DRUZHKIVKA, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials have been sounding the alarm for months. The world’s nuclear watchdog warned this week of the extraordinary risks. Then on Friday, artillery duels near a giant nuclear power plant on the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine created new security risks.
Explosions in and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex – the largest in Europe – around 2.30 p.m. destroyed power transmission lines and posed risks of damage to the plant, forcing engineers to modify the operation of one of its six reactors by reducing power, Ukraine’s state nuclear company, Energoatom, said.
Hours later, a second set of three explosions damaged an auxiliary building near one of the nuclear reactors, increasing the risk of hydrogen leaks and fires, the company said.
Fighting has intensified in recent weeks near the nuclear complex, which the Russian military controls and uses as a fortress, even as Ukrainian engineers continue to exploit it.
For about a month, Russia has used the site to stage artillery strikes on Ukrainian targets without fear of reprisals, as the Ukrainian military cannot retaliate without risking hitting security equipment, reactors or facilities. spent fuel storage. Ukrainian officials say the Russians are aiming to disrupt a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south of the country.
After Friday afternoon’s explosions severed a high-voltage power line, plant operators reduced output from one of the reactors. Previously, three of the plant’s six reactors were operational, two were on standby and one was undergoing planned repairs.
It was unclear whether the reactor whose operation was changed on Friday was put on standby, said Dmytro Orlov, a former engineer at the plant who is now the mayor of Enerhodar, where the plant is located.
“It’s an unusual but not unpredictable occurrence,” he said. “Staff were prepared. He likened it to emergency response in the event that a power line is damaged by a forest fire or other accident.
Energoatom, the state-owned electricity company, released a statement on social networking site Telegram saying Russian artillery fire had cut the power line. “The Russian military again resorted to provocation,” the company said. He said an industrial space on the grounds of the complex was hit three times, hitting wiring and a transformer.
The statement said operators reduced production and disconnected a reactor from the power grid. “Discharges of radioactive substances were not recorded,” the statement said.
Russian state media blamed Ukrainian forces for the explosions and reported that they started a fire.
Hours later, the energy company reported a second attack on Telegram, saying the Russians fired three rocket-propelled grenades which landed near one of the nuclear reactors. The explosions, the statement said, damaged an auxiliary building and a specialized station. “The fire danger is high,” the company said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it was aware of the reports and was seeking further information on the situation.
Ukrainian officials say they have little choice but to endure Russian bombardment. In July, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said it used a precision-guided “kamikaze” drone, which explodes on contact with a target, to destroy a Russian rocket launcher and air defense system located about 150 meters from a reactor, without damaging the reactor. himself.
The IAEA has warned of serious dangers in the fate of the plant. The cornerstones of nuclear safety, he said, are being stripped from the plant even as it continues to operate. Among the shortcomings, he said, are the lack of physical security and regulatory oversight, which is currently in limbo.
Those concerns were echoed by the UK Ministry of Defense on Friday. In its daily intelligence update, the ministry said Russian troops “probably compromised the security” of the plant by using it as a base to “target Ukrainian territory on the west bank of the Dnipro River”.
Fighting around the complex in March had caused a a fire that has fueled global concerns about a possible nuclear accident.