A team from the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to visit the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine soon, but more shelling has been reported in the area overnight.
The visit comes after the plant was temporarily taken out of service, stoking fears of disaster in a country still haunted by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
Conflicting reports emerged on Friday about the extent of damage to a transmission line at the complex – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – which caused a power outage in the region on Thursday.
It was not immediately clear whether the damaged line carried outgoing electricity or incoming power needed for the reactors’ vital cooling systems.
Loss of cooling could cause nuclear meltdown.
Officials installed by Russia in the Zaporizhzhia region accused Ukraine of being responsible for the fire.
They said on Friday that the plant was operating normally but due to the problem, the plant was only supplying electricity to areas controlled by Russia and not to the rest of Ukraine.
Ukrenergo, the operator of the Ukrainian electricity transmission network, however announced on Friday that the two main power lines supplying electricity to the Zaporizhzhia power station which had been damaged by the Russian bombardments had resumed their activities.
“Thanks to this, a stable power supply and safe operation of nuclear waste storage facilities and other important facilities located at the ZNPP site were ensured,” Ukrenergo reported on Telegram.
The statement added that the company’s repair crews will soon complete the restoration of another main line, further strengthening the safety of the plant.
Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator, Energoatom, said Friday morning that all electrical units at the plant were still disconnected from the power grid and repair work was underway.
But at 2 p.m., he reported that the plant had been reconnected to the electricity grid and was producing electricity “for Ukraine’s needs”.
“Nuclear workers at the Zaporizhzhia power plant are real heroes! They tirelessly and firmly support the nuclear and radiation safety of Ukraine and all of Europe on their shoulders and work selflessly to ensure that their homeland has vital electricity,” the company said in a statement.
The fighting near the nuclear power plant has raised fears of a nuclear disaster that could affect both the area around this plant and much more widely in Europe, much like the Chernobyl accident in 1986.
Atomic Agency chief Rafael Mariano Grossi said Thursday he hoped to send a team to the plant within days.
Negotiations over how the team would gain access to the factory are complicated but moving forward, he told France-24 television.
Concerns about the plant reverberated across Europe.
“There is concern and great concern about nuclear safety. And that is why, since last March, I have been deeply engaged with the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency to do everything to protect first Chernobyl and now Zaporizhzhia,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
Mr Macron insisted that “war must in no way undermine the nuclear safety of the country, the region and the rest of us”.
He added that Ukraine and the Russians have promised security guarantees for the IAEA mission, which he said should take place “very soon”.
“Therefore, civilian nuclear energy must be fully protected,” he added.
“Civil nuclear power must not be an instrument of war and therefore the sovereignty of States must be respected with regard to nuclear installations.
Lana Zerkal, adviser to Ukraine’s energy minister, told Ukrainian media on Thursday evening that logistical issues were being resolved for the IAEA team to travel to the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is occupied by Russian forces and run by Ukrainian workers from the start. of the six-month war.
Ms Zerkal accused Russia of trying to sabotage the visit.
Ukraine alleged that Russia was essentially holding the plant hostage, storing weapons there and launching attacks from its surroundings.
Moscow, for its part, accuses Ukraine of recklessly firing at the facility.
“Despite the fact that the Russians agreed to the mission passing through Ukrainian territory, they are now artificially creating all the conditions for the mission not to reach the facility, given the situation around it,” he said. she said, without giving further details.
Vladimir Rogov, a senior Kremlin-installed government official in the Zaporizhzhia region, said on Friday that Russian authorities were ready to provide security for the IAEA mission upon its arrival.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said an area near the plant had been the target of Russian shelling overnight, while the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday again accused Ukrainian forces of bombing the plant. electrical from Zaporizhzhia.
Spokesman Igor Konashenkov said “as a result (of the shelling), four munitions exploded near an oxygen-nitrogen generator”, and another near a building.
Mr Konashenkov gave no details of the extent of the damage caused by the alleged shelling.
Zaporizhzhia’s reactors are protected by reinforced concrete containment domes, but fears remain about what could happen if the fighting escalates.
Dnipropetrovsk Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said shelling in the town of Nikopol, which is across the Dnieper from the Zaporizhzhia factory, damaged 10 houses, a school and a health facility, not causing no casualties.
A power line was also cut, leaving up to 1,000 residents without power, he added.
Nikopol has been under almost constant Russian bombardment since July 12, with eight people killed, 850 buildings damaged and more than half of the city’s 100,000 residents fleeing.
Many nuclear power plants are designed to automatically shut down or at least reduce reactor power upon loss of outgoing transmission lines.
The IAEA said Ukraine informed it that the reactors’ emergency protection systems had been triggered and all safety systems remained operational.
The plant’s three regular transmission lines are out of service due to previous war damage.
Ukraine cannot simply shut down its nuclear power plants during the war, because it is heavily dependent on them.
Its 15 reactors spread over four power plants provide about half of the country’s electricity.
Elsewhere, two people have been killed and six others injured in the past 24 hours in the eastern region of Donetsk, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Friday.
In the northeastern region of Sumy, on the border with Russia, more than 100 rounds have been fired in the past 24 hours, setting fire to a house, Governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said.
One person was killed and another injured in the nighttime shelling of the northeastern Kharkiv region, Governor Oleh Syniehubov reported.