March 25, 2023

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Ukraine wants to restart the reactors at the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant

The decision comes just weeks after fears of a radiation disaster at the facility occupied by Russia, the president of the company that operates the plant told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The Zaporizhia nuclear power plant has emerged as one of the most worrisome flashpoints of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was damaged during the fighting, which caused an international alarm, and its head was detained by the occupation forces during the weekend, before being released on Monday, according to

Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom shut down the last of the plant’s six reactors on September 11 as Russian military activity cut off reliable external power for cooling and other safety systems, threatening a potentially catastrophic meltdown.

But now the company faces another problem.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Energoatom President Petro Kotin said the company could restart two of the reactors within days to protect safety installations as winter approaches and temperatures drop.

The plant’s last operational reactor was placed in what is called a “cold shutdown” last month, reducing the likelihood of a dangerous meltdown.

But there is still a risk as long as there are nuclear fuel assemblies inside, Kotin explained.

Deliberate damage to reactors or safety and cooling equipment, or a failure of these systems due to low temperatures, could still lead to disaster.

“You have waste heat and you have to constantly provide coolant for these fuel assemblies. If you stop cooling, then you’re going to have meltdown,” he said.

Russian troops occupy the plant and the surrounding area, including the nearby town of Enerhodar, while thousands of Ukrainian workers continue to maintain the facility. The plant is the city’s only source of heat, Kotin said.

Energoatom could make a decision as early as Wednesday to restart the reactors.

“We, at this point, are assessing all the risks. And that depends on the weather. And we really don’t have much time to do that,” Kotin said.

At the time of the forced stop, Ukrainian officials warned that it was only a temporary measure and, as such, unsafe.

The plant is located in one of four Ukrainian regions that Russia has claimed as its territory.

The plant’s general manager, Ihor Murashov, was captured and blindfolded by Russian forces as he returned home from work on Friday, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the annexation treaties.

Murashov said he was not beaten or otherwise abused, but was forced to make false statements on camera before being released, according to Kotin.

“I would say it was mental torture,” Kotin said of the unsubstantiated false confessions.

“He had to say that all the bombings on the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant were done by Ukrainian forces and that he is a Ukrainian spy and that he is in contact with Ukrainian special forces,” he added.

Eventually, Murashov was let go at a checkpoint on the edge of Russian-controlled territory and had to walk about 15 kilometers through no man’s land to Ukrainian-controlled areas, according to Kotin.

The mayor of Enerhodar, Dmitro Orlov, said that he spoke with Murashov in the meantime, who reported that he “spent two days in isolation in the basement, handcuffed and with a bag on his head.”

“His condition can hardly be called normal,” added Orlov.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, said on Tuesday that it “understands that Mr. Murashov is now with his family in Ukrainian-controlled territory and will not continue his duties at ZNPP.”

“It is not yet clear who will replace him in this role,” the agency said.

The UN agency said its own director-general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, plans to travel to Kyiv and then Moscow this week to secure an agreement on a “nuclear safety and security protection zone” around the Zaporozhye plant.

Russian forces occupied the nuclear power plant, which is among the largest in the world, at the beginning of the war. Both sides blame each other for the bombings that damaged the power lines that connect it to the grid.

On Tuesday, Kotin renewed his call for the establishment of a “demilitarized zone” around the plant, where two International Atomic Energy Agency experts are currently stationed.

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