The world narrowly avoided a radiation disaster after a Russian-controlled nuclear power plant was completely disconnected from Ukraine’s electricity grid, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned.
The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, was off grid on Friday, supplying electricity to Ukraine, officials said, a day after it was disconnected from the national grid for the first time in its 40-year history.
Zelenskyy said in a late night video address On Thursday, after the last working line connecting it to Ukraine’s electricity grid was damaged by Russian shelling, it was only the plant’s safety systems that switched on with backup power that prevented a catastrophe.
“The world needs to understand what a threat this is: if the diesel generators hadn’t been turned on, if the automation and our staff hadn’t responded after the blackout, we would now be forced to overcome the effects of the radiation accident, ” he said.
“Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans in a situation that is one step away from a radiation disaster,” Zelenskyy added.
Russia blamed Ukraine for the incident. NBC News has not verified either side’s claims.
Earlier Friday, the country’s state-owned nuclear company, Energoatom, said the plant itself was safely powered via a repaired line from the power grid. There were no problems with the plant’s machines or safety systems, it said.
Later in the afternoon, the company announced that the plant had been reconnected to Ukraine’s electricity grid and was producing electricity to meet the country’s needs. The agency hailed the plant’s staff as heroes who “tiredly and resolutely hold the nuclear and radiation safety of Ukraine and all of Europe on their shoulders”.
Russian-installed officials in the surrounding Zaporizhzhya region tried to downplay the seriousness of the situation. “There was just an emergency” handled by the plant’s security systems, Alexander Volga, a Russian-installed official in the nearby city of Energodar, Tass told state news agency Friday.
Fierce fighting around the site has raised fears of catastrophe. The two sides have blamed each other for the attacks, with world leaders calling for a demilitarized zone around the nuclear complex while pushing for access for United Nations inspectors.
Any damage to the factory would be “suicide,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned earlier this month.
Ukraine has warned that Russia was planning to shut down the plant in a potentially risky attempt to divert it to the Russian grid. A failure in the power plant’s power supply can also shut down the cooling systems that are essential to the safe operation of the reactors, while the emergency diesel generators are sometimes unreliable.
Nuclear experts have also expressed concern about the risk the fighting could pose to the plant’s reactors and the nuclear waste silos surrounding it.
Ukraine and its international allies, including the United States, have urged Russia to hand over control of the factory. Moscow captured the site in March and has controlled it ever since, although Ukrainian engineers still operate it.
On Thursday, Zelenskyy urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other international organizations to act “much faster” because, he said, “every minute Russian troops remain at the nuclear power plant poses a risk of a global radiation catastrophe.” means.”
In response to the incident, the IAEA warned that a secure external power supply to the grid is essential to ensuring nuclear safety. It added that “no immediate information was available” about the cause of the power outages.
“Almost every day there is a new incident at or near the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant,” Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement. pronunciation. “We cannot afford to lose any more time. I am committed to personally lead an IAEA mission to the plant in the coming days to help stabilize nuclear safety and security there.”
Guterres, the UN chief, said Thursday that he was willing to support any IAEA mission from Kiev to the factory.
Artem Grudinino contributed.