Only luck prevented a fire at one of Zaporizhzhia’s operating nuclear reactors

Source: Hot Air

Tuesday the NY Times published a story about the ongoing disaster at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Russia took over the town and the area near the plant in March and apparently it was pure luck that a fire didn’t break out at one of the plant’s two operating reactors.

The danger at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant — a sprawl of cooling towers, nuclear reactors, machine rooms and radioactive waste storage sites — was actually graver than even those who worked there knew, in early March, just days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

A large caliber bullet had pierced an outer wall of Reactor No. 4 but, most worrying and not disclosed at the time, an artillery shell had struck an electrical transformer at Reactor No. 6, which was filled with flammable cooling oil, plant employees subsequently learned and told The New York Times. Both reactors were active.

“By happy coincidence, it didn’t burn,” said an engineer, Oleksiy, who insisted that his last name not be publicly disclosed out of security concerns.

Had a fire started it could have cut power to the operating reactor which would not have been able to run pumps necessary to keep the reactor from overheating. Later in the story we learn that within 90 minutes of losing power the reactor would be in danger of a meltdown.

Last week there was a report that Russia had told Russian employees not to show up for work on Friday which raised concern that they were about to do something dangerous. Nothing dramatic happened Friday but the Guardian is reporting today about fresh concerns that Russia is looking for an excuse to disconnect the reactor from the Ukrainian power grid.

Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine’s atomic energy company, told the Guardian in an interview that Russian engineers had already drawn up a blueprint for a switch on the grounds of emergency planning should fighting sever remaining power connections.

“They presented [the plan] to [workers at] the plant, and the plant [workers] presented it to us. The precondition for this plan was heavy damage of all lines which connect Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to the Ukrainian system,” Kotin said in an interview on Ukraine’s independence day on Wednesday, with the country mostly locked down because of the threat of Russian attacks.

He fears that Russia’s military is now targeting those connections to make the emergency scenario a reality. Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the site.

“They just started doing that, they starting all the shelling, just to take out these lines,” Kotin said.

Whatever the Russian plan is that may unfold next, the stress of waiting for the next potential disaster is the opposite of how nuclear plants are supposed to be run.

“The main condition for operating a nuclear plant is calm,” said Dmytro Gortenko, a human resources executive who worked in the plant’s administration building. “It should always be calm,” he continued. “Right up to having everything calm at home, in an employee’s home life. When a person is calm, he makes better decisions. In a state of tension or fear, a person makes mistakes.

Instead of that situation, workers now show up to work with Russian snipers positioned on top of the building. And people working at the plant sometimes just disappear.

“There was a case where a person was taken into the forest and they shot near him” in a mock execution, Mr. Gortenko said of a detainee’s ordeal he had heard about through relatives. “They had lists of people.”

“I personally know one man who went missing in March, and there is no information about him,” said Olha, the engineer. “Another man was taken to the commandant’s office for interrogation and beaten to death.”

Russia is courting disaster and, if something terribly happens, they will loudly blame it on the Ukrainians they’ve been beating, killing and abusing. The UN is making preparations for an IAEA visit to the plant but that could still be weeks off. Meanwhile, Russia just keeps lying.