Russian Grid Attacks put Ukraine Nukes at Risk

November 25, 2022

For a brief time, nuclear plants in Ukraine were no longer connected to the grid, meaning they were totally reliant on generator power in the case of an emergency, a perilous situation.
Now, for the moment, power has been restored, but Russia’s attacks on the Ukraine grid may have moved the war into a dangerous new phase.

New York Times:

All three nuclear power plants under Ukrainian control are back online and will soon be producing energy at normal capacity, the head of the national energy utility said on Friday, two days after Russian missile strikes that forced utility crews to scramble to stabilize the country’s crippled energy grid and raised further concerns about the nuclear perils of the war.

Ukraine typically relies on nuclear power for more than half of its energy, an uncommonly high rate of dependence. The Russian attacks on Wednesday triggered emergency protections at the three plants and required a halt to production.

“Now the energy system is fully integrated; all regions are connected,” said Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the chief executive officer of Ukrenergo, the national utility. He added that utility crews are prepared to react to further Russian attacks, but urged consumers to save electricity.

On Friday morning, electricity had been restored to meet about 70 percent of the country’s needs but rolling blackouts remained in place, Ukrenergo said in a statement posted on the Telegram messaging app.

“Priority was given to critical infrastructure facilities in all regions,” the statement said, adding that efforts to reconnect household consumers were ongoing in “sub-zero” temperatures.

The city government in Kyiv, the capital, said on Friday morning that water had been fully restored but that half of the city’s housing stock was still in emergency power outage mode. Without electricity, taps run dry, water purification becomes unreliable, and wastewater is either not collected or has to be disposed of untreated.

Union of Concerned Scientists:

“Russia’s ruthless attack on Wednesday signifies the beginning of a dangerous new phase in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These targeted attacks on the energy grid not only pose life-threatening risks for Ukrainians but are now also endangering all of Ukraine’s nuclear plants. Nuclear reactor safety has a critical dependence on access to a stable and secure supply of electricity from the grid.

A nuclear plant disaster would further devastate Ukrainian communities already suffering from the direct consequences of blackouts by spreading radiological contamination over a wide area, forcing additional populations to relocate, and endangering food and water supplies. Russia’s despicable tactics, meant to freeze out Ukrainians, could wind up harming neighboring countries, including Russia itself.”

Dr. Lyman also noted that unlike Zaporizhzhia, the nuclear plant that has been most directly affected by the conflict, the other three stations have some older-model reactors that may be less resistant to the impacts of a military attack—especially the two VVER-440 reactors at the Rivne plant.

“It is now clear that a safety zone must be established not only at Zaporizhzhia, but at all of Ukraine’s nuclear plants—and should extend to the entire electrical grid,” Dr. Lyman added.

UCS is actively monitoring the situation in Ukraine.

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