Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Wednesday ordering the Russian government to take control of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and make it “federal property”.
It is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and is controlled by Russian troops, but has so far been operated by Ukrainian officials.
Its proximity to the front lines of the struggle has raised international fears of a nuclear disaster.
A Russian soldier guards the largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on August 4, 2022. — Photo: Alexander Ermochenko/ Reuters
“The government must ensure that the plant’s nuclear facilities […] be accepted as federal property”, says the decree, published days before a possible visit to Russia by the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi.
Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the bombing that damaged parts of the plant, and the IAEA has called for the establishment of a buffer zone around the site to reduce the risk of a potentially catastrophic accident. Grossi is expected to hold talks in Moscow and Kiev this week.
Location of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe — Photo: Arte/g1
Zaporizhzhia has six reactors, and each one can generate about 950 megawatts — in total, that’s about 5.7 gigawatts (by comparison, the Itaipu hydroelectric plant, on the border between Brazil and Paraguay, has an installed capacity of 14 gigawatts) .
The energy generated in Zaporizhzhia is enough to supply about 4 million homes. This plant alone was responsible for a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity and half of all nuclear generation. Ukraine had, before the invasion, four nuclear plants that, together, had 15 reactors.
The complex is located near the town of Enerhodar, on the edge of a dam on the Dnieper River. The first reactor was connected to the Ukrainian system in 1984, and the sixth in 1995. In addition to the reactors, the complex has a warehouse that has used fuel elements.
According to a Greenpeace report published on March 2, by 2017 there were 2,204 tonnes of fuel elements stored on site (855 in pools and 1,349 in dry storage).
Environmental group Greenpeace points out that there are some risks at the site that are unrelated to the conflict:
- Vulnerability to electrical energy losses;
- Storage of used fuel elements;
- Risk of flooding and dam bursting.
In addition to generating capacity, the plant is important because it is about 200 kilometers from Crimea, the region the Russians annexed in 2014.