The Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) has been disconnected from Ukraine’s energy grid for the first time in its history after nearby fires damaged overhead power lines, according to the country’s state nuclear power company.
The blazes broke out in the ash pits of the nearby, mainly coal-powered Zaporizhzhia Thermal Power Plant (TPP), Energoatom said in a statement on Thursday, resulting in the nuclear station’s two working power units being cut off.
It was not immediately clear what had caused the fires, but Energoatom noted the Zaporizhzhia plant’s security systems were working as normal.
“The NPP’s [Zaporizhzhia plant’s] own power supply needs are currently provided from the energy system of Ukraine through the communication line between the ZNPP and Zaporizhzhia TPP,” the company’s statement, posted on Telegram, said.
“Thus, the actions of the [Russian] invaders caused a complete disconnection of the ZNPP from the power grid – the first in the history of the plant,” it added.
Work was under way to reconnect one of the reactor blocks to the grid, Energoatom said.
There was no immediate comment from Moscow. Al Jazeera could not independently verify Energoatom’s report.
‘We need to stabilise the situation’
The developments came just hours after the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told the France 24 news channel that the UN’s nuclear watchdog was “very, very close” to being able to visit the Zaporizhzhia plant, located in southeastern Ukraine.
IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi also said he hoped IAEA’s inspection mission will take place “within days” once a deal has been reached on gaining access to the site, which the United Nations says should be demilitarised.
“We need to go there, we need to stabilise the situation, we need to ensure a presence of the IAEA soon,” Grossi told France 24 while on a visit to Paris.
The Zaporizhzhia plant was captured by Russian troops in early March, within weeks of Moscow launching its offensive, but it is still being operated by Ukrainian staff.
It sits close to areas where fighting is taking place, and has come under repeated fire in recent weeks, fuelling international concern about the potential for a nuclear accident.
Ukraine has accused Moscow of storing weapons at the plant and launching attacks from the site, while Russia accuses Kyiv of recklessly firing on the facility, which is located in the city of Enerhodar.
Complex negotiations over inspection
Ukraine is heavily reliant on its nuclear plants – its 15 reactors at four stations provide about half of the country’s electricity.
Ukrainian officials have said they believe Russia seized the Zaporizhzhia plant in order to divert power to the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow in early 2014.
Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo, reporting from Kyiv, said there had been repeated “crisscrossed accusations” traded between Russia and Ukraine over the fate of the site.
“But what the international community is demanding, and what Ukraine is also demanding, is that international experts are able to go the plant and monitor it, as well as verify whether any damage has happened,” Bo said.
“The biggest discussion right now is how that visit is going to take place – whether it’s going to go through Russia, which seems unlikely at this point, or whether it’s going to be carried out through Ukraine,” she added.
“But if that happens it [the visit] will have to go via the front lines, and that’s just another point of negotiation for how that whole situation might unfold.”