Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant: where in Ukraine is it, what would happen if it blew up - another Chernobyl?

If Europe’s largest nuclear power station explodes, it would be a disaster ‘10 times larger than Chernobyl’

The level of safety at Europe’s largest nuclear power station – under Russian occupation in Ukraine – is like a “red light blinking”, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s director-general said.

Rafael Grossi spoke as his organisation tries in vain to get access for work, including repairs.

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He turned the focus to the station at Zaporizhzhia a day after the 36th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. That station was also taken over by invading Russian forces.

Grossi said the IAEA needs access to the Zaporizhzhia facility in southern Ukraine so its inspectors can, among other things, re-establish connections with the Vienna-based headquarters of the UN agency. For that, both Russia and Ukraine need to help.

The station requires repairs “and all of this is not happening”, he said.

Here is everything you need to know.

What happened?

Bombardment of the nuclear plant - the biggest in Europe and among the Top 10 largest in the world - began in the early hours of Friday (4 March) morning.

The plant accounts for more than a fifth of the total electricity generated in Ukraine, and was struck by artillery strikes.

A fire broke out at an educational and training building located perilously close to one of the plant’s six nuclear reactors, although no “essential” equipment was damaged.

After an intense battle, Russian troops were able to occupy the power plant after confirming that there were no changes to radiation levels

A US Energy official has since stated that the reactor was being safely shut down.

Boris Johnson has called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council in light of the attack near the city of Enerhodar in southeastern Ukraine.

No 10 has said the Prime Minister would directly raise the issue with the Kremlin after he spoke to Ukrainian PresidentVolodymyr Zelensky in the early hours.

(Image: NationalWorld/JPIMedia)

What was the damage?

Several hours after the bombardment began, Ukrainian emergency services announced on social media that the fire had been extinguished.

Earlier in the night, the plant’s spokesman Andriy Tuz told Ukrainian television that shells were falling directly on the Zaporizhzhia plant and had set fire to one of the facility’s six reactors.

Firefighters - who struggled to get near the fire because they were being shot at - added that the blaze had been in the educational and training building of the plant and no one was harmed.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has said it was “doubly reprehensible” that Russian forces had continued to shell the nuclear site after Ukrainian emergency services had looked to put the fire out.

He told Sky News: “The fact that the Russians kept on bombarding after there was the fire and the Ukrainian emergency rescue team were trying to get to that makes it doubly reprehensible.”

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the fire did not cause a change in the plant’s radiation level. Nor had the shelling or fire caused any damage to “essential” equipment.

In a series of statements posted to Twitter, the agency said: “Ukraine regulator tells IAEA there has been no change reported in radiation levels at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant site.

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), points on a map of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as he informs the press about the situation of nuclear powerplants in Ukraine during a special press conference (Photo: JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)

“Ukraine tells IAEA that THE fire at THE site of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has not affected ‘essential’ equipment, plant personnel taking mitigatory actions.”

The agency later tweeted to say it had put its incident and emergency centre in “full 24/7 response mode due to serious situation at Zaporizhzhia”.

Could it have been worse?

While the reactor is under renovation, according to the power plant’s spokesman, Zaporizhzhia still contains nuclear fuel.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Russia’s shelling of a nuclear power station in the south-eastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia could “directly threaten the safety of all of Europe”.

A Downing Street spokeswoman called the situation “gravely concerning”, adding: “Both leaders agreed that Russia must immediately cease its attack on the power station and allow unfettered access for emergency services to the plant.

“The Prime Minister said the reckless actions of President Putin could now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe. He said the UK would do everything it could to ensure the situation did not deteriorate further.”

Confirming the initial reports of a fire at the plant Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted: “If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chernobyl.”

In a speech following the attack on the plant, President Zelensky said Russian troops had risked nuclear destruction from a blast that could have been six times that of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

A reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded in April 1986, spewing radioactive waste across Europe.

It has been estimated that 400 times more radioactive material was released into the air than when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan towards the end of the Second World War.

A protective “sarcophagus” was built and placed over the power plant in order to reduce the spread of radioactive contamination.

The deteriorating sarcophagus containing the reactor was covered in 2017 with an enormous shelter aimed at containing radiation still leaking from the accident until the site can be dismantled, which is expected to take until 2064.