Ukraine Nuclear Plant Faces a Developing Crisis

Ukraine Nuclear Plant Faces a Developing Crisis
  • Russian forces occupy Europe’s largest nuclear power plant
  • The UN’s IAEA continues to monitor the situation closely
  • A Chernobyl-style disaster at the ZNPP could disperse a radioactive cloud over 13 countries in less than three days
  • Falling Kekhova reservoir levels are contributing to fears about an insufficient water supply for cooling the ZNPP

( – The UN and news outlets have documented Russia’s systemic attacks on Ukraine’s electrical power generation systems, but few media sources have chronicled the ongoing, pervasive attacks on the nation’s water supply infrastructure. NPR highlighted a paper authored by Oleksandra Shumilova, Peter Gleick, and others that appeared in the March 2 edition of Nature, pointing out short-term and long-term risks and impacts of military operations against water supplies and treatment facilities.

Yet, the shelling and subsequent draining of the Kakhova reservoir, in specific, has led to a developing crisis at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in the Dnipro region through two different aspects. Now UN officials are meeting with both Russian and Ukrainian government representatives to discuss protection options to avoid a full-scale nuclear accident.

Water Levels Prompt Two Crises

In early November 2022, Russian forces used the pretext of shelling to declare the dam for the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (KHPP) unsafe, forcibly evacuating villages downstream. After blowing up an access road over the sluice gates of the KHPP dam, the opposing forces used cranes to force open two sluice gates, causing a rapid loss of water levels from the reservoir and curtailing electrical generation, according to the NPR.

Reuters reported normal reservoir levels average 16 meters. As of the end of February, levels had dropped to 13.8 meters. If the level falls below 13.2 meters, it will imperil the ZNPP’s cooling system because too little water can flow downstream, and levels below 12.8 meters constitute an emergency, according to Energoatom, the State nuclear power authority.

The reduced level has already impacted the ZNPP, which has had to use diesel generators to help with cooling instead of the electrical power it once received from the KHPP and other power plants after transmission lines at the nuclear facility were also damaged.

Although the ZNPP shut down the last of its six reactors in November last year, the cores still require cooling. Prior to the shutdown, the facility produced as much as 20% of Ukraine’s power.

Hostilities Prompt IAEA Fears

The mounting crisis and renewed hostilities in the area prompted the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ahead of an inspection and meeting with Russian forces at the ZNPP. After months of talking to both sides about the concept of a protection zone for the ZNPP, Grossi remains frustrated that they agree in principle but can’t find common ground in the details, according to World Nuclear News.

On Wednesday, March 29, Grossi told Reuters, “It is obvious that military activity is increasing in this whole region. So the plant can’t be protected.” Instead, he said he thought it was “important […] to make sure there are no attacks.”

The ZNPP has lost power at least six times since November 2022, requiring diesel generators as a stopgap measure to maintain cooling equipment to the nuclear cores. In February, Grossi exclaimed, “I am astonished by the complacency – what are we doing to prevent this [from] happening?”

Still, that assumed adequate levels of water for cooling. The ZNPP is the largest nuclear power generation facility in Europe. A nuclear accident would devastate Ukraine, Russia, and all of Europe.

Copyright 2023,