What to know about Ukraine’s nuclear sites and the risks the Russian invasion could pose

Zaporizhzhia, a nuclear power plant, caught fire after Russian shelling, according to Ukrainian officials. The plant is located near the southeastern city of Enerhodar, Ukraine. (Video: The Washington Post)

Russian forces disconnected Ukraine’s closed Chernobyl nuclear power plant from the nation’s power grid, Ukraine’s state-owned grid operator Ukrenergo said Wednesday. The move potentially jeopardizes the cooling of nuclear fuel still stored at the site.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said that U.N. monitors had “unexpectedly lost connection” with monitoring systems there, calling it an “extremely dangerous situation.”

Electricity is needed for cooling, ventilation and fire extinguishing systems at the site. In a statement on its Facebook page, Ukrenergo said emergency diesel generators have been turned on but that fuel would last only 48 hours. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday demanded a cease-fire to allow repairs.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday on Twitter that the power loss “violates [a] key safety pillar” but that it did not see any “critical impact” on safety.

Concerns emerged that the Russian invasion could jeopardize the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear sites after Russian forces took control of Chernobyl on Feb. 24.

Chernobyl plant disconnected from power grid; Ukraine demands cease-fire for urgent repairs

Those fears mounted when a Russian projectile sparked a fire early March 4 at the Zaporizhzhia site, Europe’s largest nuclear plant, triggering alarm across the world. Authorities have not recorded a release of radioactive material or damage to reactors.

The Zaporizhzhia incident prompted the United States to activate its nuclear-incident response team. At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday, the United States and allies lambasted Russia for the shelling and seizure of the plant.

“The world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Moscow denied that Russian forces fired on the plant.

Russian troops have placed Ukrainian workers at both the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia plants under their command.

On March 4, Russia seized Europe’s largest nuclear plant after fighting sparked a fire and Vladimir Putin called for a “normalization” of global relations. (Video: Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

In a statement released Sunday, Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that according to Ukraine, Russian troops had cut off access to the Internet and mobile networks around the Zaporizhzhia site, hindering the flow of reliable information from the ground.

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Ukraine relies heavily on nuclear energy — its 15 functional reactors, situated in four power stations, provide about half of the country’s electricity. It was also the site of a 1986 nuclear meltdown that sent a radioactive cloud over Europe. The specter of the Chernobyl disaster has loomed large amid fighting near nuclear reactors in recent days.

During a news briefing last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the country was “taking every measure” to maintain the safety of the Zaporizhzhia and Chernobyl plants.

Here’s what to know about Ukraine’s nuclear sites and what risks the invasion by Russia could pose.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia fired at least 85 missiles on at least six major cities in Ukraine on November 15, in one of the most widespread attacks of the war so far. The strikes came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking by video link, presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 leaders at a summit in Indonesia. As in previous Russian missile attacks, critical civilian infrastructure appeared to be primary targets. Parts of several cities that were hit were left without electrical power on Tuesday afternoon.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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