The Chernobyl nuclear plant has suffered a power failure that could result in the release of a radioactive cloud that could stretch to other parts of Europe, the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine reported today.
The International Atomic Energy Agency also reported Tuesday that “remote data transmission from safeguards monitoring systems installed at the Chornobyl NPP had been lost.”
It’s been nearly two weeks since the site of the infamous 1986 nuclear accident was seized by Russia in the early days of their invasion. Plant staff have been hostages ever since, working under armed Russian guard.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Ukraine told the agency that the same 210 technical personnel and guards have been on duty at the plant ever since the Russian takeover.
“The Ukrainian regulator added that the staff had access to food and water, and medicine to a limited extent. However, the situation for the staff was worsening,” the agency said. “It asked the IAEA to lead the international support needed to prepare a plan for replacing the current personnel and for providing the facility with an effective rotation system.”
“I’m deeply concerned about the difficult and stressful situation facing staff at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and the potential risks this entails for nuclear safety,” Grossi said. “I call on the forces in effective control of the site to urgently facilitate the safe rotation of personnel there.”
The State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine tweeted that the “750 kV ChNPP – Kyiv high-voltage line is currently disconnected due to the damage caused by the occupiers. As a result, the Chernobyl station and all nuclear facilities in the Exclusion Zone are without electricity.”
“About 20,000 spent fuel assemblies are stored in the spent nuclear fuel storage facility-1. They need constant cooling. Which is possible only if there is electricity. If it is not there, the pumps will not cool. As a result, the temperature in the holding pools will increase,” the statement continued.
“After that evaporation will occur, that will lead to nuclear discharge. The wind can transfer the radioactive cloud to other regions of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Europe. In addition, there is no ventilation inside the facility.”
If that occurs, the agency said, “all personnel there will receive a dangerous dose of radiation.”
“The fire extinguishing system also does not work, and this is a huge risk of fire caused by shelling. The fight still goes on making it impossible to carry out repairs and restore power.”
Ukraine’s regulator told IAEA that the “handling of nuclear material at the Chornobyl NPP has been put on hold for the time being,” and the regulatory authority said it could only communicate with the plant via email.
Grossi said he’s willing to travel to Chernobyl to attempt to secure commitments to keep the nuclear facilities safe.
Ukraine told IAEA that eight of the country’s 15 reactors were operating, including two at the Zaporizhzhya NPP that was attacked last week — activating the U.S. Energy Department’s Nuclear Incident Response Team — and is since under the control of Russian forces. The plants’ personnel were working in shifts, Ukraine regulators said, and “radiation levels at the sites were normal.”