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Zaporizhia was a key objective of Russia since he entered war with Ukraine does exactly nine months. The eyes of the world fell on that region of southeastern Ukraine for one detail that is not minor: in addition to being a strategic enclave, it is home to the Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and the third in the world.

Amid cross accusations between kyiv and Moscow, the incessant bombings and power cuts triggered alarms around the safety of nuclear reactors, opening the possibility of a major nuclear accident. Added to this are complaints of torture and murders by the Ukrainian workers who continued to operate the plant under Russian control.

The hostilities escalated to such a level that the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Argentinian Rafael Grossistated that there is a “real risk of nuclear catastrophe” which refers to the tragedy of Chernobyl in Soviet Ukraine, which left hundreds dead and caused a wave of radioactive contamination in Europe that is echoed today.

The Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.

Nuclear risk: new attacks on the Zaporizhia power plant turn on all the alarms

“Stop this madness”, asked Grossi on Sunday, November 20, in a conciliatory tone and referring to both sides. The head of the IAEA, on his side, took a risk by going to that war front to try to resolve the dilemma What does it mean to create a security zone around Zaporizhia, after it was arbitrarily turned into a territory whose sovereignty is in dispute after the “illegal” annexation arranged by Putin.

Timeline of the Zaporizhia dilemma

In the facilities of the Zaporizhia power plant there are six of the fifteen nuclear reactors that there are in the Ukraine and that, before the war, provided the 20 percent of electricity from the country. A detail that did not go unnoticed by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

In its blitzkrieg 21st century version, the “military operation” (a euphemism he used to tone down the invasion) aimed at controlling that energy bastion on which Ukraine and a large part of the old continent depend. The campaign started on February 24 was a success. The Russian troops hardly needed eleven days to take control of the vicinity of the nuclear power plant located in the city of Energodar.

The Zaporizhia plant is located in the city of Energodar, 600 kilometers from kyiv.

Over the course of nine months, the accusations and the crossfire set off alarm bells regarding the safety of the plant, considering that missiles fall “meters” from the reactors, as denounced Grossi this week. The IAEA, meanwhile, became a key player after the September 1 will send a mission with fourteen experts who left kyiv for Zaporizhia in order to assess the situation.

The reports reported the incessant bombardments, the presence of Russian and Ukrainian troops, as well as Russian war material present in the facilities. Russia and Ukraine, for their part, welcomed the IAEA visit. Russia to show that the “terrorists” are actually the Ukrainians (who are bombing a territory that belongs to them) and Ukraine to reveal Russian atrocities and denounce their “nuclear blackmail”.

In The only thing they agreed on was denying the accusations. against him. Meanwhile, amid escalating warfare, the Ukrainian government handed out hundreds of thousands of iodine pills to the inhabitants of the area, to anticipate a potential radioactive leak.

Rafael Grossi: “Ukraine and Russia understand that it is better not to have a nuclear accident”

The vicinity of the nuclear plant became a battlefield between Russia, the emerging power, and Ukraine, its neighbor a priori weaker but assisted militarily and financially by its Western allies.

The risk of a “nuclear catastrophe” in Zaporizhia

“Whoever is behind this must stop immediately.” demanded the director of the IAEA last Sunday, after the inspection of the plant after having registered at least twelve shots. “They are (attacks) absolutely deliberate and selective”he added.

In addition, he explained that, although the radiation remained at normal levels, there was damage in various places, especially “where there are new and used fuels”. “Although there was no direct hit on key security systems, the bombardment came dangerously close. We are talking about meters, not kilometers,” he declared.

The catastrophic tone of the statements by the chief inspector of the agency dependent on the United Nations Organization is a sample of the state of affairs in Zaporizhia. Grossi has been denouncing since September that a direct hit by a missile on the reactors or equipment on which they depend “could have serious consequences.”

Zaporizhia nuclear power plant
At different times, all six of Zaporizhia’s reactors were shut down as a result of the shelling.

A newborn baby died in the fierce Russian attack on a maternity hospital

Meanwhile, the six units of the plant designed by the Soviets have not yet been affected, considering that they are protected by “rather robust confinement enclosures”, as he explained to the consultant and former head of the IAEA, Tariq Rauf, in dialogue with AFP. “But, naturally, they weren’t designed to withstand a war,” she noted.

The other side of the possibility of nuclear disaster is the prolonged power outages. The plant’s systems are powered by four 750 kilovolt (kV) lines, which were damaged several times by bombing. If that network fails, electricity can arrive on other lines through a nearby thermal power station.

But those roads were also regularly affected, to such an extent that the plant operators had to resort to Electric generators (it has twenty in all), amid blackouts and power outages that temporarily shut down some of the plant’s reactors.

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Electricity is essential for the operation of the pumps that are responsible for the circulation of water, necessary to constantly cool the fuel in the nuclei of nuclear reactors.

“A prolonged failure in cooling would lead to a fuel meltdown accident and radioactive emissions into the environment,” says the French Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN). An extreme scenario similar to the one that occurred in March 2011 in Fukushima, Japan.

As time progresses, the war does not seem to be close to its end, despite the successful Ukrainian counter-offensive that allowed it to recover part of the territory annexed by Russia after the disputed referendum in September, in their desire to preserve a continental belt towards the Crimean peninsula. The IAEA, for its part, promotes between the parties a protection zone around the enclosure occupied by the plant. So far, without success.


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