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Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine completely lost power for the sixth time in a year on Thursday amid a massive Russian missile attack. The most recent power outage contributed to mounting fears that a nuclear disaster with continent-wide implications could be on the horizon.
Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, is alarmed by the repeated near misses at the plant and said he is “astonished by the complacency” as Russia continues to launch missile strikes near the facility.
In response to the missile attack and subsequent power outage, Grossi issued a statement to the IAEA Board of Governors, saying, “What are we doing? How can we sit here in this room this morning and allow this to happen? This cannot go on.”
“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. 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,” Grossi added.
According to Grossi, Thursday’s outage was the first time since November that the power plant has lost all off-site power, forcing the use of emergency diesel generators. The plant has enough diesel on-site to power it for just over two weeks.
The Zaporizhzhia plant requires a constant supply of power to prevent a nuclear meltdown. “This is the sixth time – let me say it again, this is the sixth time – that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has lost all off-site power and has had to operate in this emergency mode,” Grossi stated. “Let me remind you – this is the largest nuclear power station in Europe,” he concluded.
The facility is currently under the control of Russian forces and was visited in September by IAEA inspectors after months of serious safety concerns. That inspection led the UN to issue a report warning that “any further escalation affecting the six-reactor plant could lead to a severe nuclear accident with potentially grave radiological consequences for human health and the environment in Ukraine and elsewhere.”
Greenpeace released a similar assessment last march, stating that a nuclear catastrophe at Zaporizhzhia could “render vast areas of the European continent, including Russia, uninhabitable for decades.”
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According to Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear energy operator, power to Zaporizhzhia could be restored “within a day or two” and said that repairs to fix a disconnected power line were underway.
It has also been reported that the Russian forces occupying the plant are compromising its physical integrity and have gone so far as to store military equipment in engine rooms and conducted indoor welding work, which has set off fire alarms. Sandbags have also been placed in front of windows, and machine guns have been installed on the grounds surrounding the plant.
The plant also suffered damage last summer after it was repeatedly shelled by Russian troops. One of the areas that sustained damage is a location where spent nuclear fuel is stored.
Thursday, Russian missile attacks were aimed at several Ukrainian cities and were reportedly conducted as retaliation for Ukraine’s recent assault on the Bryansk region of western Russia.
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A nuclear power plant cannot produce electricity for itself? What is this power plant for?