Update on Ukraine

March 4, 2022, 9:28AMNuclear News
Energoatom’s Zaporizhzhia plant, in southeastern Ukraine. (Photo: Energoatom)

Latest on Zaporizhzhia: As of this morning, Russian military forces have taken control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The Russian military began shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine, resulting in a fire at the site on Thursday.

According to a Reuters piece, the fire broke out in a building during fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Reuters described the location of the fire as being “outside the station perimeter.”

As verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the safety systems of the plant’s six reactors have not been affected by the attack and there has been no release of radioactive material. Radiation monitoring systems at the site are fully functional. IAEA confirmed that the reported fire occurred at an administrative training building and has been extinguished.

Russian troops had entered the nearby town of Energodar earlier on Thursday after breaking through a makeshift barricade—largely consisting of trucks and piles of tires—set up by Energodar residents and Ukrainian regional defense forces.

Responding to the news of the attack on the plant, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm tweeted, “I just spoke with Ukraine’s energy minster about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease. @ENERGY has activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team and is monitoring events in consultation with @DeptofDefense, @NRCgov, and the White House. We have seen no elevated radiation readings near the facility. The plant’s reactors are protected by robust containment structures, and reactors are being safely shut down.”

Home to six 950-MWe VVER-1000 units, Zaporizhzhia is Europe’s largest nuclear power facility and the provider of approximately one-quarter of Ukraine’s power generation.

Latest on Energoatom: Energoatom, the state-owned utility that operates Ukraine’s four nuclear plants, announced on Thursday that “Ukraine is working on the technical side of the process of integration of the domestic energy system with the European one, and this issue will be resolved in the near future.”

Since 2017, Ukraine has been seeking to decouple from the system linked to Russia, Belarus, and other former Soviet states and to integrate instead with the European Union grid. According to Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s grid operator, integration with the EU would permit Ukraine to receive emergency power in the event that a military attack led to power outages.

On Wednesday, at the urging of Petro Kotin, Energoatom’s chief executive officer, Ukraine called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to create a 30-kilometer no-entry zone around each of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. Ukraine further demanded that the IAEA impose sanctions on Russia’s nuclear technology and conduct an international audit of its nuclear stockpiles.

Latest on IAEA: The IAEA has released daily updates since the invasion began on February 24. It recently consolidated all of its updates and statements on the impacts of the war in Ukraine on nuclear facilities and staff at iaea.org/ukraine-conflict. The latest update, issued on March 3, describes the current situation at the Chernobyl power plant. According to IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, a joint appeal to the IAEA from the Ukraine government, the country’s regulatory authority, and Energoatom received earlier that day said that staff at the Chernobyl site were facing “psychological pressure and moral exhaustion” and “have limited opportunities to communicate, move, and carry out full-fledged maintenance and repair work.”

The Ukrainian communication to the IAEA also confirmed that Ukraine has lost regulatory control over all facilities in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and asked the IAEA to take measures “to reestablish legal regulation of safety of nuclear facilities and installations within the Chernobyl NPP site and within the Exclusion Zone.”

In a separate March 3 update from the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU), the IAEA reportedly learned that power from one of the two off-site power transmission lines supplying electricity to the Chernobyl site had been lost overnight, and that while that power did not serve safety-related equipment, it caused difficulties in carrying out routine maintenance and repair of some safety-critical equipment.

IAEA convenes emergency meeting: On March 2, the IAEA convened a meeting of its 35-member board of governors to address the situation in Ukraine.

“The safety and security of nuclear facilities and nuclear and other radioactive material in Ukraine must under no circumstances be endangered,” Grossi told the board. “I have called for restraint from all measures or actions that could jeopardize the security of nuclear and other radioactive material and the safe operation of any nuclear facilities in Ukraine.”

While Grossi noted that Ukraine’s nuclear power plants were operating normally, he added, “While we may use expressions like ‘normal operations’ in a technical context, I want to emphasize there is nothing normal about the circumstances under which the professionals at Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants are managing to keep the reactors that produce half of Ukraine’s electricity working.”

The board of governors voted to back a resolution that “deplores” the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with Russia and China voting against it.

While the IAEA board meeting was closed to the press, Grossi held a press conference following the meeting. In response to a question on the IAEA’s plans to address a request for help from the SNRIU, Grossi said: “Ukraine is a member state of the IAEA, and they are entitled and expect to get assistance when there is a problem, in this case related to the safety of their facilities. Obviously, in the present circumstances, delivering assistance is not a straightforward or easy process. This is why I am in contact with all sides to ascertain in which effective way we could be providing this assistance.”

ANS issues appeal: On March 3, ANS President Steven Nesbit and CEO/Executive Director Craig Piercy issued a statement: “We echo the  International Atomic Energy Agency  and the  World Association of Nuclear Operators  in appealing to all armed combatants in Ukraine to refrain from military actions near nuclear facilities. The staff of Ukraine's nuclear power plants must be able to fulfill their duties without interruption, undue pressure, or the fear of being killed or injured. We also urge the securing of off-site power supplies for every nuclear facility, uninterrupted transportation to and from sites for plant workers and supply chains, and unfettered communications with regulators and inspectors. Ukraine's nuclear workers need their rest between shifts, access to their homes, and peace of mind that their loved ones are safe.”

In response to the need for support of the nuclear professionals of Ukraine and their families, ANS has established the  Ukrainian Nuclear Workers Humanitarian Fund. One hundred percent of the donations made to the ANS fund will be provided to the Ukrainian Nuclear Society (UKRNS).

Donate Now

ANS is working with the UKRNS to provide the funds for purchasing food, shelter, personal protective equipment, essential medical supplies, batteries, flashlights, warm clothes, and other items needed for Ukrainians, including those displaced by the war and sheltering from the bombings.

Newswire coverage: Look to Nuclear Newswire for occasional summaries of events affecting the nuclear community in Ukraine. Newswire coverage of Ukraine is available here.


Related Articles

What is a nuclear professional?

June 10, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear News

Years ago, my then boss was trying to convince me to accept an undesirable (to me) assignment, and he asked me, “Aren’t you a professional?” I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. By the...

Update on Ukraine

April 29, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear News

The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, led a mission to Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear plant this week to address ongoing radiological safety...

Meltdown: Drama disguised as a documentary

June 3, 2022, 7:02AMNuclear NewsJohn Fabian

The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 was the most-studied nuclear reactor event in the U.S. There is a plethora of research about the accident available to the general public, including the...