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Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station Attacked by Russian Forces

Dan Yurman's picture
Editor & Publisher, NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

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  • Mar 4, 2022

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station Attacked by Russian Forces

via @djysrv and @NucNetNews

Note to Readers: This is a fast moving story so this update is necessarily a snapshot in time posted at 8:00 AM EST.  Follow Neutron Bytes on Twitter via @djysrv for breaking news.

  • Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station Attacked by Russian Forces; Radiation Readings Normal
  • American Nuclear Society Condemns Shelling of Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant
  • About the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station  – Wikipedia

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station Attacked by Russian Forces;
Radiation Readings Normal

(NucNet)  Zaporizhzhia / Everything You Need To Know About What’s Happening At Europe’s Largest Nuclear Power Station. Regional authorities confirm that the six-unit facility in southeast Ukraine has been seized by Russian forces

fire damage at Ukraine nuclear power plant

Fire damage at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station
Image: EnergoAtom released to Reuters

What is the significance of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station?

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, with six reactors that began commercial operation between 1985 and 1996, is the largest nuclear power station in Europe in terms of net capacity. Each of its six Russia-designed VVER-320 reactors has a net capacity of 950 MW for a total of 5,700 MW (the second biggest is Gravelines in France with net capacity of 5,460 MW).

State nuclear operator Energoatom says it can generate enough energy for roughly four million homes. In normal times it produces one-fifth of Ukraine’s electricity and almost half the energy generated by the country’s nuclear power facilities.

The facility located (map) is in southeast Ukraine in Enerhodar on the banks of the Kakhovka reservoir on the Dnieper river. It is about 200km from the contested Donbas region and 550km southeast of the capital Kyiv.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear station was seized on 03 03 2022 by Russian military forces, after a fire sparked in an administrative building by overnight shelling burned for several hours.

The Zaporizhzhia power plant is the largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine and one of the largest nuclear power stations in Europe. The facility is home to six Russian build reactors (two 440 MWe and four 1000 MWe VVERs). The power station provides 20% of all electricity used in Ukraine.

The reactors are inside huge containment structures composed of specially steel reinforced concrete, In 2017 EnergoAtom completed a series of safety upgrades at a cost of EUR 1.4 billion with specific measures to harden the containment structures to resist the impact of a 747 type jetliner or attack by military or terrorist forces.

If the plant goes offline from the elecrtrical grid for any sustained period of time, it will have significant and even severe impacts on the Ukrainian nation. There is no way to replace 20% of the electricity generated by the plant.

What has happened at Zaporizhzhia?

The Ukrainian state inspectorate for nuclear regulation SNRIU said in a statement on its Facebook page the plant had been “captured by the military forces of the Russian Federation”, but added that employees were continuing to work on the premises.

Energoatom said on the messaging and chat network Telegram at 07.33 local time that the administrative building and checkpoint at Zaporizhzhiawere under Russian control. Staff continued daily work ensuring the stable operation of facilities. According to reports from Energoatom, there were three dead and two wounded among Ukrainian defending forces.

Ukraine told the International Atomic energy Agency that Zaporizhzhia had been shelled overnight. SNRIU said a fire at the site had not affected “essential” equipment and plant personnel were taking “mitigatory actions”. There was no reported change in radiation levels at the facility, it said.

IAEA Updates

The IAEA said it was putting its Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) in full response mode due to the situation. The fire broke out in a training building outside the station in the early hours of Friday, after being shelled by Russian forces, Ukrainian authorities said.

An employee at Zaporizhzhia posted on Telegram that Russian forces had fired on the facility and there was “a real threat of nuclear danger at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe”. Ukraine’s foreign minister confirmed the reports at 02.30 local time, tweeting that the Russian army was “firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP… fire has already broken out.”

He called for an immediate ceasefire to allow firefighters to control the blaze. A short time later, the Ukrainian State Emergency Service reported that radiation at the plant was “within normal limits” and the fire conditions at the station were “normal”. They later reported that a third unit at the station was disconnected at 2.26am, local time, leaving just one of the facility’s six units, number four, still operating.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said she has spoken to Ukraine’s energy minister about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and has decided to activate the U.S. Nuclear Incident Response Team.

“Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease,” added Granholm in a tweet.

“The plant’s reactors are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down.

Information coming from the plant may released under duress

The New York Times reported  there were many remaining dangers, A key issues is whether workers are able to do their  jobs while the plant is occupied to the possibility of unreported damage at one of the reactors. So far none has been reported but reliable information from the scene may be compromised by Russian forces.

Energoatom, warned that any statements being made by workers from the time of the takeover could be being made under duress. The company also warned against trusting statements from local officials.

“There is a high probability that the recent speech of the mayor of Enerhodar was recorded under the barrel of a machine gun,” the company said, referring to a video the mayor had posted shortly after the Russians seized control and telling the public not to provoke them.

The newspaper noted that besides the threat of fighting to Zaporizhzhia’s reactors and their cores full of highly radioactive fuel, the site has many acres of open pools of water where spent fuel rods have been cooled for years. Experts fear that errant shells or missiles that hit such sites could set off radiological disasters.

What is the station’s status?

Of the six reactor units, Unit 1 is shut down for maintenance, Units 2 and 3 have undergone a controlled shut down, Unit 4 is operating at 60% power and Units 5 and 6 are being held “in reserve” in low power mode. The IAEA said the safety systems of the six reactors had not been affected and there has been no release of radioactive material.

However, Energoatom has reported that the situation remains “very challenging” and therefore it has not yet been possible to access the whole site to assess that all safety systems are fully functional.

The fire, which has been extinguished, was in a training centre (circled in photo). This is not a real time photo.

fire at ukraine power plant

Is there a radiation threat?

Ukrainian authorities said at 11.00 local time on Friday that the facility was secured and “nuclear safety is now guaranteed”. Earlier, the IAEA said SNRIU told the agency that there was “no change reported in radiation levels at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant site.”

The US also said their latest information showed no indication of elevated radiation levels at the plant. The US energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, said the reactors “are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down”.

What about Chernobyl?

Russia has already captured the shut-down Chernobyl nuclear station, 100km north of Kyiv. The Zaporizhzhia station is of a different and safer type to Chernobyl, which was the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

The IAEA said last week that Ukraine had informed the agency that “unidentified armed forces” had taken control of all facilities of the state-owned Chernobyl NPP enterprise, located within the exclusion zone. The facilities include the shut-down Units 1, 2, and 3, the destroyed Unit 4 and a two recently constructed spent nuclear fuel storage facilities.

SNRIU said an automated radiation monitoring system in the exclusion zone had shown gamma radiation doses exceeding control levels in parts of the exclusion zone. The regulator said its analysis attributed those readings to heavy military machinery movement in the area and subsequent disturbance of the radioactive residue, or dust, on the ground.

American Nuclear Society Condemns Shelling
of Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant

  • Statement from American Nuclear Society President Steven Nesbit and Executive Director and CEO Craig Piercy:

“Energoatom has reported that Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has come under attack from Russian armed forces. We condemn the attack.

Currently, there are no indications that any damage caused by the attack poses an additional threat to the public. The latest radiation level readings remain within natural background levels. The real threat to Ukrainian lives continues to be the violent invasion and bombing of their country.

Both Russia and Ukraine should understand the importance of ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants and their staff.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has offered to meet with the parties to ensure a framework for continued safe operation of the plant. We encourage both parties to work with the IAEA and we support the IAEA’s calls for an immediate halt of violence around Ukraine's nuclear power plants.

 About the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station

(WikiPedia) The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Enerhodar, Ukraine, is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world. It is in southeastern Ukraine near the city of Enerhodar, on the southern shore of the Kakhovka Reservoir on the Dnieper river.

The plant has 6 VVER-1000 pressurized light water nuclear reactors (PWR), each fuelled with U235 (LEU) and generating 950 MWe, for a total power output of 5,700 MWe. The first five were successively brought online between 1985 and 1989, and the sixth was added in 1995. The plant generates nearly half of the country’s electricity derived solely from nuclear power, and more than 20% of total electricity generated in Ukraine.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 4, 2022

If this is a strategic scare tactic to take the plant, do you think it's more about the control over electricity or are they thinking that it will spook people with the image of nuclear dangers (warranted or not)?

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Mar 4, 2022

In the trade off on the plausibility of conspiracy v. stupidity, about 90% of the time stupidity is the root cause of near miss catastrophic events.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Mar 4, 2022

Dan thanks for keeping the community up to date on this as it happens. This is a tad scary!

Richard Nielsen's picture
Richard Nielsen on Mar 4, 2022

I cannot even express the dangers of this event.  I hope and pray for the operators, and hope the Russians are smart enough to leave skilled people in charge.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 4, 2022

Of course you can't express the dangers of the event - your over-the-top evaluation is based more in hysteria than an informed understanding of danger to the public.

First - the shell hit a training building 150 yards from the nearest reactor.

Second - only one of six nuclear reactors at Zaporizhzhia was operational.

Third - it would require a "bunker-buster"-type bomb to breach the containment structure surrounding Zaporizhzhia's VVER-1000 reactors. They are 4-foot-thick walls of steel reinforced concrete.

Fourth - even if a shell took out both redundant cooling systems for a reactor, and even if it melted down - unlike either Chernobyl or Fukushima (but very much like Three Mile Island), containment structures there are specifically designed to prevent the escape of radioactivity (why they're called containment structures). At worst, radioactive gases might need to be vented to prevent a buildup of pressure. Like at Three Mile Island, where no one was killed nor injured.

Fifth - if Russian forces really wanted to destroy Zaporizhzhia they would have blanketed it with shells. The one shell that hit obviously targeted an administration building to kill security forces so Russians wouldn't face opposition while capturing the plant.

When all else fails, pay no attention to media outlets that reap a fortune in ratings by scaring gullible viewers. Listen to someone who is being advised by experts - like Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, for instance, who obviously isn't seduced by fear porn. She calmly announced: "The reactors are protected by robust containment structures and are being safely shut down."

Richard Nielsen's picture
Richard Nielsen on Mar 9, 2022

I am not overstating anything. This has nothing to do with a Chernobyl type event, it has to do with the abject stupidity the Russians have demonstrated with this invasion, true the shell hit the training center. I suppose you are correct that it was targeted.  I spent 21 years in the US Army, and suppose it was actually a miss? Suppose that shell was a couple kilometers off, (that never happens right?). My point is having soldiers in that facility rather then engineers presents a very blatant danger.  Please don't school me about nuclear events, I am not some school child that has never seen a nuke, heck I built one.  At some point those of you who have never fought in a war, should stop thinking you understand them.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Mar 7, 2022

There are many dangers with this attack and take over. Dirty booms made from the waste damage to the reactors and much more. This let's you know the nuclear plants are terrorist targets forgot of damage. The Arizona triple reactors are also on the list. 

   Solar and wind would never end up as targets like nuclear. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 7, 2022

"Solar and wind would never end up as targets like nuclear."

I'll agree with you there, Jim. Output from solar and wind farms is so inconsequential no enemy would waste a rocket on them.

Dan Yurman's picture
Thank Dan for the Post!
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