Russian strikes trigger emergency protection at Ukraine nuclear plants

Kiev.- The three Ukrainian-controlled nuclear power plants are back online and will soon be producing power at normal capacity, the head of the national power company said on Friday, two days after Russian missile strikes that forced utilities to fight to stabilize the country’s energy, and raised further concerns about the nuclear dangers of war.

Ukraine normally relies on nuclear power for more than half of its energy, an unusually high dependency ratio. The Russian attacks on Wednesday activated emergency protections at all three plants and forced a halt to production.

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

Wednesday marked the first time in the 40-year history of the country’s nuclear power industry that all operating nuclear facilities were shut down and had to rely on standby diesel generators, authorities said.

For months, attacks in and around the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant have left engineers racing from one crisis to another as it has been repeatedly disconnected from the national power grid. External power was restored Thursday morning at the plant, a day after it was lost, according to the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has had inspectors at the facility since early September.

That plant, the largest in Europe, has been out of service since September, but still needs electricity to keep cooling equipment running 24 hours a day and prevent a nuclear meltdown.

“The complete and simultaneous loss of external power for Ukraine’s nuclear power plants shows that the nuclear safety situation in the country is becoming more and more precarious, challenging and potentially dangerous,” said the director general of the agency of the UN, Rafael Grossi. “This would have been completely unimaginable before this tragic war. It is extremely worrying.”

The agency began providing assistance at other Ukrainian nuclear power plants after kyiv requested it, Grossi said. “We must do everything possible to prevent a nuclear accident at any of these facilities, which would only add to the terrible suffering we are already witnessing in Ukraine,” he said.

Snow and freezing rain worsened the plight of millions of Ukrainians who were left without power Thursday night. Officials said power had been restored to meet about half of the country’s consumption needs as of 7 p.m. The city government of the capital kyiv said Friday morning that water had been fully restored, but half of the city’s homes were still in emergency power cut mode.

A significant number of thermal and hydroelectric plants were back in operation, Ukrenergo said on his Telegram channel. Authorities were prioritizing power restoration to critical infrastructure (gas distribution, wastewater treatment and hospitals) over domestic consumers, the utility said.

“Energy workers, utility workers, businesses – everyone is doing their part to get electricity back on,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in his evening address. “This is truly a national task: Ukraine is working as united as possible on this.”

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