The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been informed that Ukrainian engineers have made further headway in repairing vital power infrastructure in the vicinity of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), providing the plant with renewed access to a third back-up power line.
The 150 kilovolt (kV) back-up line was made available to the ZNPP again after the repair of an electrical switchyard at a nearby thermal power plant, a few days after it was damaged by shelling that also plunged the city of Energodar into darkness.
This means that all three back-up power lines to the ZNPP – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – have been restored over the past few days. One of them, a 750/330 kilovolt (kV) line, is now providing the ZNPP with the external electricity it needs for cooling and other essential safety functions. The 330 kV and the 150 kV lines are being held in reserve. All the ZNPP’s six reactors are in cold shutdown, but they still require power to maintain necessary safety functions.
As a result of the repair of the switchyard, some people in Energodar – which suffered a complete blackout last week – are again receiving electricity. While the thermal power plant is not operating, its switchyard can be used to access electricity from the Ukrainian network.
Despite these developments related to the plant’s power situation, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi again stressed that the nuclear safety and security situation at the plant – held by Russian forces but operated by Ukrainian staff in the middle of a war zone – remained precarious. While there has been no shelling at or near the ZNPP in recent days, it was still occurring in the wider area, he said. The ZNPP’s four main external power lines are all down and it is not currently providing electricity to households, factories and others.
To help stabilise the situation, Grossi has initiated consultations with the relevant parties aimed at the urgent establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone at the ZNPP. Earlier this month, he established a continuous IAEA presence at the ZNPP after leading a team of experts to the site. Two experts currently remain at the plant.
In his opening address to the IAEA’s Board of Governors on 12 September, Grossi reiterated his call for the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone at ZNPP. He told the 35-member Board: “This situation is untenable, and we are playing with fire. We cannot continue this situation where we are one step away from a nuclear accident. The safety of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is hanging by a thread.”
He added that initial consultations with Ukraine and Russia to establish a protection zone had begun. He told a press conference in Vienna that the two sides appear to be interested. “What we need here really is Ukraine and Russia to agree on a very simple principle of not attacking, or not shelling, at the plant,” Grossi told reporters at the agency’s Vienna headquarters.
The US and Ukraine have demanded Russia’s immediate withdrawal from ZNPP, while the UN has called for a demilitarised zone around the plant. However, Russia has made it clear that it will not withdraw from the plant. Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said on 12 September. “Now, there’s no discussion about the withdrawal of troops” from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear site, he told a press briefing. “The discussion is about forcing the Ukrainian side to stop the barbaric shelling of the facilities on the territory of the plant, which could lead to sad and catastrophic consequences.” He added that Russia is again urging “countries, which have influence on the Ukrainian side” to use that influence “to make this shelling that continues on a daily basis, stop”.
Grossi, pressed on whether his proposal included demilitarisation, denied any such commitment: "I have to work within my mandate and cannot go into areas that have to do with larger demilitarisation," he said. “Basically, it’s a commitment that no military action will include or will imply aiming … at the plant, or a radius that could be affecting its normal operation,” he said, adding that technical details are being explored, including the radius that an accord would apply to and how IAEA experts would work.
Meanwhile, the head of the (Russian-backed) Military-Civil Zaporozhye Administration, Yevhen Balytsky, said on 14 September that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had stopped shelling of ZNPP after the last power unit was shut down. He noted that there were only minor local attacks and the situation around the station was relatively calm. Also, there were no Ukrainian drones near the plant, which had previously been recorded in large numbers. “The absence of shelling allows us to calmly carry out work on the restoration of infrastructure facilities on the territory of the nuclear power plant,” he said.
However, according to Vladimir Rogov, a representative of the Main Council of the Zaporozhye Military-Civil Administration, Ukraine is preparing a major offensive in the area of ZNPP. "A large number of heavy weapons… are being transferred there," he said, adding that the build-up of Ukrainian forces on the frontline was unprecedented. "The accumulation of forces is simply colossal, " he told the Rossiya 1 TV channel on 13 September.
The Russian Defence Ministry said earlier there had already been three attempts to seize ZNPP on 1, 3, and 8-9 September, using special forces who attempted to land troops from boats, which had been repulsed by the Russian Army and combat aircraft. Rogov believes another attempt to storm the plant may be planned.
Image: The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant