The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant: Europe's Largest Under Threat Amid Russia-Ukraine Conflict

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant: Europe's Largest Under Threat Amid Russia-Ukraine Conflict
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Monday 8 April 2024, 19:18 - Last updated: 19:29
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, hit again by the Russian army, is the largest in Europe and among the ten largest in the world. It can generate up to 42 billion kWh of electricity, equivalent to about 40% of the total production of Ukrainian nuclear power plants and a fifth of the electricity produced in a year in Ukraine. It is located in the south of the country, in Energodar. Zaporizhzhia, is there a risk of a nuclear accident? From the damage to the reactor's containment to the precedent of Chernobyl: what we know. Ukraine War, Zaporizhzhia plant in the crosshairs. IAEA: 'The nuclear reactor's containment damaged'. A drone was shot down. War in Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia attacked. 'This increases the risk of a serious nuclear accident'. Before the conflict in Ukraine, it has not produced electrical energy for Ukraine for a year and a half but remains partially in operation to manage safety devices. Active since 1984, the plant covers almost 105 hectares on the shores of the Kakhovka reservoir, in the steppe, near the Zaporozhe thermal power plant. It consists of six pressurized water reactors built between 1984 and 1995, with a gross electrical capacity of one thousand megawatts each, designed to last 30 years. Between 2019 and 2021, four of the six reactors underwent a scheduled shutdown of activity to allow the transition to the American company Westinghouse, the new nuclear fuel supplier. The resistance of the structure. The containment structures of nuclear reactors are made of reinforced concrete coated with steel designed to withstand the impact of a small aircraft accident. However, a 1989 study by the United States Department of Energy found that the containment structure model used at Zaporizhzhia 'presents vulnerabilities': for example, if a fighter jet crashed downwards into the dome, where the structure is thinner, it could penetrate it, causing pieces of concrete and parts of airplane engines to fall inside. External electrical lines are essential for cooling the nuclear fuel in the reactors. After the start of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. In March 2022, the nuclear power plant came under the control of the Russian army. The plant is operated by the state-owned company Rosatom and controlled by special units. In September 2022, the last active reactor was also disconnected from the Ukrainian electricity grid. Since the beginning of the Russian conflict, the plant has lost external power eight times, the last time in December of last year, and recourse was made to emergency diesel generators. The risks. Without the necessary water to cool the fuel or without power to pump the water, the fuel could melt. In addition, the zirconium cladding could release hydrogen causing an explosion. In addition to the reactors, the plant also has a dry spent fuel storage facility and spent fuel pools at each reactor site. Without the water supply of the pools, useful for cooling the used nuclear fuel, the water evaporates and the temperature increases. In such a case, the risk is that of a fire that releases radioactive isotopes. It happened in 2011 in Fukushima, Japan where a hydrogen emission from a spent fuel pool caused a nuclear disaster with the explosion of a reactor. A fuel meltdown could trigger a fire or explosion. This would generate a wide spread in the air of radionuclides that would reach a vast area.
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