Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant: History, control and key developments since the start of the war


On Thursday, a group of 14 inspectors led by Grossi arrived at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in southern Ukraine, despite concerns about constant shelling in the area.

Since the beginning of March, when Russia captured the plant, international and local experts have issued dire warnings not only for the safety of the plant’s workers, but also out of fear of a nuclear disaster that could affect thousands of people in the area.

Ukraine relies heavily on nuclear energy — about half of its electricity comes from 15 nuclear reactors at four plants across the country, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, with six reactors, is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. It was largely built during the Soviet era and became the property of Ukraine after the declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Until recently, only two reactors were connected to Ukraine’s national grid and supplied power, although the units have been taken offline at various points – and for different reasons – since the invasion.

Where is it and who controls it?

Zaporizhzhia NPP is located on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River in Ukraine. The area and nuclear complex have been under Russian control since the beginning of the war, but the factory is still largely operated by Ukrainian workers.

At the start of the invasion, Ukrainian forces stopped Russian forces from taking a second nuclear facility — the South Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant — and forced them to withdraw to Dnipro, according to Petro Kotin, president of Energoatom, which operates nuclear power plants. . in Ukraine. The front line hasn’t moved much in months.

Each of Zaporizhzhia’s reactors would cost $7 billion to replace, making the plant a target for Russians to capture unscathed, hoping to service its own electricity market, according to analysis by defense and security intelligence agency Janes. If Russia keeps it, Ukraine would lose 20% of its domestic electricity generation capacity.

What does his position on the front line mean?

Shelling in surrounding towns and near the power plant is common, according to local reports.

Ukraine has accused Russian troops of stockpiling weapons and launching attacks from the factory, knowing Ukraine cannot fire back without risking hitting the nuclear facility. Russia, in turn, claims that Ukrainian troops are targeting the site.

The international community is on high alert on nuclear safety, but experts believe a Chernobyl-style disaster is unlikely. The plant is equipped with modern security systems, meaning that even if maintenance were to be neglected, or if a major military action were to cause serious damage, the result would be most comparable to the Fukushima nuclear disaster – the one that Janes and Energo Atom said.

Still, risks remain, including possible damage to nuclear waste that is openly stored on site — in ponds of water and in barrels, according to Energoatom’s Kotin.

Kotin has also warned that Russian attempts to switch the plant from the Ukrainian to the Russian grid will require all reactors to be disconnected from power for a period of time, relying on emergency power generation that will never fail – a “very dangerous prospect, he told CNN in an Aug. 22 interview.

Which parts of the plant have been affected by the conflict?

The plant’s main safety zone, where the reactors and nuclear fuel are located, is surrounded by the waters of Dnipro to the northwest and the city of Enerhodar to the east.

The satellite image below highlights the plant’s facilities, which are vital to its associated timeline of events since the start of the war. They show how narrowly the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant managed to avert a nuclear disaster.

Key developments at the factory since the beginning of the war

March 4, 2022

According to Ukrainian nuclear officials, Russian forces are taking control of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), with operators working “at gunpoint”. Russian shelling damages buildings around a nuclear reactor and Ukrainian authorities say fire breaks out at a training center outside the main site. The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), condemns the move.

Smoke rises from administrative buildings at Zaporizhzhia NPP on March 5, 2022. (IAEA/Energoatom via Telegram)

6 March

UN and Ukraine nuclear regulators are losing reliable lines of communication with factory workers as Russia shuts down some cellular networks and the internet at the factory.

From March on

Two of the plant’s six reactors are active. Meanwhile, the front line – along the Dnipro River on which the plant stands – has been little moved since early March. Kiev has repeatedly accused Russian troops of storing heavy weapons in the complex and using it as cover to carry out attacks.

Russian military patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant on May 1 (Andrey Borodulin/AFP/Getty Images)

April 2

At least four people injured in explosions during protests against Russian occupation in Enerhodar, the city closest to the Zaporizhzhya factory.

Gunfire and explosions disperse a crowd in Enerhodar, Ukraine on April 2 (from Telegram)

26 April

Two guided missiles hit the town of Zaporizhzhya, less than 40 miles northeast of the plant. Energoatom claims that the missiles flew at low altitudes directly above the nuclear power plant. This is one of several local reports of hostilities near the factory.

A column of smoke rises behind a residential building after rocket attacks in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, on April 26. (Albert Koshelev/Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

June the 6th

Head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, says he is determined to send an IAEA expert mission to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant to assess the security of the operation and working conditions. The IAEA has been negotiating a trip with Ukraine and Russia for weeks.

July 19

A Ukrainian drone strike targets a Russian tent complex in the factory’s main security zone, including a parked BM-21 ‘Grad’ rocket launcher. The attack sparked a fire, but caused no damage to the reactors or fuel depots.

Smoke rises as soldiers run from tents at the main site of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Enerhodar, Ukraine. (Defence Intelligence Service of Ukraine)

Aug 5-6

Explosions reported near an electrical switchboard caused a reactor to be temporarily shut down, the IAEA said. Separately, missiles hit about 30 to 60 feet from a dry storage facility containing barrels of spent nuclear fuel, according to Energoatom. Ukraine and Russia continue to accuse each other of shelling the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in early August.

According to a photo of a video released on August 7 by the Russian press service of the Ministry of Defense, a missile fragment can be seen near the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in the area under Russian military control. (Russian press service of the Ministry of Defense/AP)

Aug 11

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi tells the UN Security Council that the situation has “deteriorated rapidly to very alarming”. The representative of Ukraine accuses Russia of resorting to “manipulations and unjustified conditions for the site visit”, despite public statements of cooperation.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi addresses the United Nations Security Council via video conference at UN headquarters on August 11. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Aug 12

Ukrainian authorities say the Ukrainian-controlled towns of Nikopol and Marhanets, across the Dnipro River from the plant, have been attacked by Russian missiles several nights in a row.

Aug 20-22

Shelling damages laboratory and chemical facilities in the main factory complex and causes a temporary power outage to a backup thermal power plant nearby, according to the IAEA, citing Ukrainian officials.

Aug 24

Kiev says three Ukrainian workers have been murdered by the Russian army since March and at least 26 others have been detained on charges of information leakage.

Aug 25-26:

Ukraine informs the IAEA that a power outage has disconnected all six reactors from the grid for the first time in the plant’s history after the last remaining power line was damaged. On 27 August it was repaired.

A satellite image shows the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant and fires near Enerhodar on Aug. 24. (European Union/Copernicus Sentinel-2 images/Reuters)

around Aug 28

Authorities in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhya are making iodine tablets available to residents as concerns grow over a possible nuclear accident: The pills protect users from radioactive iodine and help prevent thyroid cancer.

Zaporizhzhya residents line up at the local administration office on August 29 to receive iodine tablets in the eastern Khortytskyi district. (Dmytro Smolienko/Reuters)

1 September

After a hard-won deal with Ukrainian and Russian officials, a group of 14 international nuclear inspectors, including IAEA head Rafael Grossi, arrive at the plant after a perilous journey. A few hours earlier, Energoatom accused Russia of shelling the plant, leading to the shutdown of the fifth reactor and the activation of the emergency security system.

International Atomic Energy Agency and United Nations personnel prepare to leave a hotel in Kiev, Ukraine, for Zaporizhzhya on Aug. 31. (David Ryder/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Source: IAEA, UN, The Institute for the Study of War with AEI’s Critical Threats Project, Janes, Energoatom, Ukrainian State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate, Ukrainian State Emergency Services, Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, Ukrainian Regional Authorities.


Reporting and writing: CNN Staff and Henrik Pettersson

Digital design and images: Natalie Croker and Byron Manley

Photo editor: Clint Alwahab

Editors: Anna Brand, Nick Thompson and Eve Bower

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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