Nuclear blackmail. Why does Russia need Zaporozhye NPP and what are the risks for Ukraine

Russia is again shelling the territory of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which its own troops control. Why Moscow resorted to nuclear blackmail of Ukraine and what risks it entails – below in the material of RBC-Ukraine.

Russia seized the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant back in March, as did the city of Energodar, home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. In the first weeks of the war, the invaders shelled the station, which seriously alarmed the world, forcing Western politicians and the press to recall the words Chernobyl and radiation again.

Later, the tension decreased. Since then, the plant has been under the control of the occupying troops, but the real control is left to Ukrainian specialists who service the nuclear power plant literally at gunpoint of Russian machine guns. Recently, RBC-Ukraine wrote in detail about the situation at this facility.

Since the beginning of August, the situation at the Zaporozhye NPP has changed significantly, and clearly not for the better. No matter how absurd it may sound, the shelling of the station by the invaders has become more frequent, despite the fact that the Russians themselves control it. At the end of last week, Putin’s invaders fired twice at the territory of the nuclear power plant, shells hit the area of ​​spent nuclear fuel storage facilities.

“Obviously, they were aiming at the containers of spent nuclear fuel, which are stored in the open air near the shelling sites. 174 containers, each of which contains 24 spent nuclear fuel assemblies,” Energodar Mayor Dmitry Orlov said.

The power line was damaged at the station, as a result of which the 4th power unit failed – it was transferred to the reserve. In addition, the nitric acid plant was also damaged, but an emergency situation and a hydrogen explosion at it were avoided, Energoatom noted.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, after this shelling, called for an end to any hostilities in the ZNPP area . “I am extremely concerned about the shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which highlights the very real risk of a nuclear catastrophe that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” he said.

In addition, according to the Ukrainian side, the territory of the station is mined, as well as the coastline near it. One can only guess why the invaders took this step, continuing to shake the world with their wild antics.

Putin’s nuclear madmen

Russia no longer hides the fact that not only controls the station, but also placed military equipment on its territory. The message of the Russian representative office in the IAEA dated July 29 clearly states that several units of transport equipment and communication machines are located right in the engine room of one of the blocks.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also reacted to this information and the shelling of Energodar, which could have been carried out from the nuclear power plant. According to him, Russia uses the nuclear power plant as a military base to fire on the Ukrainians, realizing that they cannot and will not shoot back. At a minimum, this is fraught with an accidental defeat of a nuclear reactor or a repository of highly radioactive waste, Blinken said.

“It takes the idea of ​​a ‘human shield’ to a completely different, terrible level,” he added. To date, this was practically the first statement by the head of American diplomacy regarding the ZNPP.

After that, Andriy Yermak , head of the President’s Office, said that the IAEA mission should inspect the station as soon as possible. “The world must be confident in the safety of the ZNPP. IAEA experts must visit the station as soon as possible, as required by international nuclear safety rules. Europe’s largest nuclear power plant has become the biggest nuclear threat in the hands of Russian madmen,” the head of the Office of the President noted.

With this statement, Yermak made it clear that Ukraine has changed its position regarding the visit of the IAEA mission to the station. Literally since March, when ZNPP was seized, Minister of Energy German Galushchenko and head of Energoatom Pyotr Kotin considered it possible for the IAEA mission to visit only after the plant was liberated.

The change of position was caused by a radical change in the situation around the ZNPP and the increased threat of a radiation catastrophe, Energoatom said. “The situation has changed dramatically – there is a danger of a nuclear accident and a radiation catastrophe is very high. If they continue to shell the station, it will be even more,” said Alexander Kurdinovich, director of the Energoatom information policy department, in a commentary to RBC-Ukraine.

At what stage the preparation of the IAEA mission is now, the publication has not yet been able to find out. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which deals with this issue, did not provide a comment. The National Security and Defense Council also did not comment on the issue of ensuring security at the ZNPP.

What do Russians want at ZNPP?

The Kremlin is stepping up nuclear blackmail at the Zaporizhzhya NPP and wants to eventually disconnect the plant from the unified energy system of Ukraine (IPS) and connect it to the unified energy system of the Russian Federation, including the occupied Crimea. This version was expressed in a commentary to RBC-Ukraine by Vladimir Omelchenko, director of energy programs at the Razumkov Center.

“By September 1, 2022, Rosatom plans to complete all technical work for this purpose, including those related to the restoration of power lines in the direction of Crimea,” the expert noted.

Sources of RBC-Ukraine in the authorities confirmed that such a scenario could be planned. “We cannot exclude this. It is possible both theoretically and practically. But it will take some time to switch to the energy system of the Russian Federation,” the source said.

So far, according to Energoatom, the Russians are trying to “cut” the power lines that come out of the station. There are four of them – two are no longer working and one was damaged the other day. This, apparently, explains the shelling of the occupiers on the territory of the ZNPP.

If all transmission lines are “cut”, then the station will not be able to produce electricity. After some time, it will also not be able to provide its own needs for energy supply, which ensures the operation of pumps for cooling nuclear fuel in reactor plants.

Diesel generators will be used for emergency power supply. But they need diesel fuel. It will be enough for a while. But for the safe operation of the plant, an external power supply will be required, which the Russians will be able to provide by connecting the Zaporizhzhya NPP to their power grid.

Omelchenko believes that if ZNPP is connected to the Russian energy system, Ukraine will lose 6 GW of capacities (45% of all nuclear capacities of Ukrainian NPPs), which generate the cheapest electricity among all types of generation. “Together with the losses of TPPs and generations operating on RES (renewable sources – ed.), the total losses of the UES of Ukraine may exceed 10 GW,” the expert noted.

But now ZNPP is operating at 1/6 capacity. Of the six power units of 1000 MW each, only two are used, which produce half of the potential – 500 MW of electricity each. So far, in the context of declining consumption, this does not create a shortage of electricity in Ukraine and even allows it to be imported to Europe.

However, in winter the situation may change. If the station ceases to generate electricity completely, then the capacity may not be enough, and exports from the EU will have to be replaced by imports.

Another possible outcome of the actions of the occupiers was voiced by the representative of Ukraine to international organizations in Vienna, Yevhen Tsymbalyuk. He believes that the Russians can completely de-energize the south of Ukraine. True, this, according to the director of the Energy Research Center Alexander Kharchenko, is unlikely.

“Issues of ZNPP and supplying the south of Ukraine with electricity are not directly related. There are a sufficient number of high-voltage lines that have no contact with ZNPP and provide the necessary power in the southern regions,” he said. In addition, it is not entirely clear what would be the point for the Russians to cut off the south from the energy supply, given that they have plans to seize these territories.

The threat to nuclear safety at the ZNPP has existed since the station was seized in March, Kharchenko believes. And it was a big omission that from the very beginning the Ministry of Energy and Energoatom were against the arrival of the IAEA mission. Although Rafael Grossi insisted on this more than once.

But both Galushchenko and Kotin apparently feared that the Russians might withdraw the military from the station, creating a “picture” for experts that would allow the IAEA to conclude that there was no danger there.

Now, to save the situation, the joint participation of IAEA experts and UN peacekeepers is necessary. Tsymbalyuk called for the organization of a joint mission of these two organizations by the end of August – this is the only way to force the withdrawal of the Russian military and equipment from the facility.

But, according to Omelchenko, there are risks that the Kremlin is preparing a special operation to legalize the subordination of ZNPP to Rosatom. “This may be due to the informal influence of the Russian special services on the IAEA, the use of nuclear blackmail and the manipulative accusation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine of shelling at nuclear power plants,” he said.

Course towards sanctions against Rosatom

Another possible scenario is the strengthening of sanctions against Rosatom and the entire nuclear industry of the Russian Federation. “This (the situation at the ZNPP – ed.) is also an argument in favor of applying tough sanctions against the entire Russian nuclear industry – from Rosatom to all related companies and individuals,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

According to Kharchenko, third countries can also be involved in the negotiations, for example, South Korea, as a country that is quite strongly involved in the nuclear sphere. “We need a configuration of international cooperation with the involvement of the IAEA and probably direct cooperation with third countries. South Korea could play the same role that Turkey played in the situation with grain,” Kharchenko said.

A positive outcome here could be the lifting of the military blockade of the station in exchange for the refusal to strengthen the sanctions against Rosatom. “Part of the pressure on the Moscow government could be the threat of tough sanctions against Rosatom, which is extremely interested in European and international projects and is very vulnerable to international sanctions,” the expert said.

But the threat of a nuclear catastrophe can be finally reduced only by stopping the shelling of the station, freeing it from the occupiers and withdrawing troops and military equipment to a safe distance.



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