Mar 9, 2022 - World

Ukraine warns Chernobyl nuclear plant is without power

People in front of a memorial near unit four of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in September 2021.
People in front of a memorial near unit four of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in September 2021. Photo: Andreas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Ukrainian government warned Wednesday that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and other nuclear facilities near it now controlled by Russian forces no longer have electricity after a power line was damaged.

Why it matters: A loss of power at the plant could disrupt the cooling of radioactive material stored there, risking radioactive leakage that can be carried by wind to other parts of Europe.

  • One of the plant's reactors suffered a meltdown in 1986, sending radioactive contamination across Europe.

What they're saying: "About 20,000 spent fuel assemblies are stored in the spent nuclear fuel storage facility-1. They need constant cooling, which is possible only if there is electricity. If it is not there, the pumps will not cool. As a result, the temperature in the holding pools will increase," the Ukrainian government said.

  • "After that evaporation will occur, that will lead to nuclear discharge. The wind can transfer the radioactive cloud to other regions of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Europe. In addition, there is no ventilation inside the facility," it added.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday that Ukraine had informed it of the power outage and called it a violation of a "key safety pillar" but saw "no critical impact on safety" in this case.

  • The agency's director general said Tuesday that it was no longer receiving data monitoring systems installed at the plant and other facilities and that the handling of nuclear material in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone had been put on hold.
  • “I’m deeply concerned about the difficult and stressful situation facing staff at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the potential risks this entails for nuclear safety. I call on the forces in effective control of the site to urgently facilitate the safe rotation of personnel there,” IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi said Tuesday.

The big picture: Russian forces took control of the plant early on during Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

  • Ukraine's Ministry of Energy said Friday that Russian troops have been holding staff at the nuclear facilities hostage.
  • Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces erupted last week near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in southeastern Ukraine — Europe's largest nuclear power station.
  • The six reactors at Zaporizhzhia are now under the control of Russian forces.

Go deeper: The latest on Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Editor's note: This article has been updated with a statement from the IAEA.

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