Situation at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant: concerns about a nuclear accident

Russian forces are evacuating several cities in the Zaporizhia region. The IAEA is alarmed because of the situation in the nuclear power plant.

A uniformed soldier stands in front of a power plant

Under Russian control since March 3, 2022: The Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in south-eastern Ukraine Photo: AP Photo/File

BERLIN taz | “I am deeply concerned: The situation at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant (NPP) is increasingly tense, stressful and challenging for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel on site,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in an official press release on Saturday UN nuclear agency. In view of the evacuation of several towns in the Zaporizhia region, Grossi warned of the danger of a “serious nuclear accident”.

The Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, has been under Russian military control since March 3, 2022 and has repeatedly come under fire. The nuclear power plant is located on the Russian-Ukrainian front line in the southern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhia. The nuclear power plant is currently not in operation and only receives energy from the Ukrainian side to keep the reactors running.

Russian occupying forces have been ordering evacuations in several cities since Friday, alarming IAEA experts. Most of the Ukrainian technical workers at the Zaporizhia power plant live with their families in the nearby town of Enerhodar, where an evacuation is also set to begin. The IAEA experts have not been able to visit the city for the past few days.

However, the director of the Zaporizhia NPP, Yuri Tshernichuk, publicly stated that the operating personnel should not be evacuated “in order to ensure nuclear safety”. In the official statement on Saturday, Grossi added: “We are closely monitoring the situation for possible implications for nuclear safety and security. We must act now to prevent the risk of a serious nuclear accident and the associated consequences for the population and the environment.” IAEA operations personnel on site reported regular grenade fire last Friday evening.

70,000 people affected

According to the Moscow-appointed head of administration for the Zaporizhia region, Yevgeny Balizki, it is necessary for the population to be brought to safety, as there have been increased Ukrainian bombing raids in recent days. On Friday, Balizki ordered a partial evacuation of 18 Russian-occupied towns in the Zaporizhia region – next to Enerhodar, in cities like Tokmak, Polohy, and in the large settlements of Kamianka and Rosivka, which are up to 40 kilometers behind the current front line.

Patients in hospitals, the disabled, families with children and the elderly are affected. According to the Russian state news agency Tass, the Russian authorities are planning to evacuate around 70,000 people. The important industrial center Melitopol is also to be evacuated. In the short message service Telegram, Mayor Ivan Fedorov said that the announced evacuation was “far too quick”. Melitopol is located about 60 kilometers north of the Sea of ​​Azov. Long queues have formed on the road from Melitopol to Crimea since Friday. According to Fedorov, buses depart every 30 minutes.

According to the Real Zaporizhia telegram channel, there are some parents in the occupied Molochank and Tokmak districts who hide their children from Russian soldiers. According to the US-funded Russian-language media portal CurrentTime locals also report that the evacuated Ukrainians are to be taken first to Berdyansk (Ukraine) and from there to Rostov-on-Don (Russia). Families who refuse to evacuate their children will be deprived of social benefits by the Russian military, according to the media portal.

In March last year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of a greater catastrophe than Chernobyl if the power plant “blows up”. Zaporizhia has six large reactors, each with 950 megawatts. Last September, the IAEA sent its first commission to the nuclear power plant. At that time, both Ukraine and Russia had demanded an official inspection by the UN nuclear agency in Zaporizhia.

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