Here’s why the risk of a nuclear accident in Ukraine has ‘significantly increased’

by | Sep 9, 2022 | Top Stories

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The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has been cut off from the electricity grid since September 5. Nuclear plants require power to keep their reactors cool.

ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

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ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is warning that the risk of a nuclear accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has “significantly increased,” following ongoing fighting around the site. “Let me be clear, the shelling around Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant must stop,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a brief recorded statement released on Friday. Grossi also warned that the ongoing crisis might require the plant to shut down its last operating reactor. That would set into motion a chain of events that could intensify the current nuclear crisis. Here’s how. Nuclear plants need electricity The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is the largest in Europe, capable of producing thousands of megawatts of electricity. But the plant also needs power from the same electricity grid it feeds.

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The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, says that recent developments have “significantly increased the risk of a nuclear accident.”

GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images

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The power is used to run the various parts of the plant, including its safety and cooling systems. Specifically, nuclear power plants require water to be pumped constantly through their cores in order to function safely, and the pumps need electricity.

At Zaporizhzhia, the power is normally supplied by four high-voltage lines, which connect the nuclear complex to Ukraine’s electricity grid, but the conflict has seen those lines systematically cut. The last 750kV line was severed on September 3, according to the IAEA. A backup line was disconnected two days later due to a fire on the site. In a press conference shortly after returning from Zaporizhzhia, Grossi told reporters that he believed the power lines were being deliberately targeted: “It is clear that those who have these military aims know very well… to hit where it hurts so that the plant becomes very, very problematic,” he told reporters shortly after returning from the plant. Zaporizhzhia has been making its own power, but that’s a limited solution Since losing its last connection to the grid on Sept. 5, the nuclear plant has been powering itself in so-called “islanding operation mode.” Under this setup, the Unit 6 reactor has been producing low levels of electricity that are running the rest of the facility. The reactors at Zaporizhzhia are designed to operate in this mode during startup, according to a nuclear engineer who worked directly with the reactors at Zaporizhzhia when the plant began operations in the 1980s …

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