Greenpeace accuses Russia of ‘unprecedented escalation’ if it restarts Zaporizhzhia reactors | Russia

Greenpeace has accused Russia of threatening Ukraine and the West with “an unprecedented escalation” if Moscow tries to restart the reactors at the occupied Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.

The pressure group’s warning came a day after Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi to discuss nuclear safety and power on the front lines of the war in Ukraine to discuss.

Grossi told Russia Today on Tuesday that he discussed with Putin the possibility of restarting the plant, which Greenpeace said would pose an unprecedented risk if any of the six reactors were restarted as has been suggested by Russian officials.

Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, said: “There are no nuclear regulations anywhere in the world that would allow a nuclear power plant to operate on the front line in an active war zone.”

The massive Zaporizhia nuclear power plant was captured by the Russian invaders in the early stages of the war in March 2022 and has been on the front lines of the war ever since. The factory is located on the Dnipro River in central Ukraine and Ukrainian forces occupy the opposite bank, putting the factory in the crosshairs of forces from both sides.

Russia’s initial ambitions to connect the reactors to its own energy grid were abandoned and all six reactors were put into various states of shutdown. But recent comments from officials have suggested that there will be another attempt to restart nuclear power generation later this year.

Yuriy Chernichuk, the site’s Russian-appointed director, told the plant’s staff newsletter in late December: “Next year is an anniversary year for the station and the station is committed to operating at full capacity.”

Last month, Grossi said he would try to understand Russia’s intentions, while the nuclear watchdog warned Moscow on Tuesday when asked in Sochi whether some or all of the reactors would be restarted.

“I have drawn the attention of my Russian counterparts to the fact that such action would require a number of considerations,” Grossi said. “First of all, this is an active combat zone, and this should not be forgotten. Secondly, this factory has been closed for a long time.”

Nevertheless, the IAEA director general did not absolutely warn against restarting power generation at the site, saying that to do so “a number of safety assessments would have to be carried out” by the Russian occupiers.

The Kremlin released opening remarks about the meeting with Grossi. In it, Putin made no mention of plans for Zaporizhia, but did say that “on a planetary scale it is very important to guarantee the safety of nuclear energy and compliance with safety standards around the world.”

A report from news agency RIA Novosti said Grossi had described the talks as “tense”, but an IAEA spokesperson denied this claim. In addition to meeting Putin, Grossi also met Alexey Likhachev, the director general of Rosatom, the Russian state energy company that now operates the plant.

Greenpeace accused Grossi of being complacent and said restarting any of the reactors should be completely ruled out. “The IAEA should not play the role of a so-called regulator overseeing a Russian nuclear time bomb, but should instead make it clear that safe exploitation is impossible,” Burnie said.

The environmental pressure group said an operating nuclear reactor would inevitably operate with a reduced safety margin on the front line, and there was particular concern over whether Rosatom could ensure sufficient cooling water was available to operate even a single reactor safely.

An analysis by Greenpeace shows that Russia would have to build a new pumping station to ensure that sufficient cooling water is available, because the Dnipro no longer flows into the cooling reservoir on site. The river shrank dramatically in the area after the Nova Kakhovka dam was blown up downstream last June.

Five of the nuclear reactors at the plant, the largest in Europe, are in a cold standstill, with the reactors running at a temperature below boiling point. A sixth is currently switched off to produce steam and heating required for the site.

IAEA inspectors are on site, although criticism has been leveled at Russia’s restrictions on their access, but even with closure the situation remains fragile. Russian troops are believed to be present at the factory, although conflict in the area has not been intense.

Only two of the ten pre-war power lines remain to power the reactor cooling system. According to the IAEA, both lines have failed eight times in the past 18 months, forcing the nuclear power plant to rely on emergency generators to prevent the reactors from gradually overheating.

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