Explainer: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear energy plant: who controls it and why is it essential?

LONDON, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Repeated shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear energy plant in southern Ukraine has raised the potential of a grave accident simply 500 km (300 miles) from the location of the world’s worst nuclear accident, the 1986 Chornobyl catastrophe.

The Worldwide Atomic Vitality Company (IAEA), which has repeatedly expressed considerations over the shelling of the plant, has proposed the institution of a nuclear security and safety safety zone across the plant.

What nuclear materials is at Europe’s largest nuclear energy plant, what are the dangers and why are Russia and Ukraine combating over it?


The Zaporizhzhia nuclear energy plant has six Soviet-designed VVER-1000 V-320 water-cooled and water-moderated reactors containing Uranium 235, which has a half-life of greater than 700 million years.

Building started in 1980 and its sixth reactor was related to the grid in 1995. All six reactors at the moment are in chilly shutdown after reactor No. 6 was shut down on Sept. 12.

A chilly shutdown means the reactor’s temperature is under boiling level however electrical pumps transferring water via the reactor core should nonetheless preserve working to chill the gas.

The plant is now not producing electrical energy.


The largest danger is from overheating nuclear gas, which might occur if the facility that drives the cooling techniques was lower. Shelling has repeatedly lower energy traces.

The plant misplaced its final remaining exterior energy on Oct. 8, leaving it reliant on diesel mills for greater than a day, the Worldwide Atomic Vitality Company mentioned. The ability line was restored on Oct. 9.

Earlier than the conflict, the plant had 4 high-voltage energy traces giving it entry to the grid in addition to a number of backup traces.


Pressurised water is used to switch warmth away from the reactors even when they’re shutdown, and pumped water can also be used to chill down eliminated spent nuclear gas from the reactors.

If the facility was lower and auxiliary techniques comparable to 20 diesel mills (which have sufficient diesel for 10 days) didn’t preserve the reactors cool, then the gas might soften down and the zirconium cladding might launch hydrogen.


A meltdown of the gas, which stays extraordinarily sizzling for a while even after the reactor shutdown, might start a hearth or explosion that would launch a plume of radionuclides into the air the place they may very well be unfold over a big space.

The Chornobyl accident unfold Iodine-131, Caesium-134, Strontium-90 and Caesium-137 throughout components of northern Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, northern and central Europe.

Almost 8.4 million individuals in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine have been uncovered to radiation, based on the United Nations. Round 50 deaths are immediately attributed to the catastrophe itself.

However 600,000 “liquidators”, concerned in fire-fighting and clean-up operations, have been uncovered to excessive doses of radiation. A whole bunch of 1000’s have been resettled.

There may be mounting proof that the well being influence of the Chornobyl catastrophe was far more critical than initially offered on the time and within the years following the accident.

Incidence of thyroid most cancers in youngsters throughout swathes of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine elevated after the accident. There was a a lot greater incidence of endocrine issues, anaemia and respiratory illnesses amongst youngsters in contaminated areas.


Moreover the reactors, there may be additionally a dry spent gas storage facility on the website for used nuclear gas assemblies, and spent gas swimming pools at every reactor website which can be used to chill down the used nuclear gas.

“The basins of spent gas are simply massive swimming pools with uranium gas rods in them – they’re actually sizzling relying on how lengthy they’ve been there,” Kate Brown, an environmental historian on the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how whose ebook “Handbook for Survival” paperwork the complete scale of the Chornobyl catastrophe, mentioned in August.

“If recent water just isn’t put in, then the water will evaporate. As soon as the water evaporates, then the zirconium cladding will warmth up and it might probably catch fireplace after which we’ve a nasty state of affairs – a hearth of irradiated uranium which may be very just like the Chornobyl state of affairs releasing a complete complicated of radioactive isotopes.”

An emission of hydrogen from a spent gas pool prompted an explosion at reactor 4 in Japan’s Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in 2011.

Based on a 2017 Ukrainian submission to the IAEA, there was a complete of greater than 2,200 tonnes of nuclear materials excluding the reactors.


After invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian forces took management of the plant in early March.

Particular Russian navy items guard the ability and Russian nuclear specialists are on website. Ukrainian employees proceed to assist function the plant.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed a swathe of Ukraine, together with the realm the place the nuclear plant is situated, he signed a decree on Oct. 5 to formalise Russian management over the plant.

IAEA Director Basic Rafael Grossi has proposed the institution of a nuclear security and safety safety zone across the plant.

Reporting by Man Faulconbridge; Modifying by Lisa Shumaker and Alex Richardson

Our Requirements: The Thomson Reuters Belief Rules.

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