Ukraine warns of radiation leak risk after power cut at occupied Chernobyl plant

The defunct plant sits inside an exclusion zone that houses decommissioned reactors as well as radioactive waste facilities. PHOTO: AFP

KYIV (AFP/REUTERS) - Radioactive substances could be released from Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant because it cannot cool spent nuclear fuel after its power connection was severed, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company Energoatom said on Wednesday (March 9).

It said fighting made it impossible to immediately repair the high-voltage power line to the plant.

The facility was captured by Russian forces after the Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24.

Energoatom said there were about 20,000 spent fuel assemblies at Chernobyl that could not be kept cool amid a power outage.

Their warming could lead to “the release of radioactive substances into the environment. The radioactive cloud could be carried by wind to other regions of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Europe”, it said in a statement.

Without power, ventilation systems at the plant would also not be working, exposing staff to dangerous doses of radiation, it added.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia must urgently observe a temporary ceasefire to allow repairs on the power line.

“Reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity to power the Chornobyl NPP. After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent,” he said on Twitter.

On Tuesday, the UN nuclear watchdog warned that the systems monitoring nuclear material at the radioactive waste facilities at Chernobyl had stopped transmitting data.

More than 2,000 staff still work at the plant as it requires constant management to prevent another nuclear disaster.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi on Tuesday called on "on the forces in effective control of the site to urgently facilitate the safe rotation of personnel there".

He also repeated his offer to travel to Chernobyl or elsewhere to secure "the commitment to the safety and security" of Ukraine's power plants from all parties.

The still-radioactive site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster lies some 100km from Kyiv.

Its fourth reactor exploded in April 1986 during a botched safety test, sending clouds of radiation billowing across much of Europe.

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