BERKELEY, Calif. – The safety of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants in the midst of a war zone has become a growing international concern as Ukraine told international regulators on Thursday it had lost all communications with the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
“Electricity supply for cooling is currently provided by diesel generators. But the real stock of diesel fuel will completely run out in less than 24 hours,” said Petro Kotin, head of the National Nuclear Energy Company of Ukraine. in a video statement. “We call on the global community to exert all efforts to prevent another global catastrophe.”
Severe damage to power supplies is impacting monitoring, fire prevention and ventilation systems at the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant, which still needs electricity to cool spent nuclear materials.
Russian forces seized Chernobyl on the first day of the invasion and took control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant to the south on March 4, knocking out two of the plant’s four power lines. Ukraine claims that it has been impossible to deliver spare parts and equipment for repairs and maintenance of the plant.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi spoke after an urgent meeting with Russian and Ukrainian officials in Turkey on Thursday. Grossi says both sides appear to agree to direct talks to avoid compromising the security of nuclear sites.
“It’s a very serious situation, and we need to act quickly,” Grossi said, “We’re losing a significant amount of information.”
IAEA regulators say it appears the Chernobyl plant has enough water to continue cooling without electricity, but they say radiation protection conditions are deteriorating for staff due to lack of ventilation.
This is one of many concerns haunting the family members of the hundreds of Ukrainian workers responsible for nuclear plant operations who are being held at gunpoint. Family members worry about their health.
“They get like this porridge once a day. Some, a small portion. If they’re lucky, they also get bread,” said Natalia Ruemmele, who says her father is being held at the Chernobyl plant. .
Raluca Scarlat, an assistant professor in UC Berkeley’s nuclear engineering department, says workers play a critical role as an added safeguard to maintaining nuclear plant safety protocols.
“It is important that there are operators on site who are able to make decisions about the safety of the plant and who have the independence to make the decision,” Scarlat said, adding that workers should also be rotated inside and outside the plant. , “So that they are not exhausted, that they are healthy, that they have the medicine and the food they need to be able to make the right decisions.”
Concerns over Ukraine’s nuclear power plant come as the world marks the March 11 anniversary of the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant crisis in Japan, when a tsunami destroyed infrastructure, causing a release of radiation.
UC Berkeley’s Scarlat is hosting a panel discussion in UC Berkeley’s nuclear engineering department to explore lessons learned from this nuclear disaster.
The IAEA update on Thursday said that at Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants, “eight of the country’s 15 reactors remained in operation, including two at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, three at Rivne, one at Khmelnytskyy and two in the south of Ukraine. Radiation levels at all four sites were normal.”
Grassi says he hopes Ukraine and Russia will soon agree to meet for high-level discussions on how to ensure nuclear power plants are not damaged or endangered as the Russian invasion continues.