KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine is considering reopening Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which is occupied by Russian troops, to ensure its safety weeks after it was shut down over fears of a radiation disaster, the head of the facility’s operator said Tuesday.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has emerged as one of the most worrisome flashpoints in Russia’s occupation of Ukraine. It has been battle-damaged, sparking international alarm and its head seized by occupation forces over the weekend before its release on Monday.
Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom shut down the last of the plant’s six reactors on Sept. 11 as Russian military activity cut off reliable external power supplies for cooling and other safety measures, threatening a potentially catastrophic meltdown.
But now the company faces a different problem.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Energoatom President Petro Kotin said Energoatom could restart two reactors within days to protect safety installations as winter approaches and temperatures drop.
“If you have low temperatures, you’ll just freeze everything inside. Security equipment will be damaged,” he said in his office at the company’s Kyiv headquarters. “So you need heating and the only heat is going to come from the working furnace.”
Russian troops have occupied the plant and surrounding areas, including the nearby town of Energodar where thousands of Ukrainian workers continue to maintain the facility. Kotin said the plant is the city’s only source of heat.
Energoatom may make a decision as early as Wednesday to restart the reactor.
“We are assessing all the risks at the moment. And it depends on the weather. And actually, we don’t have much time to do it,” Cotin said.
The problem operators now face is that the various systems that keep reactors safe and operational must not get so cold that they stop working. In the current scenario, the Russian military still risks normal operations, requiring power for those systems to come from the plant itself.
“Frozen, you lose everything. And after that, the consequences will be very, very dangerous,” Kotin said.
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