Ukraine working to restart Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactors after fears of a catastrophe

A mission from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant next week after it was temporarily knocked offline and more shelling was reported in the area overnight, Ukrainian officials said Friday.

Fire damage to a transmission line at Europe’s largest nuclear plant caused a blackout across the region on Thursday and heightened fears of a catastrophe in a country still haunted by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

Ukraine’s state nuclear energy company said that the plant’s six reactors had been disconnected from the country’s national grid, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy blamed Russian shelling. Zelenskyy said the plant’s emergency backup diesel generators had to be activated to supply power needed to run the plant.

“If our station staff had not reacted after the blackout, then we would have already been forced to overcome the consequences of a radiation accident,” he said in a video address on Thursday evening.

It was not immediately clear whether the damaged line carried outgoing electricity or incoming power needed for the reactors’ vital cooling systems. A loss of cooling could cause a nuclear meltdown.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said further international pressure is needed to get Russia to withdraw from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and that failure to do so could lead to a nuclear catastrophe.

Ukraine is trying to resume operations at two reactors at the plant, regional Gov. Oleksandr Starukh said on Friday.

The plant’s sixth reactor is working at 10 percent capacity, while the fifth reactor is in the process of resuming operations, Starukh said in televised comments.

With respect to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Lana Zerkal, an adviser to Ukraine’s energy minister, said Thursday evening that logistical issues are being worked out for the IAEA team to come to the plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces and run by Ukrainian workers since the early days of the six-month-old war. No independent outsiders have had access to Zaporizhzhia since March.

Ukraine has alleged that Russia is essentially holding the plant hostage, weapons there and launching attacks from around it, while Moscow accuses Ukraine of recklessly firing on the facility.

More shelling in the area overnight

Ukrainian officials said an area close to the plant came under a barrage of shelling overnight, amid mounting concerns that an armed conflict near a working atomic plant could cause more serious damage, even as Zaporizhzhia’s reactors are protected by reinforced concrete containment domes.

Dnipropetrovsk Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko said shelling in the city of Nikopol, which is across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia plant, damaged 10 houses, a school and a sanitorium, causing no casualties.

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“Eventually, even the Russians realize that playing poker with a nuclear plant is a terrible thing to do.” Canada’s Ambassador to the UN Bob Rae says he believes the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, will be granted access to the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

About 1,000 local residents are without electricity, he said. Nikopol has been under nearly constant Russian shelling since July 12, with eight people killed, 850 buildings damaged and over half the population of 100,000 fleeing the city.

Many nuclear plants are designed to automatically shut down or at least reduce reactor output in the event of a loss of outgoing transmission lines. The IAEA said Ukraine informed it that the reactors’ emergency protection systems were triggered, and all safety systems remained operational.

front burner21:59A car bomb’s impact on Russia at war

On Saturday, a car bomb killed pro-war Russian commentator Darya Dugina on the outskirts of Moscow. Dugina was the daughter of ultranationalist philosopher Alexander Dugin, whose influence on Russian President Vladimir Putin is widely debated — leading to speculation the bomb was meant for Dugin himself. Today on Front Burner, The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth explains who Dugin is, the competing theories for who was responsible for the car bombing, and what impact the attack could have on how the war in Ukraine is fought.

The three regular transmission lines at the plant are out of service because of previous war damage. Ukraine cannot simply shut down its nuclear plants during the war because it is heavily reliant on them. Its 15 reactors at four stations provide about half of its electricity.

Elsewhere, two people were killed and six more injured over the past 24 hours in the eastern Donetsk region, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said Friday. In the northeastern Sumy region, on the border with Russia, more than 100 munitions were fired over the past 24 hours, burning down a house, Gov. Dmytro Zhyvytsky said.

Explosions were heard in the early hours of Friday in the southern city of Mykolaiv, a key battleground as Russian forces try to push further westward along the coast to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea.

The immediate cause of the blasts was unclear, regional Gov. Vitaliy Kim said, noting that two villages nearby had been shelled. There were no reports of casualties.

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