Country Warns Power Outage at Chernobyl Could Send ‘Radioactive Cloud’

The abandoned city of Pripyat near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, March 23, 2016. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Ukrainian officials on Wednesday sounded alarms after Russian forces cut off the power supply to the Chernobyl nuclear plant, warning that the blackout could cause uncooled spent fuel assemblies to release radioactive substances into the environment.

Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company Energoatom said in a Telegram post that the 750 kV Chernobyl-Kyiv high-voltage line is currently disconnected “due to damage by the occupiers,” cutting off electricity needed to cool 20,000 spent fuel assemblies at the plant. Energoatom warned that the warming of the spent nuclear fuel could cause a “radioactive cloud” that winds could send to other regions of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Europe.

Continued fighting has made it impossible to carry out repairs and restore power, the company said. Ukrainian foreign affairs minister Dmytro Kuleba called for a ceasefire to complete the repairs on Wednesday.

“The only electrical grid supplying the Chornobyl NPP and all its nuclear facilities occupied by Russian army is damaged,” he said in a tweet.  “CNPP lost all electric supply. I call on the international community to urgently demand Russia to cease fire and allow repair units to restore power supply.” 

“Reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity to power the Chornobyl NPP,” he added. “After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent. Putin’s barbaric war puts entire Europe in danger. He must stop it immediately!”

The facility’s ventilation and fire extinguishing systems are also dependent upon electricity; without ventilation the 210 technical and personnel guards who were taken hostage two weeks ago risk exposure to radiation as they work to maintain the facility, Fox News reported.

Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said Wednesday that authorities do not know what the radiation levels are at Chernobyl, Reuters reported. The Chernobyl reactor was the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, when the core of the reactor melted down in 1986. Explosions and fires sent a radioactive cloud over parts of Europe at that time.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement on Tuesday that it had lost contact with the Chernobyl plant.

Halushchenko also said Ukrainian officials have no control over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is the largest nuclear plant in Europe, after Russian forces captured the site last week, according to Reuters.

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