French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Putin to withdraw from Zaporiyia for the sake of energy security. He blames Russia for the nuclear disaster

Nuclear threat in Zaporiyia: What are the consequences?

photo_camera REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO - A Russian all-terrain armoured vehicle is parked outside the Zaporiyia nuclear power plant during the visit of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expert mission in the course of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia on the outskirts of Energodar in the Zaporiyia region

The Ukrainian army claims to have recaptured more than 6,000 square kilometres in the east and south of the country, leaving Russian troops weakened in the eyes of public opinion and demoralised in the eyes of those who support its intervention in the neighbouring country. Indeed, another blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose popularity is at an all-time low, has been the withdrawal of Russian troops from northern Ukraine. A series of explosions around the Zaporiyia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which Putin is blamed for, have also left the country in turmoil.  

As many as 84 deputies of his government are calling for the "resignation" of the head of state. In fact, they are demanding that the Duma - Congress of Deputies - charge the head of the Kremlin (Putin) with high treason for launching a military campaign against Ukraine.

Zaporiyia
The 'looming' nuclear disaster

Zaporiyia, Europe's largest nuclear power plant with six reactors and some 10,000 employees, is at serious safety risk. After the Russian army seized the Ukrainian power plant last March against the citizens of the town of 716,292 inhabitants and Energordar (the nearest town to the plant, just 50 km from the city centre), the population exodus is massive. More than half of Energordar's citizens, some 50,000 in all, have fled their homes. Some others are still trying to escape.  

A local resident told TVE: "The Russians are like monkeys playing with grenades. You don't know what they can do". Fighting and shelling have been taking place systematically in the nuclear area since the beginning of the invasion.  

The danger is so obvious that Russian forces themselves have taken to handing out iodine tablets to the Ukrainian and Russian population. This is similar to the situation in Chernobyl (Ukraine) in 1986, when the former USSR hid for weeks what was, until then, the biggest nuclear accident in modern history.

Zaporiyia

Why is iodine used? When a small dose of radioactive iodine I-131 - an isotope of iodine that emits radiation - is swallowed, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and concentrates in the thyroid gland, where it begins to destroy the gland's cells, so iodine tablets serve to reduce the damage radiation causes to the body after a nuclear accident.  

Meanwhile, according to Energoatom, the Ukrainian company operating the plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since March, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has two experts monitoring the facilities, it was decided to shut down the reactors after the plant began to operate as an 'island', i.e. the only active reactor was limited to supplying power so that the plant could continue to operate. 

Meanwhile, Moscow and Kiev accused each other of the attacks around the nuclear power plant. Even the United Nations (UN) travelled to the plant to see the damage to the reactors and the cities of Kharkov and Donetsk, and partially in Zaporiyia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy, two other nearby cities, are experiencing constant power outages, lack of heating supplies and water shortages. These are just one example of what is happening in the area around the plant.

Zaporiyia

Energoatom, for its part, persists that there is still a high risk of a power blackout and, in this case, the plant would have to run emergency generators to keep the reactors cool.  

On the other hand, Putin, who met with French President Emmanuel Macron last week to discuss the issue of safety at the plant, received indications from the Elys茅e and accusations. According to Macron: "The main cause of the security risk in Zaporiyia is the presence of Russian troops and he has urged him - Putin - to withdraw the weapons from the area around the power station".

Restoration of electricity supply

After complicated days and a still persistent threat, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced on Monday, it has been possible to restore a second backup power line to the nuclear power plant that will allow the last active reactor to cool down and carry out other safety functions.

Zaporiyia

In fact, according to IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, "the reactor that was shut down has entered a cold shutdown state like the other five reactors at the facility, which means it will require less energy to cool down".  

Grossi further stresses that the situation is totally precarious for the state of the plant: "The four main external power lines of the nuclear power plant are all down and currently provide no electricity to homes, factories and other sites. A nuclear safety protection zone is urgently needed".  

For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky calls for Russia to be declared "a terrorist state" because during the war it has, according to Zelensky, practised radioactive, energy and starvation terror. In fact, France and Romania have signed an agreement to consolidate the export of cereals by land. One of the biggest problems is the rising prices and shortages in Europe. In August, 2.6 million tonnes were moved by land, according to an official French communiqu茅.

Rafael Grossi
Risk for Europe

This winter promises to be one of the coldest in decades due to fuel shortages. The war against Ukraine has jeopardised electricity supplies (as exemplified by the shelling of the area around Zaporiyia) and access to heating, which is transferred via gas pipelines located in Russia.  

Indeed, one of the direct consequences of the blackout in Zaporiyia is undoubtedly electrical security. Europe is concerned about the security of its countries and the exposure to constant blackouts. Cities such as Berlin (Germany) have already ordered their citizens to ration energy consumption in order to be prepared for an impending energy crisis.

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