EUROPE was “one step away” from disaster after a nuclear plant was removed from the power grid by Russia, Ukraine’s president has said.
Volodymyr Zelensky said a Chernobyl-style catastrophe was narrowly averted after shelling by Vladimir Putin’s forces caused fires that led to the plant’s electricity supply being disconnected.
A Russian soldier guards the ZNPP after it was occupied by Putin’s forcesCredit: AP
Volodymyr Zelensky said nuclear disaster was narrowly avertedCredit: Zuma Press
A chilling photo shows fires in the shadow of the plantCredit: Reuters
Satellite photos released by the British Ministry of Defence show Russian forces near the ZNPPCredit: MoD
Fire damage to overhead power lines caused the last two reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) to be cut off but staff quickly activated diesel generators.
“Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans in a situation one step away from a radiation disaster,” President Zelensky said in his nightly address.
“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.
Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom said one reactor at the plant has now been reconnected to the Ukrainian grid and was again supplying the country with electricity.
The company described workers who had kept the power supplied to the reactors as “real heroes”.
Nuclear experts have warned of the risk of damage to the plant’s spent nuclear fuel pools or its reactors.
Cuts in power needed to cool the pools could cause a disastrous meltdown.
Paul Bracken, a national security expert and professor at the Yale School of Management, said the concern was that artillery shells or missiles could puncture the reactor walls.
That would spread radiation around potentially a large area, much like the 1986 accident involving the Chernobyl reactor.
A failure at the Zaporizhzhia plant could “kill hundreds or thousands of people, and damage environmentally a far larger area reaching into Europe,” Bracken said.
“Russian Roulette is a good metaphor because the Russians are spinning the chamber of the revolver, threatening to blow out the brains of the reactor all over Europe,” Bracken said.
Each power unit that includes a reactor, a cooling system and other equipment has three Soviet-era diesel generators that “are not able to work for weeks”.
It comes amid looming fears the site could be the scene of a devastating nuclear disaster as both Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of putting the plant at risk.
Satellite images show Putin’s forces massing at the site amid growing calls for Zaporizhzhia to become a demilitarised zone.
Ukraine has accused Russia of torturing Ukrainian nuclear workers at the plant, further compromising safety at the plant.
Energoatom said the plant has now been disconnected from the network for the “first time in its history” after a fire at ash pits close to the facility damaged incoming power lines.
It is also reported communication channels around the plant have gone dark – with NetBlocks reporting a massive dip in the region.
Bringing the plant totally offline could potentially compromise safety systems and lead to disaster – with the two reactors currently being powered by backup diesel generators, officials have said.
And it is feared if the plant becomes totally isolated from the power grid and its backup generator then fails it could go into meltdown.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February, captured the Zaporizhzhia plant in March and has controlled it since, although it continues to be operated by Ukrainian technicians from Energoatom.
Putin’s forces have been accused of planning to totally disconnect the facility from Ukraine’s power grid and send the energy back to Russia.
On Thursday, the US condemned any Russian bid to divert energy from Ukraine.
“The electricity that it produces rightly belongs to Ukraine and any attempt to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian power grid and redirect to occupied areas is unacceptable,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said.
Ukraine has regularly accused Russia of “nuclear blackmail” over the site.
It is feared disconnecting the plant entirely would leave the ZNPP dependent on a single source of electricity to cool the reactors.
And an uncooled reactor could lead to a catastrophic failure and a nuclear disaster.
Switching between the Ukrainian and Russian power grids would leave the reactor only reliant on a backup diesel generator – with no other options if it suffered a failure.
After only 90 minutes without power, the reactors would reach a dangerous temperature.
“During this disconnection, the plant won’t be connected to any power supply and that is the reason for the danger,” Energoatom chief Petro Kotin told The Guardian.
“If you fail to provide cooling … for one hour and a half, then you will have melting already.”
Each power unit that includes a reactor, a cooling system and other equipment has three Soviet-era diesel generators that officials warned “are not able to work for weeks”.
Ukraine knows better than any other country on Earth the risks associated with nuclear power.
Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the north of the country exploded and went into meltdown while under Soviet control back in 1986.
It sent a radiation plume into the atmosphere which spread across the world and rendered huge swathes of Ukraine completely uninhabitable as they remain dangerously radioactive.
Neighbouring towns around ZNPP such as Kherson, Melitopol, and Enerhodar were reportedly left without power as the situation around the plant sits on a knife edge.
Radiation from a potential leak could spread across EuropeCredit: @myroslavapetsa / Twitter
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the six reactors at ZNPPCredit: AP
Three other power lines “were earlier damaged during terrorist attacks” by Russian forces.
“The actions of the invaders caused the complete disconnection of the ZNPP from the power grid is the first in the history of the station,” Energoatom said on Telegram.
And meanwhile, chilling satellite images captured Vlad’s soldiers and military vehicles just metres from the deadly nuclear reactors.
The pictures, shared by the UK’s Ministry of Defence, show Russian armoured personnel carriers and military cargo trucks just 60 metres from reactor five of the six-reactor nuke plant in Zaporizhzhia, southern Ukraine.
“Russian troops were probably attempting to conceal the vehicles by parking them under overhead pipes and gantries.”
It went on: “Russia is probably prepared to exploit any Ukrainian military activity near [Zaporizhzhia] for propaganda purposes.
“While Russia maintains the military occupation of [the plant], the principal risks to reactor operations are likely to remain disruption to the reactors’ cooling systems, damage to its backup power supply, or errors by workers operating under pressure.”
Russia has been in control of the facility for the better part of six months – casting a long nuclear shadow over Ukraine.
Reports claim Ukrainian troops are being tortured by agents from the Russian secret service the FSB to keep them from revealing to UN safety inspectors about risks at the site.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are set to be granted access to the plant in the coming days.
Russian state media TASS reports that “employees of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant were arrested for informing the Ukrainian Army of the location of Russian military equipment at the plant”.
But one engineer told The Telegraph that many of their colleagues had been arrested on their way to work by FSB agents.
“One of [the FSB’s] methods here is to take the control room workers to the basement,” he said, adding that secret police detain and torture the workers.
“Our management keeps silent about it, not to create panic, but people who return after those basement ‘conversations’ don’t say anything at all,” he added.
Just two days ago, a worker at the plant was reportedly killed by Russian forces after his taxi was shelled.
It has raised fears of a Chernobyl-style nuclear disasterCredit: Getty – Contributor
The mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said that the attack took place on Monday, and named the dead man as 26-year-old Vladyslav Mitin, who worked as a locksmith at the thermal automation and measurement department.
Ukraine accuses Russia of holding Zaporizhzhia to ransom, storing weapons there while launching deadly attacks.
It also warns that the workforce at the plant has been cut to dangerously low levels, while landmines have been placed around the cooling pond.
Earlier this month, workers at Zaporizhzhia were reportedly ordered to leave by Russian forces, sparking fears of a disaster.
Fears are growing that Vlad’s forces will stage a “false flag” attack at the plant when IAEA inspectors visit which they will blame on Ukraine, in an insane game of brinksmanship with Kyiv.
On Thursday, Russian troops reportedly started deliberate forest fires in the woods near Zaporizhzhia, triggering power outages and cutting off the water in the nearby city of Enerhodar, home to some 53,000 people.
The fires caused damage to nearby power lines, leaving the towns of Melitopol and Berdyansk without electricity.
Pro-Russian social media accounts have blamed the forest fires on Ukrainian forces, claiming their troops were using incendiary ammunition on the plant.
Russian-backed authorities at the plant claim their security system was called into action following alleged Ukrainian shelling.
On Thursday, President Putin announced the planned expansion of the Russian Armed Forces to more than one million with the addition of 137,000 new servicemembers.
This comes as the Russian death toll in the war in Ukraine has crept up towards 50,000 with the passing of the six-month anniversary of the conflict.
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