Ukraine’s Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP) suffered a complete loss of external power for 11 hours recently, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in his latest update. This forced the plant to rely on emergency diesel generators for reactor cooling and other essential nuclear safety and security functions. ZNPP lost all off-site electricity at the site when its last remaining 750 kilovolt (kV) line was disconnected following reports of missile strikes across Ukraine. This was the sixth time the plant has been running on emergency diesel generators during the ongoing military conflict, he told the IAEA Board of Governors.

As a result of the power loss, all 20 of the site’s emergency diesel generators were activated. Essential power to the site was provided by eight of those diesels with the rest in standby mode. IAEA said there is enough diesel on site for 15 days of operation.

Several hours later, the 750 kV power line – the only one still in operation out of four before the conflict – was re-connected and the emergency diesel generators could be switched off, according to the IAEA team of experts present at the plant. The two units (5&6) that had been in hot shutdown prior to the loss of external power were restored to that state. These units provide heat for essential safety operations at the plant and to the operators’ town of Energodar.

Grossi said the loss of all external power had again demonstrated how fragile and dangerous the situation is for ZNPP. “That very much remains the case, also after the 750 kilovolt line was reconnected yet again. Experience tells us that this will most likely happen again, and again, unless we do something to prevent it.”

He earlier told the Board that the current situation was untenable. “What are we doing? How can we sit here in this room this morning and allow this to happen? This cannot go on,” he said. “I am astonished by the complacency – what are we doing to prevent this happening? We are the IAEA, we are meant to care about nuclear safety. Each time we are rolling a dice. And if we allow this to continue time after time then one day our luck will run out.” He added: “I call on everyone in this room today and elsewhere – We must commit to protect the safety and security of the plant. And we need to commit now. What we need is action. I will continue my urgent consultations and contacts.”

Since Russia took control of ZNPP in March the Russian national guard has been protecting the station and in October, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree formally transferring ZNPP to Russian jurisdiction under nuclear utility Rosenergoatom (part of Rosatom). A Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise. Zaporizhia NPP was established by Rosenergoatom to operate the plant. However, Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom continues to claim ownership of the plant and the IAEA recognises this claim.

ZNPP has been shelled regularly and has also been subjected to drone attacks, which Russia attributes to Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian troops have also on three occasions also tried to seize the plant using special forces attacking in boats from the river. However, Ukraine continues to insist that Russia is responsible for any shelling of ZNPP and has blamed Russiaor the most recent loss of power to the plant. Rosenergoatom said this was due to a short circuit in the area between the South Ukrainian NPP and the Dnipro substation. "This is not the line that directly feeds us, but because of a short circuit there, the power supply here stopped. So far, the reason is not clear to us," Renat Karchaa, adviser to the General Director of Rosenergoatom told Interfax.

Grossi has spent months negotiating with Moscow and Kyiv for the establishment of a protective safety and security zone around ZNPP. While Moscow has repeatedly stated its support for such a zone, Kyiv has insisted that this must involve complete demilitarisation of the area and return of the plant to Ukrainian control, which is clearly unacceptable to Russia.

Ukraine's energy minister Herman Halushchenko recently told Ukrainian TV: "Currently, the situation has reached a dead end. Our position, which we voice on all international platforms, boils down to the fact that any negotiations regarding the ZNPP should be based on: firstly, the plant's demilitarisation, and secondly, the exit of Rosatom employees from the ZNPP. Thirdly, Ukrainian personnel should be given the opportunity to operate a nuclear facility calmly, without pressure."

Karchaa told RIA Novosti that talks on creation of a security zone had stalled because Ukraine “linked it first with the exchange of prisoners, and then with the demilitarisation of both the NPP itself and Energodar.” He added that this was “blatant blackmail” with threats of further shelling of the plant unless this was agreed. “"We live in anticipation of these provocations all the time. The fact that they don't shoot is no reason for us to relax. Because they can start shooting at any moment. I have been experiencing this situation since the end of June.” He said Russia's support for the zone included a key condition of a moratorium on any artillery activities around the plant.

Russia's permanent representative to the Vienna-based international organisations, Mikhail Ulyanov, told Tass news agency "it should be stated that talks on this zone are losing momentum". He alleged that Ukraine was "looking for pretexts that have nothing to do with the real state of affairs".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said an agreement between Russia and the IAEA to create a protective zone around ZNPP had almost been achieved but Ukraine had blocked it by insisting on demilitarisation. "No one, except Ukraine, has ever talked about any demilitarisation,” he noted. “The IAEA Director General has been promoting an agreement to declare the NPP a nuclear safety zone for several months… We actively cooperated with the IAEA Director General. The agreement was close, we were ready to support it, but it was blocked by Kyiv, he told RIA Novosti.

Lavrov also criticised the UN's approach to solving the problem by linking the extension of the grain deal with the demilitarisation of the station. By taking such a step, Lavrov noted, the UN Secretary-General had accepted the unilateral demands of Kiev. "Although, of course, according to the UN Charter, as an international official, the main administrative person in the UN should take a neutral position."

In a recent interview with RiaFAN, the Russian-appointed mayor of Energodar, Eduard Senovoz, noted that only around 20% of the town’s population original population of 50,000 currently remained in the town following extensive Ukrainian shelling. However, he said residents were gradually returning despite the lack of power and heating caused by shut down of ZNPP and the local thermal power plant due to the shelling. “Nevertheless, through our efforts, the city was provided with heat throughout the fall and winter,” he said. “Despite regular shelling by the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the other side of the Kakhovka reservoir, many residents remained in our city and continued to live and work here.”

He noted that hundreds of professionals had remained at ZNPP “and, from a technical point of view, there are no problems to bringing the plant back to the required level of generation capacity”, but safety remained a problem because of the continued risk of shelling. Commenting on the IAEA observers at ZNPP, he said they “do not show any interest in our city, which means that I simply have no reason to communicate with them”. He also questioned their objectivity. “No matter how intensely the Ukrainian troops shelled the NPP or Energodar itself, these people could not clearly say where the attacks were coming from… They have neither the opportunity nor the intention of telling the truth about what is happening at the NPP.”

Senovoz, who had previously worked at Russia’s Smolensk NPP, said representatives of Russia’s nuclear cities had recently visited Energodar and were drawing up detailed plans for the town’s development. “Our task is to make the city much better than it is now, so that nuclear workers can live comfortably here. We would also like to attract investment and new industrial enterprises, because there is enough energy and infrastructure for everyone. I think that our city has great prospects, and we will do everything possible to make the dreams of local residents come true.”