Russia Ukraine War

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is seen from around twenty kilometers away in an area in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. AP Photo/Leo Correa, File

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s nuclear operator said Thursday that Russian shelling damaged power lines connecting Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to the Ukrainian grid, leaving the plant again relying on emergency diesel generators.

As fighting in Ukraine has damaged power lines and electrical substations, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has repeatedly operated on backup generators to cool the reactors and keep other safety systems running until regular power could be restored.

The generators have enough fuel to maintain the plant in southeastern Ukraine for just 15 days, state nuclear power comany Energoatom said on its Telegram channel.

“The countdown has begun,” Energoatom said, noting it had limited possibilities to “maintain the ZNPP in a safe mode,” raising fears of a potential nuclear disaster.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday that the plant’s latest switch to backup power further underlines “the extremely precarious nuclear safety and security situation at the facility and the urgent need to establish a protection zone around it.”

The development “again demonstrates the plant’s fragile and vulnerable situation,” Rafael Grossi, the director general of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said.


Relying on diesel generators ”is clearly not a sustainable way to operate a major nuclear facility,” Grossi added. “Measures are needed to prevent a nuclear accident at the site. The establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone is urgently needed.”

The plant’s six reactors are not in operation during the war, but outside electricity is needed to cool its spent fuel. Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for months amid the war for shelling at and around the plant that the International Atomic Energy Agency has warned could cause a radiation emergency.

Russian forces occupied the plant during the early days of the war that began when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The plant is located in the Zaporizhzhia region, one of four Ukrainian provinces that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month.

Although Putin signed a decree transferring the nuclear plant to Russian ownership, Ukrainian workers continue to run the plant, and Ukrainian forces remain in control of parts of the the Zaporizhzhia region.

Energoatom has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Russian forces from the plant and the creation of a demilitarized zone around it. Grossi has spent months trying to negotiate such a security zone.

The latest loss of reliable electricty overnight came when Russia shelled two power lines that were connecting the plant to the Ukrainian grid in “an attempt to reconnect the nuclear plant to the Russian power system,” Energoatom alleged.


The company claimed the Russian side would try to repair the power lines in order to connect the plant to the Russian grid and therefore supply power to occupied Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region that Russia also currently controls.

Across the Dnipro River from the power plant, the city of Nikopol was also shelled, damaging residential buildings, a gas station and several private enterprises, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said Thursday.

Other Ukrainian cities were also hit, with Russia using drones, missiles and heavy artillery that left six civilians dead and 16 others wounded, according to the president’s office. Energy and water infrastructure facilities were hit in Zelenskyy’s native city of Kryvyi Rih, leaving several districts without electricity or water in the city that had a prewar population of 635,000 people, local Gov. Oleksandr Vilkul said.

Further east in the Donetsk region, battles continued for the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, where authorities said the population was under constant shelling and living without electricity or heat. Over the past day, six cities and villages in the region came under attack from heavy artillery, while in the northeast, three missiles hit Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, officials said.

Separately, seven ships carrying 290,000 tons of agricultural products set sail from Ukrainian seaports heading to Asia and Europe, a day after Russia agreed to rejoin a wartime agreement allowing Ukrainian grain and other commodities to be shipped to world markets.

In announcing Russia was rejoining the pact, Putin said Moscow had received assurances that Ukraine wouldn’t use the humanitarian corridors to attack Russian forces. He warned that Russia reserves the right to withdraw again if Kyiv breaks its word.


Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov cautioned Thursday that Russia’s decision to rejoin ddid not mean the deal would be extended after Nov. 19.

“Before making a decision to continue, of course, we will need to give an overall assessment of the effectiveness of the deal,” Peskov told journalists.

Russia had suspended its participation in the grain deal over the weekend, citing an alleged drone attack against its Black Sea fleet in Crimea. Ukraine didn’t claim responsibility for an attack, and Zelenskyy said Wednesday that Moscow’s return to the agreement showed “Russian blackmail did not lead to anything.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Spanish radio station Cadena SER that Ukraine has never used the grain corridor for military purposes, claiming that “people of goodwill” were behind the attack.

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned British Ambassador Deborah Bronnert on Thursday, saying she was called in connection with the alleged participation of British instructors in the Oct. 29 attack by drones on Black Sea fleet facilities in Sevastopol, Crimea. Bronnert made no comment upon leaving the ministry after a meeting that lasted about a half-hour.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday he hadn’t seen progress regarding the export of Russian fertilizers and grain, despite the reimplementation of the Ukrainian part of the U.N.-sponsored grain deal.


Speaking to reporters at a joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi, Lavrov also said Russia was pleased that the Ukrainian leadership had signed guarantees “that no attempts would be made to use humanitarian routes in the Black Sea for military purposes.”

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko denied that Kyiv had made such commitments.

“Ukraine did not use and did not plan to use the grain corridor for military purposes. The Ukrainian side clearly adheres to the provisions of the grain agreement,” Nikolenko wrote on Facebook. “Our state did not take on any new obligations that would go beyond the limits of those already existing in the grain agreement.“

The ships that set sail Thursday included one carrying 29,000 tons of sunflower seeds bound for Oman, and one carrying 67,000 tons of corn heading to China, according to the Ministry of Infrastructure.

Since the deal was reached in August, 430 ships have exported 10 million tons of Ukrainian agricultural products to countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. The infrastructure ministry said that export volumes in October “could have been 30-40% higher if Russia had not artificially blocked inspections in the Bosphorus.”

Meanwhile, Kremlin-backed authorities in the Donetsk region announced another prisoner exchange Thursday. The Moscow-installed acting head of the region, Denis Pushilin, said on Telegram that each side would swap 107 military personnel.

Ukraine has not confirmed the swap. In the last prisoner exchange, each side released 50 people.

Donetsk is another of the regions of Ukraine that Putin annexed last month in violation of international law. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Pushilin led a self-proclaimed separatis republic in part of the region, and the Russian military has worked to capture the territory still in Ukrainian hands.

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