Ukrainian nuclear power plants in focus amid Russian attack

Ukrainian nuclear power plants in focus amid Russian attack

Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, located around 100 km north of Ukraine's capital Kyiv.

Ukraine nuclear power plant on fire Ukraine nuclear power plant on fire

Ukrainian nuclear power plants have come into sharp focus amid the Russian invasion. The Russian military forces seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Friday, following heavy shelling. 

The power plant, the largest in Europe, caught fire following the attack.

The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) that posts daily updates said that the fire was extinguished by the Ukrainian State Emergency Service units. 

Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, located around 100 km north of Ukraine's capital Kyiv.

James M Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a commentary, stated that the “likelihood of a serious nuclear accident is probably quite small” but went on to explain various scenarios that could be the result of the fighting around various nuclear power plants.

Ukraine’s nuclear power plants

While Chernobyl has been defunct following the tragedy of 1986, there are four active nuclear power plants, with fifteen separate reactors in the country, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) list from 2020.

The Khmelnitsky NPP has two reactors, the Rivne NPP has four reactors, the South Ukraine NPP has three reactors, and Zaporizhzhia NPP has six reactors. 

Ukraine nuclear assets
Design: Pragati Srivastava

Most disconnected

However, a report in the New York Times stated that most of Ukraine’s 15 power reactors have stopped sending power to the national electricity grid. It said that there has been a higher rate of disconnections as compared to before the invasion. 

Since last Sunday, the report said, there has been a large number of disconnections, with six out of the 15 offline. 

An updated report on Friday from SNRIU on Zaporizhzhia showed that reactor 1 is facing outage, while 2 and 3 have been disconnected from the grid and are under a cooling down process. Unit 4 was in operation and 5 and 6 were being cooled down. A cooling down process ensures that the reactor fuel rod temperature is decreased by the removal of heat from the reactor coolant system after the reactor is shut down. 

Ukraine nuclear power plants

Major threats

Acton, in his scenarios, pointed out that power plants use power from the state’s electricity grid to cool down the reactor in the event it is forced to shut down. But the risk of loss of power if Russia attacks Ukraine’s electricity grid, opens up scary prospects for the power plants. He pointed out that indirect attacks might take place too if a weapon aimed at nearby target misfires to hit a power plant. 

Without cooling the fuel could melt, releasing large quantities of radioactivity, Acton said. 

Russia criticised

As concerns around Ukrainian nuclear power plants mount, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the attacks ‘reckless’ and said that it could directly threaten the safety of all of Europe. 

US President Joe Biden urged Russia “to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site" in a phone call. 

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the "horrific attacks must cease immediately".

Also read: Explained: Is Russia's attack on Europe's largest power plant a nuclear threat?

Also read: Ukraine invasion: Here's why Russia wants to capture Chernobyl 

Also read: Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine on fire