Ukraine warns Russia may cut Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant from power grid, both sides brace for ‘provocation’

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Ukraine’s nuclear power agency Energoatom on Friday warned that it believes Russia is looking to cut the Zaporizhzhia plant off from the nation’s power grid as concerns continue to mount over a potential nuclear catastrophe.   

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been under Russian control since March, but operations have remained under the control of Ukrainian officials as shelling and fighting continues to threaten Europe’s largest nuclear plant. 

“There is information that the Russian occupation forces are planning to shut down the power blocks and disconnect them from the power supply lines to the Ukrainian power system in the near future,” Energoatom said in a Friday statement, first reported Reuters.

A Russian serviceman stands guard the territory outside the second reactor of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar on May 1, 2022.

A Russian serviceman stands guard the territory outside the second reactor of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar on May 1, 2022. (ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP via Getty Images)

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“The Russian military is currently looking for fuel suppliers for the diesel generators, which are supposed to turn on after the power units are shut down in the absence of an external power supply for the nuclear fuel cooling systems,” it added.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant provides electricity for roughly a third of Ukraine and cutting the plant off from Ukraine’s power grid could mean further trouble for Kyiv as it braces for the upcoming winter months.

Energoatom accused Moscow of preparing to conduct a “large-scale provocation” around the plant as reports surfaced this week on Russian-operated cyber-attacks that targeted the plant.

Russia has also accused Ukrainian forces of firing on the plant. 

“The potential threat from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant could be ten times greater than the scale of the Fukushima and Chernobyl disasters,” Energoatom said Friday. 

A general view shows the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, situated in the Russian-controlled area of Enerhodar, seen from Nikopol in April 27, 2022. 

A general view shows the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, situated in the Russian-controlled area of Enerhodar, seen from Nikopol in April 27, 2022.  (ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images)

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Over 500 Russian soldiers have been stationed at the plant and several missile strikes over the last several weeks have placed the plant under an increased threat as officials warn of a massive radiation leak if the units containing nuclear waste are damaged. 

The plant’s communication lines, radiation monitoring sensors, nitrogen-oxygen station, hydrogen pipelines and other parts of the plant’s infrastructure have already been damaged, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week.

International officials including the United Nations have called for all sides to stop fighting around the plant and for Russia’s withdrawal from the area. 

FILE - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks at a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on July 28, 2022. Ukrainian officials countered by accusing Russian forces of planting explosives at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in preparation for an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive in the region. 

FILE – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks at a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on July 28, 2022. Ukrainian officials countered by accusing Russian forces of planting explosives at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in preparation for an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive in the region.  (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)

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But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov pushed back on these demands Friday and suggested Russia’s occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant will prevent a “Chernobyl scenario.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechaev on Thursday also reportedly called a U.N. proposal to demilitarize the plant “unacceptable.”