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Working under military occupation: Q&A about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia NPP (UPDATED)

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

The mission intended to enter the occupied territory through Vasylivka, close to the frontline, and depart to Enerhodar at once. "They planned to set out in the evening of the same day during the daytime," said Yevhen Balytskyi, the self-proclaimed head of the region installed by the invaders.

The Zaporizhzhia NPP is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. It has six VVER-1000-type (water-water energetic reactor) power units. The first one was commissioned in December 1984, while the sixth one — in October 1995.

Today, two power units of the ZNPP are working at 60% and 80% of their capacity, while the rest have been stopped. All the produced electricity is supplied to the Integrated Power System of Ukraine.

UPDATED. Volodymyr Rogov, the self-proclaimed head of the Zaporizhzhia administration, said that no special passes would be issued for the IAEA mission, so that the mission would have to wait in the common queue to be allowed to the occupied part of the region. "Meanwhile, they could have gotten there swiftly from Russia," he stated.

Why is the IAEA mission visiting the Zaporizhzhia NPP?

"The program of the visit was scheduled to take one day. Within a day, they have to inspect the operation of the plant. In the process of operation, we’ll be able to watch the elements they will ask to," Balytskyi said.

Ukrainian specialists think that representatives of the IAEA should stay at the plant until it’s freed from the invaders.

Earlier, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, the head of the mission visiting the ZNPP, met with Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. "We would like the IAEA mission to find an opportunity, with the help of our special services and safety corridors, to get to the station and do everything possible to prevent global threats," said Zelenskyy during the meeting.

He also called for the immediate demilitarization of the plant and the withdrawal of all Russian troops from its territory.

Grossi said that the experts would work at the plant for a few days. During their stay, they will speak with the ZNPP personnel and gather necessary information for the general report. According to him, the IAEA intends to establish a permanent presence at the plant.

What are people from Rosatom doing at the plant?

Olha Kosharna, a nuclear energy and nuclear safety expert, said that Rosatom personnel appeared at the ZNPP just after the invaders. They are working at the plant in shifts. These are chief technical specialists from Russian NPPs.

In their reports to the IAEA, they write that they are "consulting and facilitating communication between the Ukrainian staff of the plant and the Russian troops".

On the very first day, the Russians seized technical documents for the Westinghouse nuclear fuel.

Kosharna says that the monitoring of nuclear fuel storage facilities was interrupted at times, so there’s a risk that the Russians could take samples of spent fuel and fresh assemblies to study them. The Russian fuel, which is also used at the ZNPP, is inferior to the American one.

"If it happened, it was a know-how theft, as the American law qualifies it. It’s also a violation of the laws on the control of nuclear materials. And this is the responsibility of the IAEA, which was created for this purpose," Kosharna pointed out."The mission has to determine whether theft happened."

Why do Russian troops shell the ZNPP and nearby territories?

The Ukrainian side believes that the shelling of the ZNPP is a provocation by the invaders who want to accuse Ukraine of creating threats to nuclear safety. During the shelling, auxillary facilities of the plant were hit.

At the same time, on August 23, the Defense Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine reported that the occupation forces had been shelling ash dumps of the Zaporizhzhia thermal power plant, also located in Enerhodar, for a few days.

Their aim was to raise dust from the ash and increase the radiation background in the locations of radioactivity sensors near the ZNPP. This would have been used to put pressure on the international community and call for "stopping Kyiv".

The Zaporizhzhia thermal power plant doesn’t work for a few months due to the lack of coal, which is impossible to deliver to the plant.

Why did the ZNPP disconnect from Ukraine’s power system?

On August 25, about 12:00 AM, a fire on the Zaporizhzhia thermal power plant ash dumps shelled by the Russians caused damage to the Dniprovska 750-kW overhead power line. Through this line, the ZNPP supplied electricity to the grid.

Three other lines had been damaged before as a result of hostilities.

The fire on the line caused a short circuit, and the line was disconnected. The automatic protection system was triggered, and both power units of the ZNPP were stopped.

In about 20 minutes, the line was connected. However, at 2:14 PM, the protection system was triggered again for unknown reasons. After some time, the malfunction was corrected.

Why is the shutdown of reactors dangerous for the NPP itself?

The electricity produced by the NPP is not only supplied into the country’s power system but also used to ensure the work of the plant itself. For example, keeping the ZNPP cooling systems and reactor control systems operational requires 150,000 kW per hour.

If the reactors are stopped, this power is supplied over an interconnection from the Integrated Power System of Ukraine.

If the Russians destroy this interconnection, diesel generators will be used as the last protection from a nuclear disaster. However, they have limited fuel reserves, which would suffice for a few days only, since the generators consume tons of fuel.

If diesel fuel isn’t delivered on time to the territory controlled by the invaders and the ZNPP isn’t connected back to the grid, the Fukushima scenario will develop: without proper cooling, nuclear reactors will go out of control. A thermal explosion can occur, like it was in Chornobyl.

Will the Russians connect the ZNPP to Russia’s power system?

Kosharna thinks that the Russians intend to switch not only the ZNPP and the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant, but also all industrial wind farms to supply the temporarily occupied Crimea. However, they haven’t succeeded yet.

The switching process is very complicated and has become even more complicated after the explosion at the distribution substation in Dzhankoi and the demolition of transmission towers.


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