the specter of a nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant

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The specter of a nuclear disaster at the Zaporijjia power plant haunts everyone’s mind. Europe’s most powerful power plant and its six reactors, all shut down, have been under Russian control since March. Since the end of July, the site has been the target of strikes in which Ukrainians and Russians accuse each other. Kyiv specifically accused Moscow of storing heavy weapons at the site and using it as a base for strikes on Ukrainian positions. The situation there is “unsustainable” according to the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and employees and our special envoys in Zaporijjia.

to our special correspondents in Zaporijjia,

In the city, which is about fifty kilometers from the power station, we prepared for the worst.

We are one centimeter, one millimeter from disaster. And the scale of this disaster will be such that it will affect Russia, Europe, and I am not talking about Ukraine “. The woman who issued this cry of alarm was, until a few days ago, an engineer at the Zaporijjia power station, responsible, among others, for nuclear safety.

She wanted to remain anonymous, her husband, who was an employee of the plant, was undoubtedly brought back there. ” A lot of people don’t understand what’s really going on there and how scary it is. They fired at the power plant area, there were shells, craters. We are all stretched like arrows, we are always under pressure. Of course we are ready to deal with stressful situations, but not at that level! There are so many things to consider. It is certain that these six reactors, if not cooled down, we are heading for a global catastrophe. God willing ! »

The Ukrainian operator of the Energoatom power plant has announced yesterday, Sunday, the shutdown of the last reactor in operation. The decision was taken after the partial restoration of external power supply to the site.

Ukraine, the six reactors of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, 08/19/2022. The last reactor still operating (to produce the electricity needed to cool the fuel) was shut down on Sunday, September 11 after electricity was restored. more

But if the power lines are bombed again, the plant will rely entirely on emergency diesel generators to provide essential nuclear safety and security functions.

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For this other employee of the plant, also a refugee from Zaporijjia, the danger may also come from stocks of radioactive waste. ” When in reactors, the nuclear fuel is protected, the used fuel is stored in the type of steel containers about 100 millimeters thick, with concrete on top, and that’s it. There are more than 150 of these containers in the open air, protected by a concrete enclosure 2 meters high, and nothing else… »

In Zaporijjia, Dmytro Orlov, the mayor in exile of Energodar, himself a chief engineer of turbines, before being elected in 2020, opened a center for humanitarian, social and medical assistance, for to all who fled the town, bombarded, deprived. of running water and electricity. Among them, the number of employees in the plant is increasing.

Staffing issues may affect security, explained Dmytro Orlov. People cannot stay at their post 24 hours a day. To ensure rotation between teams, 5 people are needed per team. However, we find ourselves in situations where there are no longer 5 people but 4. This means that those who stay have to make fewer shifts and therefore take less rest. When there are only three left, they have to go to work every day. “.

Ukraine, September 2022: Dmytro Orlov, exiled mayor of Energodar and former chief turbine engineer of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant before being elected in 2020.
Ukraine, September 2022: Dmytro Orlov, exiled mayor of Energodar and former chief turbine engineer of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant before being elected in 2020. © Boris Vichith / RFI

24 hour monitoring

About 50 km from the plant, Zaporijjia authorities are closely monitoring the situation. A The mobile laboratory measures radiation levels 24 hours a day. ” We see the numbers on the screen falling in real time, after analyzing the sensors that measure the radiation rate. For now, as seen on the screen, they are normal “.

If the numbers are reassuring, local authorities remain vigilant. ” All services in the Zaporizhia region are on standby, both the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the regional military administration, which for the past four weeks have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, explained Taras Tyshchenko, representative of the Ministry of Health in Zaporijjia. He came up with answers to all the assumptions we gave him, just in case the worst case scenario happened. “.

Ukraine, September 2022: Taras Tyshchenko, representative of the Ministry of Health in Zaporizhia
Ukraine, September 2022: Taras Tyshchenko, representative of the Ministry of Health in Zaporizhia © Boris Vichith / RFI

To prevent such a scenario from happening, Ukraine, like the IAEA, reiterated its request for the constitution of a demilitarized zone around the plant. A request so far remains a dead letter.

Ukraine, Zaporizhia, September 2, 2022: visit to the power plant site by a delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Ukraine, Zaporizhia, September 2, 2022: visit to the power plant site by a delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “The physical integrity of the Zaporizhia power plant has been violated on several occasions,” agency chief Rafael Grossi said after the visit. more

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