Eight of 15 Ukrainian Reactors Remain in Operation After Three Weeks of War

Ukraine’s nuclear regulator informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on March 16 that eight of the country’s 15 nuclear reactors were in operation despite the ongoing Russian invasion. Of the four sites with operational units, two of six at Zaporizhzhya, three of four at Rivne, one of two at Khmelnytskyy, and two of three at South Ukraine were in operation.

At the Zaporizhzhya site, which Russian forces took control of on March 4, Ukrainian staff have continued to operate Units 2 and 4. The units are running at “slightly decreased” power supplies to the grid because some power lines had been damaged by the fighting. The plant, which is the largest nuclear power plant (NPP) in Europe, has four high-voltage (750-kV) offsite power lines. Two of the four were damaged earlier and a third line was lost on Wednesday. The station also has a standby line, which, with the one remaining power line, “were sufficient to ensure that all safety systems remained fully functional without limitations,” the IAEA said. Like other NPPs in Ukraine and elsewhere, the plant also has backup diesel generators that can supply site power if needed.

Russian forces are also in control of the Chernobyl NPP—site of the infamous nuclear disaster in 1986. Chernobyl, which is located in northern Ukraine near the country’s border with Belarus, was taken over on Feb. 24 very soon after the invasion began. The IAEA said Ukrainian staff have continued to manage day-to-day operations at the site, where various radioactive waste management facilities are located.

The site reportedly has 211 technical personnel and guards that have not been able to rotate since the day before the Russian forces entered the area—in effect living there for the past three weeks. The Ukrainian regulator said there was “no information whether and when a shift change would be possible.”

“I remain gravely concerned about the extremely difficult circumstances for the Ukrainian staff there,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement on March 16.

Chernobyl lost all off-site power on March 9 and was forced to resort to diesel generators for backup power at that time. Ukrainian teams worked to restore the system and succeeded in repairing one of the two damaged lines on March 14 at 4:45 p.m. CET. The regulator reported the line has been providing all the required power for the NPP, and the diesel generators have been switched off. The line is also supplying electricity to the nearby city of Slavutich. It is unclear if the second high-voltage power line can be repaired under the current circumstances.

In addition, the regulator said on March 15 that information it received regarding Chernobyl was “controlled by the Russian military forces,” and therefore, it could not “always provide detailed answers to all” of the IAEA’s questions. This was reportedly also the case at the Zaporizhzhya NPP.

Concerning safeguards, the IAEA said it was not receiving remote data transmission from its monitoring systems installed at the Chernobyl NPP, but such data was being transferred to IAEA headquarters from the other NPPs in Ukraine.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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