The situation at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, which has been without electricity for over a day, continues to be worrying as the 210 technical personnel and guards remain hostages of the Russian invading forces, unable to monitor the plant, get supplies, or get a fresh team in rotation.
Chernobyl Power Plant loses power
Ukraine National Power Company Ukrenergo announced yesterday the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant is no longer connected to the power grid following military actions from the Russian forces. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an international organization that seeks to promote cooperation and peace in the nuclear field, is no longer getting data from Chornobyl or the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, also taken over by Russian forces. The lack of power, while not an immediate concern for safety is another worrying development in this escalating situation.
The IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said he agreed with Ukrenergo's assessment the disconnection would not have an immediate critical impact on the safety functions at the site, but the organization is concerned for the situation and the wellbeing of the people that have been trapped inside the power station for the last two weeks.
“From day to day, we are seeing a worsening situation at the Chornobyl NPP, especially for radiation safety, and for the staff managing the facility under extremely difficult and challenging circumstances,” Grossi said in a statement. “I repeat my urgent appeal to the forces in effective control of the plant to respect internal radiation protection procedures, to facilitate the safe rotation of staff, and to take other important steps to ensure safety.”
Ukraine Ready To Start CHERNOBYL Repairs
Ukrenergo has confirmed on social media that it has a team standing ready to repair the damage done by the Russian shelling if a ceasefire and safe corridor can be guaranteed. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has also put forward specialists to go and fix the electric grid in the area around the power plant, though his proposal was rejected by Ukraine as Lukashenko allowed Russian troops to travel through Belarus to attack Ukraine and the area of Chornobyl in particular.
“We need a ceasefire and the admission of our repair teams, who have been waiting for an agreement to leave for repairs since yesterday,” Ukrenergo's statement reads. “We are ready to immediately repair the lines and restore power to Chornobyl nuclear power plant, which has been without electricity for more than a day. Just stop the shelling and let our teams do their job!”
No Imminent Danger But A Long-Term Risk
Chornobyl is the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history that claimed the lives of 30 people and inflicted a reduced life span on several thousand in 1986 following exposure to the radiation. Over the last two decades, the power plant's fuel rods that could be safely removed have been placed in a cooling bath where their natural radioactive decay could be contained.
Experts agree it would take weeks without power, if not longer, for the water in the cooling ponds to evaporate completely and expose those rods.
“I would concur with the IAEA statement released this morning that the spent fuel in the storage ponds at Chernobyl does not present a substantial risk, even with the current power outage," Professor Tom Scott from the University of Bristol, UK, commented.
“The fuel in these pools is decades old, and hence has very little residual heat being generated. This low heat load added to the very large volume of water in the cooling pools means that the heat coming from the fuel can be dissipated safely even without power to circulate the water."
“The Chernobyl Power Plant has been shut down since 2000, and therefore the spent fuel rods stored on the site have been cooled for 22 years. Therefore they will not be producing significant amounts of heat, making a release of radiation very unlikely,” Professor Geraldine Thomas, from Imperial College London and Director of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank, said.
The lack of monitoring inside reactor 4, the one where the meltdown in 1986 occurred, is however a pressing concern, as well as the lack of ventilation system in the New Safe Containment structure, which is crucial to the future decommissioning of the site. Damages to that, such as a fire, would be an enormous step back in making the facility and area safe.
The safety of the personnel detained there and future working conditions is a major concern. “I think that the loss of ventilation will reduce the ability of the site to manage radioactive dust and to protect workers, I strongly suspect that conditions for the workers will get worse... Some parts of the site might become off limits to the workers until the power is restored," Dr Mark Foreman, Associate Professor of Nuclear Chemistry at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, said.
“The workforce in the plant are a group of highly skilled and dedicated individuals. The greatest threat is to their wellbeing from lack of food and rest, as a result of being prevented from leaving the plant, rather than from radiation,” Prof. Thomas added.
Chernobyl, as the power plant is known in the West, is the romanization of the Russian spelling. The romanization of the Ukrainian spelling is Chornobyl. To align with the sources we kept this spelling throughout the article.