Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom has reported that the final working reactor at the six-reactor facility at Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine was disconnected from Ukraine's grid on Monday after Russian shelling disrupted power lines. The vast Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) - the largest in Europe - was captured by Russian forces in March, but is still run by Ukrainian engineers and staff.
"Today, as a result of a fire caused by shelling, the (last working) transmission line was disconnected. As a result, (reactor) unit No. 6, which currently supplies the (plant's) own needs, was unloaded and disconnected from the grid. Any repairs of the power lines are currently impossible- fighting is ongoing around the station," Energoatom said in a statement on Telegram.
Ukraine is currently unable to repair the power lines because of heavy fighting and shelling raging around the station, Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko has posted on Facebook.
According to Galushchenko, fresh shelling hit soon after most of the inspectors from a mission by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), left the plant earlier on Monday. Reactors number five and six remain in use but are currently disconnected from the grid having suffered repeated disconnections due to shelling over the past fortnight.
The IAEA has said that ZNPP continues to receive the electricity it needs for safety from its sole operating reactor.
Ukraine's state nuclear chief says it’s vital that a mission by UN inspectors to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant leads to the end of Russia's occupation and has called for new missions to the site, including by UN peacekeepers. The IAEA is now drawing up a report after its inspectors crossed the front line last week and reached the imperiled facility that Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling, risking a nuclear disaster. Two IAEA experts are now set to stay on at the facility indefinitely.
Petro Kotin, head of Energoatom, has told Reuters that the establishment of a permanent mission was a "good" step but that the "root of the problem" remains the occupation of the facility by Russian troops. He has described the situation at the nuclear plant as "very dangerous" and unprecedented because of the deterioration of the power lines linking the facility to the Ukrainian grid.
"We need results from this mission actually. These results should (resolve) the whole situation: de-occupation. If not, then we must have some kind of viable results. This is a peculiar situation. All the experts and (IAEA chief Rafael) Grossi himself understand that ... what is needed to be done is the de-occupation. Still they can't directly propose this because of the limitation of the mandate," he has said.
Winter without Zaporizhzhia
Experts think that Ukraine will definitely feel the lack of electricity from ZNNP, but some factors could alleviate the situation.
"Many people have left the country and large companies have shut down, so electricity consumption in Ukraine has dropped by 35%," Olena Pavlenko, head of the DiXi Group analysis center, which monitors Ukraine's energy market, has said. Pavlenko says that unless everyone suddenly returns in the winter, the country can manage the season without the nuclear power plant.
Observers, however, stress that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is indispensable for the supply of power to the regions of Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and parts of the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions. They have warned that if the Russian occupiers continue their dangerous attempts to connect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to the Russian power grid, these regions could lose power thus necessitating an emergency operation to connect them with spare capacities from the Ukrainian power grid.
Ukraine has four nuclear power plants with a total of 15 reactors. According to the state energy company Ukrenergo, nuclear power accounts for 50% to 60% of the electricity in the Ukrainian grid. ZNNP is the largest not only in Ukraine but in the whole of Europe. ZNNP has six power units with a total capacity of 6,000 MW, and was generating nearly half of the electricity produced by Ukraine's nuclear power plants before the Russian attack.
According to Energoatom, Russian troops have been using ZNNP as a depot for military equipment and weapons. "The Russian military is shelling the nuclear power plant to destroy its infrastructure and disconnect it from Ukraine's energy system," Energoatom has said. Moscow has countered by blaming Ukraine for the shelling, claiming Russian troops are "protecting" the nuclear plant.
Mariia Tsaturian, responsible for communications and international cooperation at Ukrenergo, has told DW that she does not think that Russian occupiers will succeed in disconnecting the Zaporizhzhia plant from the Ukrainian grid and integrating it into the Russian grid via Crimea, noting that it is technically difficult and would take both sides.
"To safely disconnect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant from the Ukrainian grid and safely connect it to the power grid of occupied Crimea, it would take a technically complex desynchronization and subsequent synchronization, disconnecting one line at a time," Tsaturian has told DW, adding that the frequency in the grid of 50 Hertz would have to be maintained at all times to avoid outages and other problems.
Ukraine disconnected its power grid from the Russian grid immediately upon Russian invasion on February 24 and fully synchronized it with the continental European grid ENTSO-E in mid-March.
By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com
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