- The world’s nuclear watchdog lost contact with safeguards monitoring systems at Chernobyl.
- The decommissioned nuclear power plant has been under the control of Russian troops for 13 days.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed concern about the safety of the staff there.
The global nuclear monitor said it unexpectedly lost remote contact with safeguarding systems at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement Tuesday that it was no longer in touch with remote data transmission from safeguard monitoring systems installed at the decommissioned plant.
Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications said Wednesday Chernobyl station and all nuclear facilities in the exclusion zone are without electricity after a power line was damaged by Russia.
The IAEA said Wednesday that it “sees no critical impact on safety” from the reported power outage.
The message came 13 days after Russian forces seized Chernobyl by force in the first days of their invasion of Ukraine.
The site has been surrounded by an exclusion zone since the 1986 meltdown there, which was the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
Though some expressed worry at the site becoming part of a war, experts have said the chance of a global nuclear accident on the scale of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster is low.
This loss of contact with Chernobyl was unexpected, Mykhailo Podoliyak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a tweet Tuesday.
“At the moment no one understands what is happening in Chornobyl and what is threatening the region. An extremely dangerous situation,” he said, using the Ukrainian spelling for the area.
The IAEA and State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) have criticized Russia for attacking nuclear sites.
As well as taking Chernobyl, on Friday, Russia also seized Ukraine’s largest functioning nuclear power plant, a six-reactor complex in Zaporizhzhia.
There are another three nuclear power plants on the Ukrainian territory.
The Ukrainian staff operating the site in Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia have not been able to rotate since the troops took over, prompting concern from the IAEA about their ability to keep the sites safe.
“I’m deeply concerned about the difficult and stressful situation facing staff at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and the potential risks these entails for nuclear safety,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Tuesday.
Ukraine’s energy minister said on Facebook Tuesday that “Russian occupation forces torture the operating staff of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” and that “occupiers compelled the Plant’s management to record an address that they plan to use for propaganda purposes.”
There was no independent confirmation of that claim. Russian state media has in recent weeks circulated rumors of a secret nuclear program in Ukraine, and Russian nuclear officials have used the prospect of a-armed Ukraine to justify the war there.
Although it has nuclear power plants, Ukraine has no nuclear weapons program and gave up its supply of Soviet nuclear weapons not long after becoming independent in the 1990s.
It is very unlikely that a nuclear accident of the scale of the 1986 accident could happen at the Chernobyl site again, experts previously told Insider.
Chernobyl NPP has been largely decommissioned. The work carried out by Ukrainian nuclear safety staff is essentially limited to cleaning up the site and the long process of permanently shutting down the nuclear reactors, per Insider.
Accidents at modern-day power plants are also much less likely to cause global-scale devastation of the likes of Chernobyl. Failsafes have been installed and cores today are contained by structures designed to withstand impacts and earthquakes.
Still, these containment structures are also not specifically designed to withstand bombs or artillery strikes.
A military device exploding on Chernobyl could in a worst-case scenario cause contaminated soil to catch fire, degrading radioactive material that could potentially spread through the air, Insider’s Aria Bendix previously reported.
The IAEA did not respond to Insider’s request for comment before publication.