Nuclear disaster or prolonged blackout: what are the risks of NPP shutdown in Ukraine

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Last week, Russia launched another missile attack on Ukraine’s energy system. It was the 14th Russian attack on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. 

This caused an emergency shutdown of all nuclear power plants in the country. In its analysis the Channel 24 explored how such actions of Russians can affect nuclear safety in Ukraine.

Russian massive missile attacks

Due to massive missile attacks, Ukraine experienced a blackout. This was stated by Dmytro Sakharuk, Executive Director of DTEK, the national electricity provider.

Despite the severe damage, the power system has demonstrated its ability to recover, and it was impossible to “turn off” Ukraine’s energy systems completely.

“Now we are observing how the system recovers after the blackout. Automation worked – the system was turned off. Power engineers began to bring it back to life immediately after the end of the shelling. But in general, the system shows its ability to recover. The Russians did not achieve their goals,” said Executive Director Dmytro Sakharuk.

According to Energoatom, Ukraine’s NPPs operator, President Petro Kotin, all security mechanisms worked properly despite everything. After that, diesel generators started working at Ukrainian nuclear power plants, which allowed for maintaining the safe operation of nuclear facilities without an external power supply.

In the case of the destruction of power generating capacities of a nuclear power plant, the potential damage can be three times greater than in the case of a collapse of TPP or CHPP, Yurii Korolchuk, expert of the Institute for Energy Strategies, explained earlier.

“Excluding Zaporizhzhya NPP, Ukraine has nine blocks in nuclear power plants. If, for example, four of them stop, then at best, it will mean an actual blackout for part of Ukraine. It will be a disaster. And the main thing here is to maintain the energy system. This is not a secret for anyone,” Korolchuk said.

Risk of a prolonged blackout in Ukraine

TPPs and CHPPs produce only 25% of Ukraine’s electricity, while nuclear power plants produce about 60%. If the NPP substations and certain facilities are damaged, the country can see a complete blackout.

On November 24, the frequency of the power system of Ukraine dropped critically due to Russian massive missile strikes. All NPPs lost external sources of electricity. As a result, Rivne, South Ukrainian, and Khmelnytskyi NPPs automatically disconnected from the Ukrainian power grid. Zaporizhzhya NPP was shut down even earlier.

What is the threat of stopping all NPPs?

Maksym Bilyavsky, former Communications Director of Naftogaz Group and leading expert on energy programs at the Razumkov Center, says that emergency unloading of the power system and, consequently, the operation of frequency unloading automation systems, which shut down all nuclear power units, affect nuclear safety not only in Ukraine but also around the world.

“First of all, the European Union. The IAEA Director General stated this. But these statements must be not only statements but also accompanied by concrete actions. The first of them is the de-occupation of Zaporizhzhia NPP. The number of its power units can cover the deficit of electricity that arose in the Ukrainian energy system due to the Russian terrorist strikes,” Bilyavsky said.

New “Chernobyl” is possible at Zaporizhzhya NPP

In addition, the situation with Zaporizhzhya NPP is quite shaky. It is worth noting that a new “Chernobyl” is possible only there because Russian invaders constantly shell it.

Of course, nuclear power plants can operate in case of a complete blackout on diesel generators. But it is difficult to say how long it will last.

First, it will depend on how many diesel generators are connected to the nuclear power plant. Secondly, it depends on the installed capacity, and it, in turn, on the number of power units that are in “cold” or “hot” shutdown.

“It is tough to say that, on average, diesel generators will provide an opportunity to power all technological operations of a nuclear power plant for a specific number of hours. Each situation is individual. But I can assure you that at all nuclear power plants of Ukraine operated by Energoatom, everything is done to ensure that the duration of emergency power supply is as long as possible,” he said.

IAEA will strengthen its presence at nuclear power plants in Ukraine

The IAEA will strengthen its presence at all nuclear power plants in Ukraine – the agency believes this will enhance the protection of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi wrote about this on Twitter after a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

“With the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, we continue to work together on the urgent establishment of a nuclear safety zone around Zaporizhzhya NPP.

“I also confirmed that the IAEA would strengthen its presence at all nuclear power plants in Ukraine to protect its energy infrastructure,” Grossi said.

How long will the outages last if Russia resumes massive shelling

No one can predict this yet, because everything will depend on the consequences of the shelling, namely the damage caused.

It is necessary to understand such a concept in engineering mechanics as “technological heredity.” It means that each previous operation or each previous state of the technical system affects the future function or the future duration of the shutdown.

It will take quite a long time to overcome all the consequences of rocket attacks because it is a long-term process. It may take up to one year, while the Kremlin troops might launch new attacks and cause new damage, if Ukraine doesn’t have enough protection in the sky.

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