Nuclear power plants in Ukraine fail, here’s what we know

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Six of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear power plants have been temporarily shut down and disconnected from the country’s power grid and the reduction in output is raising concerns about how Ukrainians will be affected, especially as these reactors typically provide half of the country electricity.

As of Wednesday, Russian troops have been in Ukraine for just over a week and the Kremlin continues to step up attacks on major Ukrainian cities as negotiations between the two countries remain stalled.

The 15 Soviet-era nuclear reactors in Ukraine are spread across four complexes in different parts of the country. Their activity is monitored by the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine located in Kyiv, which provides daily updates, but with little explanation.

On Wednesday, the state agency simply said that none of the factories had violated safety requirements and that the systems were in normal operating mode.

“One possibility is that part of the network is down,” said Frank von Hippel, senior research physicist and professor emeritus of public and international affairs at Princeton’s Science and Global Security Program. Newsweek Wednesday.

If the grid were to fail, it would force Ukraine to switch to backup diesel in order to generate electricity. The switch to standby diesel would last only a few days before supply would need to be replenished, which would be difficult under current conditions.

However, Hippel noted that since the offline reactors are not all concentrated in a single complex, this is unlikely due to issues with the power grid itself.

Other reasons reactors may have been taken offline are to reduce the amount of heat they generate for cooling purposes or for routine maintenance.

“They stop to refuel, usually in the spring or fall. They take turns because 50% of Ukraine’s electricity comes from nuclear power plants,” Hippel explained, adding that the other half of Ukraine’s electricity comes from natural gas. Russia and coal, which comes from both Russia and Ukraine.

But while routine factory closures are not unusual, six closures is a tall figure compared to pre-war operations.

Only a month ago, on February 1, all power plants would have sent electricity to the power grid.

“The Russian forces did not target [Ukrainian power] network centrally, but it’s important to pay attention to what they’re doing,” Frank von Hippel, senior research physicist and professor emeritus of public and international affairs in the Science and Global Security Program, told Newsweek. from Princeton. A ministry employee takes part in joint tactical and special exercises of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, Ukrainian National Guard and Emergencies Ministry in a ghost town of Pripyat near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on February 4, 2022.
Sergei Supinsky/AFP

Although the reasons for the closures remain unclear, the Zaporizhzhya site in eastern Ukraine – where Russia began its attack – has the highest number of offline reactors, with three of the plant’s six units. installation currently disconnected from the network.

The city is in northern Crimea, which Russia used as one of its main invasion routes.

“Russian forces haven’t targeted the network centrally, but it’s important to pay attention to what they’re doing,” Hippel said. “From a security perspective, you want them all offline, but of course people need power.”

“These guys work pretty long shifts,” he added. “These guys are stressed and the factories are demanding people be there in case something happens – quite a number of people being there. So that’s a concern and the IAEA has expressed concern, I know that. .”

On Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Russian forces were “advancing near” Zaporizhzhya but had not yet entered the complex.

But on Wednesday, the IAEA announced it would hold an emergency meeting as fighting neared Ukraine’s largest nuclear site.

“I continue to follow developments in Ukraine very closely and with deep concern, in particular the potential impact of the conflict on the safety and security of the country’s nuclear facilities,” the IAEA Director General said on Tuesday. Rafael Mariano Grossi. “It is extremely important that nuclear power plants are not endangered in any way.”


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