Future of Zaporizhzhia NPP remains unclear

23 May 2022

Recent statements by Russian officials seem to imply that Russia’s occupation of the Zaporizhzhia NPP in southern Ukraine may be permanent. Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said during a visit to Melitopol as part of “a working trip to the territories liberated during the special military operation” that he “highly appreciated the prospects for the integration of the Zaporozhye [Russian spelling] region with Russia”. He added: “I believe that the best prospect of the region is to work within our close-knit Russian family. That is why I came here to provide maximum assistance for integration.”

Zaporizhzhia NPP is located in the city of Energodar on the banks of the Dnieper River, which was built specifically to house the workers from the plant. It is  the largest NPP in Europe and in 2021 accounted for a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity production. Its six Soviet-built VVER-1000 V-320 reactors were connected to the grid between 1989 and 1995. The operating lives of units 1-4 expired between 2015 to 2017, but they were extended for another 10 years. Russia took control of Energodar, a town of nearly 53,000, in early March but Ukrainian forces still control the city of Zaporizhzhia, on the opposite bank of the Dnieper. 

Khusnullin said Russia intends to rehabilitate all the liberated territories and that “the funding required for this is being calculated”. According to Khusnullin, residents of the region will begin receiving pensions and salaries in roubles this month and Russian currency will gradually replace the hryvnia.

As to the future of the Zaporizhzhia NPP, he said the plant would continue to work under the control and management of Russian specialists. All personnel will retain their jobs and the electricity generated could be supplied to consumers in Ukraine, provided they paid for it. “If not the plant  will work for Russia," he explained.

He further promised to put in order all the roads that connect the liberated territories with Russia. He clarified that their restoration will take place within the framework of the national project "Safe Quality Roads" (BKD). He noted the potential of the egion in the production of building materials and proposed to involve the maximum number of enterprises in the region in the restoration of the liberated territories, including Donetsk and Lugansk Peoples Republics.

The Russian military has taken control of the entire Kherson region in the south of Ukraine and the Azov part of the Zaporizhzhia region. Civil-military administrations have been formed in these territories, broadcasting of Russian TV channels and radio has begun, and trade ties with Crimea are being restored. Andrei Shevchuk  was appointed mayor of Enerhodar following the Russian takeover.

However, it seems unlikely that Kiev will agree to buy power from Zaporizhzhia. Ukraine’s electricity grid operator Ukrenergo said that the country’s power system has no physical connections with Russia’s power system. “Therefore, the supply of electricity from Ukrainian power plants to Russia is currently physically impossible,” it said in a statement on messaging app Telegram.

Ukrainian nuclear utility, Energoatom, which still claims to be in control of Zaporizhzhia NPP said in a statement that: “there’s no technical or any other possibility” for siphoning off the plant’s electricity to Russia, adding that both the plant and the city of Energodar “will soon be returned to Ukraine.”

Russia "does not have the technical capacity to supply energy from the Zaporizhzhia NPP to Russia or Crimea," Energoatom spokesman Leonid Oliynyk told AFP. "This requires cost and time.... And in a month or two we will have everything under Ukrainian control again," he added. "The plant only works in Ukraine's energy grid," Oliynyk told the BBC. "The Russians can build a power line theoretically, but it will take a long time, like their Crimean bridge - several years," he said.

Ukraine clearly has ambitions to regain control of the plant, while Russia has no plans to leave. The struggle will no doubt continue. On 22 May, Russian-appointed mayor of Energodar Andrei Shevchuk was injured in an explosion. Shevchuk was in intensive care following the attack, Russia’s RIA news agency reported. “We have accurate confirmation that during the explosion the self-proclaimed head of the ‘people’s administration’ Shevchuk and his bodyguards were injured,” said Dmytro Orlov, who Ukraine recognises as mayor of the town, in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

This continuing standoff over the NPP explains why International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has so far failed to gain agreement to visit the plant in order to ensure its safety and security and to provide necessary equipment.

As he noted during a recent video conference with European parliamentary committees, the problem he faces is that both Ukraine and Russia had agreed to an IAEA visit but only under the flags of their respective countries. He described it as a “schizophrenic situation”. He said while the NPP was in Ukraine and was Ukrainian, “at the same time I deal with realities, and the reality is that this plant is under Russian military control … the reality is that I am confronted with a situation where the format, the political modalities of the visit, are even more important for them than the technical mission that I need to perform”. He added: “We are not at a dead end. I am talking to both to try to look for a way that our inspectors and myself could visit.”

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