Power restored in Chernobyl; Rosatom checks the radiation level of the bombed Zaporozhye nuclear power plant

Completely disconnected from the power grid last Wednesday due to the military actions of the Russian armed forces, the power supply to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was restored this Sunday. This was announced by the Ukrainian nuclear authority Energoatom, citing the Ukrainian Minister of Energy.

“Today, thanks to the incredible efforts of the specialists from Ukrenergo (the Ukrainian operator of the site), our nuclear engineers and our electricians managed to restore power to the Chernobyl power plant seized by the Russian occupiers,” said the minister, German Galouchchenko, in one of Energoatom published press release.

“From now on, the fuel element cooling systems will function normally again and no longer thanks to emergency generators,” he added.

However, the site faces another threat. Staff managing the radioactive waste complexes at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant have halted safety repairs because they are worn out and have not been replaced since Russia took control of the site last month, Ukraine has warned the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Chernobyl: Exhausted nuclear plant personnel no longer carry out safety repairs (IAEA)

No major security impact

The power outage had “no significant safety implications,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), while Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned that the plant has backup generators with a capacity of just 48 hours The damaged reactor itself poses no problem, said Karine Herviou, deputy general director of the French Institute for AFP Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN). Because “the melted heart doesn’t need a cooling system”. The storage of 20,000 fuel assemblies in the pool also posed no danger. Given the time that has elapsed since 1986, “the thermal load on the pool and the volume of cooling water were sufficient to ensure efficient heat removal without electricity,” according to the IAEA .

These old assemblies “are relatively cold” and even if power is not restored after 48 hours, “to the best of our knowledge of the facilities, there is no risk of radioactive release,” confirms Karine Herviou. In one such case, studies conducted after the accident at the Fukushima power plant in Japan in March 2011 showed “a slow rise in temperature of about 60 °C but no drainage of the units”. “The water will gradually warm up, but not boil,” she explained. A blackout “would cause more problems” at the country’s four operating power plants “where it is imperative to ensure cooling of the available fuel,” estimates the IRSN chief.

“The heat to be evacuated is much greater there” than in Chernobyl.

Ukrainian reactors have emergency systems with four emergency generators, which are usually fueled for 7 to 10 days. “They also have mobile equipment on site, water reserves to deal with the situation and usually to avoid cardiac deterioration,” added Karine Herviou.

Russian employees of Rosatom in Zaporozhye

In the press release published on Sunday, the minister stressed that Ukraine “does not need any help to supply or restore electricity” for its infrastructure. A reference to the arrival on Friday of 11 employees of Russia’s nuclear giant Rosatom at Ukraine’s Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, which fell into Russian hands on March 4 after a bombing-strewn attack on the plant had caused a fire.

Nuclear Energy Control: The Other Battlefield of the Russo-Ukrainian War

The arrival of these Russian personnel is aimed at checking radiation levels and helping to repair the facility, according to Ukraine’s Energoatom agency. Its reactors were commissioned between 1985 and 1995. They are of modern design compared to Chernobyl, the country’s first power plant built in 1970, where the reactors were much less safe. With six Soviet-designed VVER 1000 reactors, the Zaporozhye power plant, inaugurated in 1985, has a total output of almost 6,000 megawatts, enough to supply around four million households with electricity.

“The plant is considered Russian territory”

According to Energoatom, one of the Russians who arrived at the plant with the engineers and introduced himself as the new head of the local military-civilian administration, told employees that the plant was now considered Russian territory and was dependent on Rosatom. In a press release, Rosatom confirmed the dispatch of Russian specialists, but pointed out that the operation of the Zaporozhye power plant, like that of Chernobyl, will continue to be ensured by Ukrainian personnel. Russian specialists are there to “advise” Ukrainian teams, he added. This includes “restoring the power supply to the Chernobyl power plant and the physical protection system of the Zaporozhye power plant,” the Russian operator said on Friday.

“Activities for the safe operation of the Ukrainian nuclear power plants are carried out in close contact with the management of the IAEA,” assures Rosatom.

Generators are standing by at the Zaporozhye power plant if needed, the IAEA said this week, adding that two of the four external power sources appeared to be “damaged”.

Next take, Konstantinovka, in southern Ukraine?

Concerns about nuclear risk in Ukraine have continued to rise since two of Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants fell into the hands of the Russian army, Chernobyl and Zaporozhye, the capture of which shocked the world.

After Chernobyl and then Zaporozhye, the Russian army could try to capture a third nuclear power plant, Konstantinovka, in southern Ukraine. A strategy aimed at weakening the Ukrainian resistance, which could open the door to worst-case scenarios.

With 15 reactors in four locations, Ukraine is the seventh largest producer of nuclear energy in the world, with the atom providing half of its energy, according to IAEA data.

“This makes it possible to cut off the supply of the big cities. Whoever says more electricity means more heating, more running water, more fridges, freezers (…) One of the goals of the Russians is to get people to use the capacity and the will to defend resistance fighters,” explained Jean -Marc Balencie, international relations analyst, recently told AFP.

“They will want to capture all the power plants to increase their pressure,” predicts a French military source.

While Russia’s President Vladimir Putin assured his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that “it is not his intention to carry out attacks on nuclear power plants,” the three reactors at the Konstantinovka (south) power plant, which lies between Kherson, the first major city occupied by the Russians, and Odessa, one of their main targets, could be within shell range in a few days.

IAEA chief wants to visit Ukraine

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi has offered to visit Ukraine to create a framework to ensure the security of nuclear sites during the conflict. Since the start of the Russian invasion, Mr Grossi has warned of the dangers of the conflict, which is taking place for the first time in a country with a major nuclear program.

“If an accident occurs this time, the cause will not be a tsunami caused by Mother Nature, but the result of human inability to act even though we knew we could and had to,” he said earlier last week.