Russian shelling has left Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant relying on emergency diesel generators, which could run out in 15 days.
Ukraine and United Nations (UN) officials reported on Thursday that external power from the electric grid was cut off amid fighting, forcing temporary measures to cool the six reactors.
Energoatom, the company that runs Zaporizhzhia - Europe’s largest power station, said “the countdown has begun” to secure its survival. The firm also warned of the threat of nuclear disaster.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed the switch to backup diesel generators and said that underlines "the extremely precarious nuclear safety and security situation at the facility”.
The development "again demonstrates the plant’s fragile and vulnerable situation," said Rafael Grossi, the director general of the UN nuclear watchdog, adding that relying on diesel generators "is clearly not a sustainable way to operate a major nuclear facility".
"Measures are needed to prevent a nuclear accident at the site. The establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone is urgently needed," he said.
Russia and Ukraine have traded blame during the war for shelling at and around the plant.
Energoatom said Thursday that Russian shelling knocked out the last two high voltage transmission lines feeding the Zaporizhzhia plant. Russia gave a different account, blaming Ukraine.
Russian forces have occupied the plant since the early days of the war. The plant is located in the Zaporizhzhia region, part of which has been occupied by Russian forces and illegally annexed, along with three other provinces, by Russian president Vladimir Putin last month.
Although Putin signed a decree transferring the nuclear plant to Russian ownership, Ukrainian workers continue to run the plant.
Energoatom said Russian officials are trying to connect the power station to Russia’s power grid so it could supply electricity to Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and Ukraine’s Donbas region, annexed by Putin this autumn.