The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency expressed concern Wednesday about a loss of power at the contaminated site of the shuttered Chernobyl nuclear plant in northern Ukraine, but said it so far has seen “no critical impact” on safety from the still-smoldering radioactive facility.
The incident highlighted growing concerns about Chernobyl and Ukraine‘s still-operating nuclear power plants in the face of Russia’s invasion of the country two weeks ago.
Those fears escalated Wednesday when Energoatom, Ukraine‘s state-run nuclear power utility, said that clashes between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the area north of the capital of Kyiv have made it impossible to repair a high-voltage power line after occupying Russian forces took the Chernobyl site off the Ukrainian national power grid.
The Kyiv government appealed to Moscow for a temporary cease-fire to deal with the maintenance problem, warning that there could be a new radiation leak from the Chernobyl site if the power remains cut off for a lengthy period of time, the Reuters news agency reported. Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had cut the power line in question.
“The entire power supply line of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and all its nuclear facilities controlled by the Russian army [have] been damaged,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. “Chernobyl is de-energized. I call on the international community to immediately call on Russia to cease fire and allow repair crews to restore electricity service as soon as possible.”
Officials at the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency said they had been contacted by Ukrainian officials of the loss of power.
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The development, the IAEA said in a statement Wednesday morning, “violates [a] key safety pillar on ensuring uninterrupted power supply,” but “in this case IAEA sees no critical impact on safety.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed Ukrainian complaints about safety and said Russian forces were acting responsibly at Chernobyl and other nuclear plants they now control in Ukraine.
“The actions of the Russian military in this dangerous situation were motivated by the necessity to prevent a nuclear provocation from Ukrainian nationalists, who seem to have nothing to lose,” she said, according to the official Russian Tass news agency Wednesday. “As a matter of fact, they have been trained to do it. That is why Russian troops are taking Ukraine’s nuclear facilities under control.”
• David R. Sands can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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