By HANNA ARHIROVA – Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Europe’s largest nuclear power plant was disconnected from the Ukrainian power grid on Monday, its last transmission line disconnected due to a fire caused by shelling, the facility’s operator said and the UN Atomic Watchdog.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it was informed by Ukrainian authorities on Monday that the reserve line “was deliberately disconnected in order to put out a fire”.
“The line itself is undamaged and will be reconnected once the fire is out,” the IAEA said.
In the meantime, the plant’s only remaining operational reactor “would produce the energy the plant needs for its safety and other functions”, the agency said.
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Mycle Schneider, an independent analyst in Canada on nuclear energy, said this would mean the plant was likely operating in “island mode”, producing electricity only for its own operations.
“Island mode is a very fragile, unstable, and unreliable way to provide continuous electrical power to a nuclear power plant,” Schneider said.
The incident fueled fears of a potential nuclear disaster at Zaporizhzhia, one of the 10 largest nuclear power plants in the world. Experts say its reactors are designed to protect against natural disasters and incidents such as plane crashes, but world leaders have called for it to be spared in combat due to the risk of disaster .
Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of attacking the plant, which Kremlin forces have held since early March. The plant’s Ukrainian staff continue to operate it.
Plant operator Energoatom said on Monday that Russian forces have continued “intensive shelling” around Zaporizhzhia in recent days despite warnings. The Russian military has accused Ukrainian forces of staging “provocations” there, including sending a drone, which was intercepted, and bombing the nearby town of Enerhodar.
Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said on Facebook that the fighting around the plant made it impossible to repair damaged power lines, putting the world “once again on the brink of a nuclear disaster”.
The developments in Zaporizhzhia came on the eve of a report to the UN Security Council on Tuesday by IAEA inspectors on what they found during their visit. The IAEA still has two experts at the plant after a perilous inspection forced its inspectors to wade through the fights last week.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak applauded the IAEA’s decision to leave a few experts at the plant.
“Now there are Russian troops who don’t understand what’s going on, don’t properly assess the risks,” Podolyak said. “There are a number of our workers there, who need some kind of protection, people from the international community standing with them and saying (to the Russian troops): ‘Don’t touch these people, let them work.'”
Meanwhile, in some of Moscow’s most blunt comments on the standoff between it and Western Europe over energy supplies, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blamed Western sanctions for having interrupted the supply of natural gas from Russia to Europe.
“Other reasons that would cause pumping problems do not exist,” Peskov said.
Sanctions against Moscow and Russian oil companies have created problems with maintaining equipment, he said, a claim that has been refuted by Western governments and engineers.
German officials have said Russian complaints about technical issues are just a political power play. German Siemens Energy, which made the turbines used by the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, said leaking turbines can be repaired while gas continues to flow through the pipeline.
Russian energy company Gazprom announced on Friday that a suspension of gas supplies to the west via the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline would be extended indefinitely as oil leaks in the turbines need to be repaired. The move sent natural gas prices skyrocketing in Europe and rocked global stock markets.
High energy prices and possible shortages this winter in Western Europe have raised alarm bells among governments, especially those in the European Union. French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday called for a 10% reduction in his country’s energy consumption in the coming weeks and months to avoid the risk of rationing and blackouts this winter.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, fighting is raging. The president’s office said at least four civilians had been killed and seven others injured by renewed Russian shelling in several parts of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said there had been Russian shelling across much of southern and eastern Ukraine, including Zelenodolsk, Nikopol, Chernihiv, and Sumy and Kharkiv regions.
Russian rockets destroyed an oil depot in the Krivoy Rog region, sending huge plumes of smoke, Ukrainian media reported.
Amid increasing Ukrainian strikes on the occupied Kherson region, Russian-installed authorities said Monday morning that for security reasons they were suspending plans for a local referendum on formal integration of the region in Russia.
But in the afternoon, officials changed their minds and said polling would go ahead as planned, although no date had been set.
In the eastern city of Sloviansk, Ukrainian Red Cross workers picked up debris from a second rocket attack on its premises in a week on Monday. No one was injured in the two attacks, said Taras Logginov, head of the agency’s rapid response unit. He blamed Russian forces and called the attacks war crimes.
In a row of apartment buildings across the road, the few residents who did not evacuate sawn off sheets of plywood to seal their shattered windows.
Henadii Sydorenko sat down on the porch of his building for a break. He says he doesn’t know whether to stay or go, torn between his responsibility to look after three apartments whose owners have already evacuated and the growing fear of the now frequent bombings.
“It’s scary,” the 57-year-old said of the shelling. “I’m losing my mind, little by little.”
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