The Ukrainian government announced on Wednesday that there is now a risk of an environmentally damaging radiation leak from Chernobyl. Russian forces seized the Chernobyl power plant on Feb. 25, holding the staff hostage, according to Reuters.
Energoatom, the state-run nuclear power company for Ukraine, reportedly said that a high-voltage power line has been damaged as a result of the fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces, as Russia’s military currently occupies the nuclear plant. The power line is responsible for providing electricity to the Chernobyl facility, as well as all Chernobyl Exclusion Zone facilities.
The company warned that there are about 20,000 spent fuel assemblies in the Chernobyl facility that require constant cooling. Without electricity to cool them, the temperature of these fuel assemblies will rise, which will result in radioactive substances being emitted into the environment, according to Fox News.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the facility’s reserve diesel generators could power the plant for only 48 hours.
However, James Action, a co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace tweeted:
“The loss of power at Chernobyl is concerning but it is extremely unlikely that spent fuel pools there will empty because of evaporation (which could lead to fuel melting). This process is slow and mitigations should be straightforward.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency has since stated that the “heat load of spent fuel storage pool and volume of cooling water at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant sufficient for effective heat removal without need for electrical supply,” as was reported by The Guardian.
It is currently unknown what the Kremlin’s intentions are regarding the defunct nuclear power plant though some reports suggest that the ‘Cold War-era site’ could be of symbolic importance or strategic importance to Putin because it “simply carries the threat of nuclear consequences if Russia’s military were to be targeted in that location.”