The last regular line supplying electricity to Ukraine’s Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) was working again after being cut earlier on Thursday, the United Nations said, an outage that underlined the potential peril posed by nearby fighting.
Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said earlier that fires broke out in the ash pits of a coal power station near the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex, Europe’s largest such facility, disrupting lines linking the plant to Ukraine’s power grid.
“As a result, the station’s two working power units were disconnected from the network,” Energoatom said in a statement.
“Thus, the actions of the invaders caused a complete disconnection … the first in the history of the plant.”
The last electricity supply to the plant was restored later in the day, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, said in a statement.
“Ukraine told the IAEA that the ZNPP … at least twice lost connection to the power line during the day but that it was currently up again,” it said, adding that information on the direct cause of the outage was not immediately available.
The Zaporizhzhia plant was captured by Russian troops in early March, within weeks of Moscow launching its offensive, but it is still being operated by Ukrainian staff.
It sits close to areas where fighting is taking place, and has come under repeated fire in recent weeks, fuelling international concern about the potential for a nuclear accident.
Ukraine has accused Moscow of storing weapons at the plant and launching attacks from the site, while Russia accuses Kyiv of recklessly firing on the facility, which is located in the city of Enerhodar.
The developments came hours after the chief of the IAEA told the France 24 news channel that the UN’s nuclear watchdog was “very, very close” to being able to visit the Zaporizhzhia plant, located in southeastern Ukraine.
IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi also said he hoped IAEA’s inspection mission will take place “within days” once a deal has been reached on gaining access to the site, which the United Nations says should be demilitarised.
“We need to go there, we need to stabilise the situation, we need to ensure a presence of the IAEA soon,” Grossi told France 24 while on a visit to Paris.
Complex negotiations over inspection
Ukraine is heavily reliant on its nuclear plants – its 15 reactors at four stations provide about half of the country’s electricity.
Ukrainian officials have said they believe Russia seized the Zaporizhzhia plant in order to divert power to the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow in early 2014.
Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo, reporting from Kyiv, said there had been repeated “crisscrossed accusations” traded between Russia and Ukraine over the fate of the site.
“But what the international community is demanding, and what Ukraine is also demanding, is that international experts are able to go the plant and monitor it, as well as verify whether any damage has happened,” Bo said.
“The biggest discussion right now is how that visit is going to take place – whether it’s going to go through Russia, which seems unlikely at this point, or whether it’s going to be carried out through Ukraine,” she added.
“But if that happens it [the visit] will have to go via the front lines, and that’s just another point of negotiation for how that whole situation might unfold.”