Russian forces dig in at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

Four witnesses reported that Russian military personnel has been bolstering defensive positions near and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in southern Ukraine over the past few weeks in preparation for an anticipated counteroffensive there.

Around the city, new trenches have been excavated and more mines have been planted. The plant’s surveillance cameras are pointed northward, across a large reservoir, towards the area that is under Ukrainian control.

For months, the Russians have had shooting positions placed up atop parts of the plant’s structures. To possibly discourage drones, nets have been constructed.

The precautions mentioned by two of the Ukrainians who work at the power plant and two additional Enerhodar citizens highlight the dangers the conflict poses to the facility’s security.

Requests for comments regarding the fortifications at Enerhodar and the potential security dangers the counteroffensive may present were not met with any response from the Russian defense ministry, the Russian state nuclear energy business Rosatom, or the Ukrainian military intelligence service.

Some specialists in the nuclear sector expressed anxiety and cautioned that any damage to the plant might have disastrous effects on the local community, the war, and the entire nuclear industry.

“Nuclear reactors were not designed for use in war zones, and I do not believe they can be safe or secure in a war zone.”

Nickolas Roth, director of the Nuclear Threat Initiative think tank.

The head of Ukraine’s Energoatom nuclear organization, Petro Kotin, told Reuters that he didn’t think Ukrainian forces would launch an attack immediately on the site, but that they would try to persuade the Russians to leave by cutting off their supply routes instead.

The largest nuclear power plant in Europe with six reactors, however, has raised concerns in the international community. This is especially true given that military analysts anticipate Ukraine to attempt to drive Russian forces back into the Zaporizhzhia region.

According to the UN nuclear inspector, there is a rising military presence and activity in the area, underscoring the urgency of taking immediate action. It has been averting a big accident at the factory for months.

According to four diplomats who spoke to Reuters, the agency intends to bring a pact between Russia and Ukraine to the UN Security Council later this month to secure the facility.

In Japan, where an earthquake and tsunami knocked off the power to the Fukushima nuclear power plant just over ten years ago, causing reactors to melt down, the government declared it was closely monitoring the situation at Zaporizhzhia.

According to Satoru Yasuraoka, director of the nuclear energy policy division of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry of Japan, “We think it is an alarming situation and we are closely watching.”

To support the UN watchdog’s efforts to ensure the safety of the Zaporizhzhia power plant, Japan gave it two million euros in April.

According to Kotin, the largest danger to plant safety is that fighting might cut the final external power cable required to cool the reactors. Only backup diesel generators can prevent a meltdown when that fails.

If every pump fails, there will be a meltdown that may last anywhere from an hour and a half to three days, according to Kotin.

The backup generators have already started up six times when the electricity went out due to shelling, which Russia and Ukraine have attributed to one another. Each time, they only ran for brief periods.


Kotin calculated that the number of Russian troops at the plant had increased recently from roughly 500 to 1,500. He cannot enter the facility, but he still maintains a network of contacts inside.

The four sources reported hearing sporadic explosions, which they attributed were from stray animals stepping on mines. One of the workers observed tracer bullets being shot at a drone from the top of one of the plant’s buildings across the nighttime sky.

The increase in troops and additional defenses indicates that the occupying forces are digging in, but there are also indications that the Russians are looking for a way out.

The Kakhovka reservoir acts as a natural border between Ukrainian-controlled territory to the north and the plant’s southern banks.

The largest Russian-controlled city in the southeast Zaporizhzhia region, Melitopol, is connected to the plant and city of Enerhodar by a single main route, giving Russia access by land to the annexed Crimean peninsula.

If it looked that the road might be cut off, Russian forces to withdraw.

He continued by saying that he thought Russian personnel had already begun practicing withdrawal maneuvers at the plant.

Two local sources in Enerhodar claimed to have observed Russian personnel removing crates of medical equipment, including X-ray and laboratory equipment, from a hospital and closed Ukrainian banks this month.

Due to the south’s strategic importance as a bridge to Crimea and the Black Sea, Ukraine has stated intentions to launch a major offensive to retake occupied territory soon.

The trenchwork is particularly substantial on the route from Ukrainian-held territory south to Melitopol, indicating Moscow expects an attack there.

Last September Vladimir Putin declared three additional Ukrainian districts, including partially-occupied Zaporizhzhia, to be Russian soil. As a result, Moscow asserts that the nuclear facility, which met a fifth of Ukraine’s electrical demands before the war, now belongs to Russia.

Russian officials have ordered a withdrawal from the Zaporizhzhia region’s frontline communities, including Enerhodar. More than 1,500 people, according to them, have already been evacuated from that area.

According to Energoatom, the plant’s reactors were entirely shut down by September of last year, and the 11,000 or so Ukrainian employees on staff before the war have decreased to about 6,000.

About 2,700 people have contracts with a Russian Rosatom company, which Moscow claims runs the plant. Russia was going to evacuate more than 3,000 employees from the complex, Energoatom reported last week.

Photo: EPA/UPG

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