Nuclear plant briefly disconnected from Ukraine's grid, amid shelling

The lines connecting the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant to infrastructure have come under repeated assault in recent weeks. PHOTO: REUTERS

KYIV, UKRAINE (NYTIMES) - Ukraine's largest nuclear power plant was briefly disconnected from the nation's power grid for the first time in its history, according to Ukrainian officials, leading to large-scale power outages in nearly all the Russia-occupied cities of southern Ukraine.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant - which provides one-fifth of Ukraine's electricity but has been occupied by Russian forces for months - was still able to generate power to meet its own needs and keep essential systems working safely, according to the Ukrainian energy agency, Energoatom.

The agency blamed the Russians for shelling key infrastructure around the plant that led to its "complete disconnection" from the power grid, "the first in the history of the plant."

The lines connecting the plant to infrastructure that helps transmit the power it generates to more than four million homes have come under repeated assault in recent weeks.

The Ukrainians and Russians have traded blame over who is responsible for the shelling, which has continued despite international calls for the creation of a demilitarised zone around the plant. Russia has rejected that proposal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is trying to negotiate a visit to the plant by its experts to verify its safe operation. The head of the UN agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said that an agreement on a visit could be reached within days.

"We are very, very close to that," Grossi told the France 24 news network, although he emphasised that the terms of the visit, and security arrangements to allow the inspectors to travel through a zone of active fighting, were yet to be finalised.

The most recent shelling has hit infrastructure outside the plant and three of the four "communication lines" from the nuclear facility to the national grid were damaged in recent days.

On Thursday, Energoatom said the fourth and last line - running to a nearby thermal power plant - was damaged, leading to the disconnection twice.

Each time engineers raced to repair the lines.

The precarious working conditions at the plant and recent shelling at the facility have raised global alarm.

The British military intelligence agency on Thursday released new satellite photos showing Russian military equipment parked close to the working reactors.

Ukrainian Emergency Ministry rescuers attend an exercise in the city of Zaporizhzhia, on Aug 17, 2022, in case of a possible nuclear incident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, located near the city. PHOTO: AFP

But the most immediate impact of the fighting around the plant is being felt by hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians living in Russian-occupied towns and cities across southern Ukraine.

The exiled mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said the city was "once again on the verge of a humanitarian disaster."

"Today, as a result of enemy shelling, the city was completely left without electricity and water," he said.

A Ukrainian Emergency Ministry rescuer attends an exercise in the city of Zaporizhzhia on Aug 17, 2022, in case of a possible nuclear incident at the nearby Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. PHOTO: AFP

Several hours later, he said that workers at the nuclear power plant managed to restore power to the city. But outages in other southern cities remained, including in the Russia-controlled port city of Berdyansk, more than 200km to the south.

Residents in the city said cellphone service on the Russian-installed mobile network was not working and there were long lines for fuel and drinking water. Similar conditions were reported in other towns and cities across the occupied south.

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