DRUZHKIVKA, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities have been sounding the alarm for months. The world nuclear watchdog agency warned of extraordinary risks this week. Then on Friday, artillery duels near a giant nuclear power plant on the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine created new security risks.
Explosions at and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex, the largest in Europe, around 2:30 p.m. destroyed power transmission lines and posed risks of damaging the plant, forcing engineers to alter the operation of one of its six reactors by reducing power, Ukraine said. said the state nuclear company, Energoatom.
Hours later, a second series of three explosions damaged an auxiliary building near one of the nuclear reactors, raising the risk of hydrogen leaks and fires, the company said.
Fighting has intensified in recent weeks near the nuclear complex, which the Russian military controls and is using as a fortress, even as Ukrainian engineers continue to operate it.
For about a month, Russia has used the site to carry out artillery strikes against Ukrainian targets without fear of retaliation, as the Ukrainian military cannot respond without risk of hitting security equipment, reactors or spent fuel storage facilities. Ukrainian officials say the Russians intend to disrupt a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south of the country.
After explosions on Friday afternoon knocked out a high-voltage power line, plant operators cut output from one of the reactors. Previously, three of the plant’s six reactors were operational, two were on standby and one was undergoing planned repairs.
It was not clear whether the reactor whose operation was changed on Friday went into a standby state, said Dmytro Orlov, a former plant engineer who is now mayor of Enerhodar, where the plant is located.
“This is an unusual but not unpredictable event,” he said. “The staff was prepared.” She likened it to emergency response in the event a power line is damaged by a wildfire or other accident.
Energoatom, the state power company, issued a statement on the Telegram social networking site saying Russian artillery fire had cut the power line. “The Russian military again resorted to provocation,” the company said. He said an industrial space on the complex’s grounds was hit three times, hitting wiring and a transformer.
The statement said operators have cut output and disconnected one reactor from the power grid. “No releases of radioactive substances were recorded,” the statement said.
Russian state media blamed Ukrainian forces for the explosions, reporting that they had started a fire.
Hours later, the energy company reported a second attack on Telegram, saying the Russians had fired three rocket-propelled grenades that landed near one of the nuclear reactors. The explosions, according to the statement, damaged an auxiliary building and a specialized station. “Fire danger is high,” the company said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it was aware of the reports and was seeking more information on the situation.
Ukrainian officials say they have little choice but to put up with Russian bombing. In July, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said it had used a precision-guided “kamikaze” drone, which explodes on contact with a target, to destroy a Russian rocket launcher and air defense system located about 150 meters from a reactor, without damaging the reactor. itself.
The IAEA has warned of the serious dangers of the difficult situation of the plant. The cornerstones of nuclear safety, he said, are being removed from the plant even as it continues to operate. Among the shortcomings, he said, are a lack of physical security and regulatory oversight, which is now in limbo.
Britain’s Defense Ministry echoed those concerns on Friday. In its daily intelligence update, the ministry said Russian troops have “probably undermined the security” of the plant by using it as a base to “target Ukrainian territory on the western bank of the Dnieper River.”
Fighting around the compound in March had caused a fire that stoked global concerns about a possible nuclear accident.