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Zaporizhzhia on the brink: How deteriorating conditions at the nuclear power plant could lead to disaster

Bulletin, By Zakhar PopovychDenys I. BondarM.V. Ramana | October 7, 2022, Soon after it started its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the Russian military occupied the southern part of the Zaporizhzhia region. The occupied area includes the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), the largest in Europe. During the summer, the area around the Zaporizhzhia NPP was hit multiple times by missiles and artillery. These affected all high-voltage electric power lines that connect the facility to the grid, so the plant was forced to work for some time in island mode, using the minimal power produced by one of the reactors to maintain functions essential to the plant’s safety. After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, conducted its inspection on September 1st, Ukrainian maintenance teams were allowed by the Russian military to repair the power lines and refill the diesel fuel storage tanks needed for emergency power generators. This made it possible to supply the facility with external power for the reactor cooling and other maintenance systems.

On September 10, the three of us had a conversation via Zoom with Pavlo Oleshuk, a representative of Atomprofspilka, the nuclear energy and industry workers’ union of Ukraine. Oleshuk is an experienced member of the team that operates the Rivne NPP in northwest Ukraine. As an organizer with the union, he has been in close and constant contact with the employees who directly operate the Zaporizhzhia NPP.

Oleshuk’s descriptions gave us new insight into the working and living conditions of his colleagues at the beleaguered plant. Such details have been otherwise difficult to get as plant operators have avoided talking in public ever since Russian forces seized the plant. Our discussion with Oleshuk lasted for more than two hours, and we offer here the main insights.

At the time we talked to Oleshuk, one of the reactors at the Zaporizhzhia NPP was still operating. However, shortly after our conversation, EnergoAtom, the Ukrainian state nuclear power plant operator, decided to shut down all reactors there. Despite this decision, there is a continued risk of a major nuclear incident as the plant requires permanent cooling. Furthermore, as our discussion with Oleshuk reveals, other factors exacerbate the fragility of the situation at the Zaporizhzhia NPP.

Context. Oleshuk began with a description of Zaporizhzhia NPP and the city of Energodar, which means literally “the gift of energy.”………………………………………………….

Working under threats and intimidation. The Zaporizhzhia NPP, the city of Energodar, and the surrounding areas have all been under Russian occupation for the past few months. According to Oleshuk’s sources at the plant, Russian armed forces first took control of the nearby territory and peacefully approached the personnel of the power plant claiming that they would not intervene with the operations of the plant. But once the armed forces entered the plant’s premises, so did personnel from the FSB—Russia’s principal security agency and successor to the old KGB—and a couple of experts from Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear energy corporation. …………………

For their part, the FSB personnel, unlike regular soldiers, violated the rules about who can access different areas of the plant and went everywhere within the premises, including inside radiation-controlled zones. But rather than taking control over the plant’s operations, the FSB agents seem to have been tasked with finding the so-called “ringleaders” who are organizing protests against the occupation ………………..

Over time, many more nuclear power plant workers have left Energodar for other cities that are still under the control of the Ukrainian government, creating a shortage of personnel at the Zaporizhzhia NPP. Even though some nuclear power plant maintenance functions can be carried out remotely, most cannot. As a result, there are concerns about the safety of these reactors and their associated systems.

Living without supplies. Because it is in Russian-occupied territory, residents of Energodar can no longer get their supplies from Ukraine-controlled territories, although they are located just across the Dnipro River. Instead, they must get them from other occupied territories—which means that even the supply of basic groceries is intermittent, with some food products simply no longer available………………….

Another major problem for the residents of Energodar is the collapse of utilities. ………………………

The supply of water supply has also become a problem since it relies exclusively on electric pumps and there are no water towers in Ukraine because the electricity supply was always considered to be reliable and abundant. ……………….

Outlook. With winter coming, the future is grim for the workers of the Zaporizhzhia NPP who still live in Energodar. Like other satellite cities, Energodar relies on the Zaporizhzhia NPP for most of its energy needs, including for heating……………………..

If both nuclear and thermal power plants cannot resume operation, then Energodar’s inhabitants will not be able to heat their living premises. The Ukrainian winter is cold with temperatures often being less than 20 degrees Celsius below zero (-4 degrees Fahrenheit). Plant workers don’t know how they will survive the winter.

Making an already desperate situation worse, there has been a loss of leadership and governance. The mayor of Energodar, Dmytro Orlov, was initially arrested by the Russians, but later managed to flee the city. The occupying forces did try to take over the city hall, but effectively the local authority has largely collapsed. The inhabitants are now left on their own.

According to Oleshuk, the situation is simply no longer tenable for the plant workers who are exhausted and stressed out. …………………more https://thebulletin.org/2022/10/zaporizhzhia-on-the-brink-how-deteriorating-conditions-at-the-nuclear-power-plant-could-lead-to-disaster/

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October 7, 2022 - Posted by | safety, Ukraine

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