The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been disconnected from Ukraine’s national grid for the first time in nearly 40 years of operation, the country’s nuclear power operator, Energoatom, has said.
The final power line connecting the plant to the grid was cut twice by fires at the ash pits of a nearby coal-fired power plant. Three other lines had already been taken out in months of fighting.
Disconnecting the plant raises the risk of catastrophic failure of cooling systems for its reactors and spent fuel rods, which run on electricity.
There have been growing international concerns about safety at Europe’s largest plant, where only two of six reactors are operational. Russia has stationed military vehicles and is running a campaign of terror against largely Ukrainian workers who still run the plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war.
“The actions of the invaders caused a complete disconnection of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant from the power grid – for the first time in the history of the plant,” Energoatom said on Thursday.
If all external connections go down, it must rely on diesel-fuelled generators for power. If they break down, engineers only have 90 minutes to stave off dangerous overheating.
During the outage, the plant still received supplies of electricity from one remaining backup line connecting the plant to the nearby conventional power plant, Energoatom said. There were three of these lines before the war, but two have been cut.
Energoatom’s chief on Wednesday told the Guardian that Russian engineers had drawn up a blueprint to permanently disconnect the plant from the national grid and connect it to the Russian power network instead. The plan was ostensibly aimed at maintaining power supply to the plant if all connections to Ukraine were cut off by fighting – as they were on Thursday – Petro Kotin said. But Ukraine fears Russia may deliberately cut the lines.
Ukraine and world leaders have warned Russia against attempting to change connections at the plant. They have also called on it to demilitarise the area.
“We certainly don’t want that [a switch from the Ukraine national grid to the Russian one] to happen,” Bonnie Jenkins, US undersecretary of state for arms control and international, said on Thursday. “We’re continuing to talk with Russia in the security council discussions and to press Russia not to do that.”
The latest crisis at the plant, which has previously been threatened by fires, came as the death toll from a Russian rocket attack on a railway station and village in south-central Dnipropetrovsk region rose to 25. The three rocket strikes also injured 31, according to Ukraine’s authorities. The area was hit on the day Ukraine marked 31 years of independence – an anniversary overshadowed by US warnings that Russia may be planning to “step up” attacks.
Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had successfully hit a military train, killing 200 Ukrainian soldiers. It said the train was set to deliver arms to the frontline in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. It is impossible to corroborate the claims. Ukraine’s authorities do not regularly share information about their military losses.
At least some of the victims appear to have been civilians. Pictures and footage of the aftermath broadcast by Ukraine’s public broadcaster Suspilne showed at least one destroyed house in the village and extensive damage elsewhere. Those interviewed by Suspilne said fellow villagers had died.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s presidential office, said two children, aged six and 11, were killed, the latter when their house was destroyed. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said five people were killed while sitting in a car.
Tetyana Kvitnytska, deputy director of health at the Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration, said four children were among the injured, three of whom were in a serious condition. She said there were shrapnel wounds, burns and fractures.
Only two pictures have been released so far of the railway carriages that were hit, which appear burnt out and flattened in places. Tymoshenko said the impact had caused five passenger railway carriages to go on fire and that a utility building at the railway station had been hit.
“The EU strongly condemns another terrible Russian attack on the civilian population in Chaplyny on Ukraine’s independence day. Those responsible for Russian missile terror will be held accountable,” the EU’s foreign affairs representative, Josep Borrell, wrote on Twitter.
Russian and Ukrainian forces have reached a relative stalemate in recent months, partly after the west supplied new long-range missiles that have hampered Russian supply lines and ability to continue with their offensives. Ukraine says it also does not have the weapons it needs to launch a decisive counteroffensive.