The world was on high alert on Thursday, August 25, when Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was completely disconnected from the national power grid. It is the first time in the facility’s 40-year-history that this has ever happened. President Volodymyr Zelensky stated in a video late that night that a nuclear disaster had been “narrowly avoided.”
Zelensky further detailed that earlier on Thursday, Russian shelling had started fires in the ash pits of a coal power station close to the Russian-controlled nuclear plant. Unsurprisingly, Russia is placing the blame on Ukrainian forces. One of the fires damaged a power line connecting Zaporizhzhia to Ukraine’s power grid. The entire region experienced a blackout, including Europe’s largest atomic energy facility.
Working under the supervision of Russian forces, Ukrainian technicians immediately activated the plant’s backup diesel generators. These and other automated emergency power measures kept the critical heat and safety systems online. Zelensky noted that if these generators had failed and the staff had not acted as quickly, a catastrophic radiation accident could have occurred.
Citing the incident to plead for the world’s help in removing the occupants from the entire territory, Zelensky also asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to take action. The nuclear watchdogs will visit the plant next week to assess the situation and take preventative measures as applicable. The close call strengthened the concerns of Zaporizhzhia being a “hotspot” in the war.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February and took control of the plant in March. Experts are deeply worried that the frequent shelling or missile strikes could puncture the reactor’s containment wall and encounter the nuclear reactors themselves. The same holds for the surrounding waste silos.
The United Nations is attempting to gain access to the plant and has called for the area to be demilitarized due to the extreme risks. Paul Bracken, a national security expert, had a harrowing warning if any artillery breached the reactor walls: “Russian Roulette is a good metaphor. Russia is spinning the chamber of the revolver and threatening to blow the brains of the reactor all over Europe.”
This chilling threat hangs heavily over a nation that is still haunted by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986.