Chernobyl Is Cut From the Grid, But Atomic Agency Sees ‘No Critical Impact on Safety’

The facility is currently relying on backup power from reserve diesel generators with a 48-hour capacity.
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The Chernobyl nuclear power plant has been cut from the electrical grid and is running on reserve diesel generators, Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday. 

Ukrainian authorities expressed concern that without power, cooling mechanisms within the plant will not operate sufficiently, leaving the plant in risk of leaking radiation from the spent nuclear fuel it stores. The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a tweet Wednesday morning that while its director general, Rafael Grossi, said this development violated a “key safety pillar on ensuring uninterrupted power supply,” in this case IAEA saw “no critical impact on safety.”

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The site of the 1986 nuclear disaster has no operating reactors, but requires constant operation to prevent the leakage of nuclear material. Ukrainian grid operator Ukrenergo said on its Facebook page that the site has been knocked off the electrical grid that supplied it with the energy it needed to run because of “military actions from Russian occupiers.” 

The facility is currently relying on backup power from reserve diesel generators with a 48-hour capacity, Dmytro Kuleba, minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine, said in a tweet. 

In nuclear facilities, spent fuel, which holds the majority of radioactive material, sits in the bottom of a pool covered in water; in the event that a facility loses control of cooling operations and melts down, this water can evaporate or explode and leak spent fuel into its surrounding environment. This is apparently why both Ukrenergo and Kuleba expressed concern that the plant was cut off from the grid.

In addition to its tweet on Wednesday, the IAEA said in a statement last week that the risk of this is low. 

“Due to time elapsed since the 1986 Chornobyl accident, the heat load of the spent fuel storage pool and the volume of cooling water contained in the pool is sufficient to maintain effective heat removal without the need for electrical supply,” the statement reads. 

An adviser to the office of Olga Stefanishyna, deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine, told Motherboard that a breakdown of a local power line had caused the disconnection; the exact location of the breakdown remains unknown.