As a result of damage during the massive Russian shelling of Ukrainian cities, on May 22 at 5:26 a.m., the high-voltage transmission line “Dniprovska” 330-750 kV, the last source of external power for the nuclear fuel cooling pumps in the holding pools and nuclear reactors of the power units of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, was accidentally disconnected. The NPP automatically switched to power supply by diesel generators with a limited fuel supply. Contrary to the aggressor’s expectations, Ukrenergo specialists promptly restored the power line and switched the station to power from the Ukrainian power system. Therefore, the immediate threat to nuclear safety was eliminated, the radiation background at the station and around it remains normal.
The Center for countering disinformation at the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine analyzed the threats posed by Russian attacks on the Zaporizhzhia NPP.
However, the incident at the ZANP is not an accident, but a systemic manifestation of Russia’s use of the nuclear threat as a lever of influence on Ukraine and the world.
Since the beginning of March 2022, the ZANP has been captured by the Russian military. They strictly control the work of Ukrainian personnel, who are even forbidden to communicate with each other. Since August, the Russians have been regularly shelling the ZANP and Energodar, as a result of which the plant remained without power 7 times and went into the so-called blackout mode. The last time the Zaporizhia NPP was completely de-energized was on March 9, when the Russians staged a massive missile attack on Ukraine.
What does it threaten?
If it were not for the immediate reaction of Ukrenergo to restore the plant’s external power supply, the complete shutdown of all power units of the ZNPP would have stopped the process of cooling the nuclear fuel (as was the case at the plant on November 23, 2022) and would have made the NPP look like a giant slow-acting atomic bomb. In such a case, any damage or intervention in the production process outside of the protocol may lead to a radiation accident, the consequences of which for Ukraine and European countries may be much more serious than during the accident at the Chernobyl NPP and the Fukushima NPP. The blackout at the ZNPP has already led to mass disconnection of consumers in Zaporizhzhia.
What are the actions of the Russian Federation?
First of all, Russia has once again resorted to man-made blackmail tactics that have been familiar since the beginning of the war. Accusing the Armed Forces of Ukraine of shelling the station, the occupation authorities seek to transfer responsibility for nuclear and radiation safety of the facility to Ukraine and to force the leadership of the country and the West to agree to the terms of ending the war. In order to gain maximum control over the situation, Russia is trying to force the international community to de facto recognize its “property right” to the Ukrainian power plant. By the way, the occupiers have already illegally changed the legal address of the ZNPP, fakely “subordinating” it to Moscow, forced 3,000 employees to obtain Russian passports and still insist on signing contracts with Rosatom. In order to limit the presence of international observers on the station, in February Russia banned the planned rotation of the participants of the IAEA observation mission, and on February 10, the organization announced that it could not update the composition of the mission for security reasons. On March 1, a representative of the fake “administration” of the Zaporizhzhia region in Rogov accused the Western special services of “disrupting” the planned rotation of the IAEA mission because of the alleged intention to accuse the Russian Federation of obstructing the work of the mission.
Secondly, by increasing the threats surrounding the illegally captured Zaporizhia NPP, Russia is trying to distract part of the Ukrainian forces and lower the morale of Ukrainians, and in this way deter a potential counteroffensive of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the south of Ukraine. Another shelling may indicate the final preparation of new provocations in the temporarily occupied territories around the ZNPP, in order to later blame the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It is also characteristic that the buildings of the ZANP are used by the Russian military during the planning of tactical defense measures. It is not for nothing that in late July 2022, the Russian military placed heavy military equipment with ammunition, weapons and explosives in the engine room of power unit No. 1 of the ZANP, and also in the engine room of power unit No. 2 in early August 2022. According to British intelligence, these steps increase the likelihood of damage nuclear power plant safety systems as a result of hostilities.
What shall I do?
Taking into account the fact that the nuclear and radiation safety of not only Ukraine, but also European countries depends on the safe operation of the ZANP, the international community should accumulate all diplomatic and other efforts to withdraw Russian troops from the territory of the captured nuclear power plant and then transfer it under the full control of Ukrainian specialists “Energoatom”. In order to at least somehow deter the Russians from direct attacks on nuclear facilities in Ukraine, the Russian nuclear industry should be deprived of all rights and privileges in the IAEA and other international institutions in the field of nuclear energy use and included in the next package of EU sanctions. The President of Ukraine V. Zelenskyi proved this to the leaders of the “Big Seven” during a working visit to Hiroshima, Japan.