Fighting near the plant has sparked serious concerns about a potential disaster and calls from many world leaders for UN nuclear experts to be allowed to visit the site.
Russian and Ukrainian officials have swapped responsibility for the bombing of the plant, which they say led to the disconnection of the power grid – the first time it has been cut. Officials including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have warned that such a disconnect itself could lead to an extremely dangerous situation by disrupting the normal operation of the plant and potentially making it difficult for the reactors to cool.
“The actions of the invaders caused a complete disconnection of the ZNPP from the power grid – for the first time in the history of the plant,” Ukraine’s nuclear energy company, Energoatom, said in a statement.
On Thursday morning, the mayor of Enerhodar, where the plant is located, said the town was “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe” as the bombings left it without electricity and water. He later said authorities were working to restore power to the city.
The Russian-installed “governor” in the occupied region, Yevhen Balytskyi, blamed the Ukrainian military for the blackouts. The accusation was picked up by Russian news agency RIA Novosti, which said shelling by Ukrainian forces caused a short in the grid, leading to “a power outage in the Zaporizhzhia region”.
The nuclear power plant is now supplied by a nearby geothermal power plant, and Enerhodar, under Russian control, should regain its electricity in a few hours, an Energoatom spokesman said.
Ukrainian plant workers continued to keep the nuclear site operational under the control of the occupation authorities.
The Zaporizhzhia power plant is a major source of energy for Ukraine. Before the Russian invasion on February 24, it provided a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity and almost half of its nuclear energy.
US Under Secretary of State Bonnie Jenkins, a top arms control and international security official, told reporters on Thursday that she was aware of reports of a power outage but could not not confirm them independently.
Jenkins renewed his calls for the Russian military to vacate the plant and allow visits by international nuclear experts, saying a power outage can have an “immediate impact, obviously” for Ukrainian citizens.
In a statement, Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, said the plant lost power twice during the day. , but that she was currently back.
Grossi said the incident further underscored the “urgent need for an IAEA expert mission to visit the facility.” He said he was ready to go there himself in the coming days.
“Almost every day a new incident occurs at or near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” he said. “We can’t afford to waste any more time. I am determined to personally lead an IAEA mission to the plant in the coming days to help stabilize the nuclear safety and security situation there.
On Tuesday, Zelensky called for international pressure to force the Russian occupation forces out of the plant and its surroundings. “We have to put pressure on Russia, give her an ultimatum from the international community to leave,” Zelensky said, adding, “It’s dangerous for the whole world.”
Experts are struggling to understand whether the damage to the factory was due to deliberate sabotage or perhaps the result of error by soldiers in the area. They said the presence of IAEA inspectors on site would improve the situation.
“At a minimum, the IAEA can assess the safety of the plant,” said Jon Wolfsthal, former senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council during the Obama administration.
“He can determine whether or not there has been damage to the reactor containment,” Wolfsthal said. “He can determine if backup security systems are online and working. This can provide assurance to Ukrainians and Russians and the neighboring population, and the rest of Europe, that there are still several backup systems in place or alert the world if these systems are not in place.
Karina Tsui in Washington and Robyn Dixon in Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.