State Emergency Services, Ukrainian Defense Intelligence, Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights, Ukrainian regional authorities .

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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