Reports came out of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine around July 18, that Russia was using the plant site to launch missiles.
Around the same time, there was a report of Russian soldiers being sent to the hospital and multiple people were dead. CNN is now reporting that nine Russian soldiers are in a nearby hospital with one in intensive care and numerous dead. Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reported that 12 have been hospitalized and three were dead. The more recent report also describes what took place as causing the Russian panic. The “Energodar occupation administration” reported that “11 employees” were injured. It is not clear if these are Ukrainian plant staff that were injured in the attack or if this is a colorful description of the injured Russian soldiers.
“We will not guess what caused the simultaneous ‘thinning’ of the ranks of the occupiers at the facility,” Orlov said. But he added that the Russians “were so frightened that they ran around the [power] station’s territory in a panic” and had blocked two shifts of power plant workers.”
The Ukraine Ministry of Defense report described the attack as a Ukraine suicide drone that took out a tent city, mobile anti-aircraft guns and a BM-21 Grad.
A drastic build-up of equipment at the plant was reported in early July:
“more than 500 Russian soldiers who seized the plant in March have in recent weeks deployed heavy artillery batteries and laid anti-personnel mines along the shores of the reservoir whose water cools its six reactors”
Russian occupiers have turned the plant into a military garrison, adding trenches, a guard dog kennel, BM Smerch missile launchers, and moving Rosatom staff into an underground bunker turned command center. The final set of connections to on-site cameras and data feeds at the plant for the IAEA were cut in early July along with this build-up at the plant. Russian occupiers also threatened to drain the cooling ponds to “look for weapons” they accused Ukrainian staff of hiding in the ponds. Such an action could compromise the cooling of the reactors and spent fuel pools. There were also reports of the Russian occupiers setting landmines around the cooling ponds.
Workers at the plant have reported that at least 40 of the plant’s 11,000 workers have been kidnapped and held for ransom by Russian troops. Ukrainian plant workers accused by the Russian occupiers of being “spies” have been beaten, tortured, and starved.
Reports earlier in the month cited the deteriorating conditions at the plant. The plant staff are working under the threat of both Russian soldiers occupying the plant and Rosatom staff who are there in some capacity on behalf of the Russian government. The IAEA is reporting that conditions for the plant workers have significantly deteriorated in recent weeks, and the IAEA has been unable to send inspectors to the plant. Workers have been unable to bring in equipment and supplies to operate the plant and have missed the spring refueling and maintenance window. Both of these problems drastically increase the risk of a mechanical or system failure at the plant. Due to the conditions created by the Russian occupation of the plant, any response to an incident at the plant would be impossible.
The 6-unit plant was down to one operating unit in May but the number of reactors on site exponentially increases any potential problems. Fuel in the shut-down reactors must continue to be cooled and spent fuel pools must maintain cooling. Physical damage to any of the reactors or spent fuel pools could have catastrophic consequences. As we saw during the initial disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, it becomes increasingly difficult to control a multi-unit plant site and just one unit having a failure that makes it unsafe to be near the reactor units will compromise the ability to control or mitigate the other units.
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