Ukraine: Calls for ceasefire as Chernobyl safety systems 'at risk' after power outage

9 March 2022, 15:21

Fresh warnings have been raised over Chernobyl
Fresh warnings have been raised over Chernobyl. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Chernobyl has been knocked off the power grid and the system used to cool nuclear material there could now be at risk, it has been warned.

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Ukrainian authorities say the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, which has fallen under the control of invading Russian forces, is operating on back-up power.

Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba called for a ceasefire after saying the power grid which supplied electricity to the site is damaged, though the cause is unclear. Data is no longer being transmitted.

The Ukrainians say that systems used to cool nuclear material could be at risk. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the grid supplying electricity is damaged and called for a cease-fire to allow for repairs.

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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was told about a loss of power by Kyiv, which violates a "key safety pillar on ensuring uninterrupted power supply", but sees "no critical impact on safety" from the power cut.

But Professor Claire Corkhill, the chair of the Nuclear Material Degradation at the University of Sheffield's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said: "With the electricity supply to the Chernobyl site unavailable there are several areas of concern with regards to the safety of the nuclear material stored there."

Prof Corkhill leads a team that is helping the clean up at Fukushima, the site of a nuclear incident in Japan.

She explained that nuclear fuel from reactors one and three needs to be cooled constantly by fresh, cool water getting pumped into the ponds used to store it.

Without power, the water could slowly evaporate and cause the building to become contaminated by low levels of radioactive isotopes.

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Levels at the plant are monitored by systems "so that we can be aware of any potential reasons for concern about the exposed nuclear fuel inside".

"Another serious concern is the maintenance of the ventilation system in the New Safe Confinement structure," Prof Corkhill, who researches radioactive waste material in the long term, went on.

"This prevents further degradation of reactor number four and the hazardous exposed nuclear fuel within, and is essential to the future decommissioning of the site.

"If there is no power to this structure, we could see the complete failure of the 1.5 billion euro [£1.25 billion] decommissioning programme to make the site safe once and for all."

Mr Kuleba said on Twitter: "Reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity to power the Chornobyl NPP. After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent."