ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said on Saturday Russia’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine had been disconnected from its last external power line, but was still able to get electricity through a reserve line amid heavy shelling in the area.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi said in a statement that the agency’s experts, who arrived in Zaporizhzhia on Thursday, were told by Ukrainian officials that the fourth and final line operational was down. The other three were lost earlier in the conflict.
But IAEA experts learned that the reserve line connecting the facility to a nearby thermal power plant delivered the electricity produced by the plant to the external grid, the statement said. The same reserve line can also provide backup power to the plant if needed, he added.
“We already have a better understanding of the functionality of the reserve power line to connect the facility to the grid,” Grossi said. “This is crucial information to assess the overall situation there.”
In addition, the plant management informed the IAEA that a reactor was disconnected on Saturday afternoon due to network restrictions. Another reactor is still operating and generating electricity both for cooling and other critical safety functions at the site and for households, factories and others via the grid, the statement said.
The Zaporizhzhia facility, which is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, has been held by Russian forces since early March, but its Ukrainian personnel continue to operate it.
The Russian-appointed city administration in Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhzhia plant is located, blamed a suspected Ukrainian bombardment on Saturday morning for destroying a key power line.
“The supply of electricity to the territories controlled by Ukraine has been suspended due to technical difficulties,” the city administration said in a message on its official Telegram channel. It was unclear whether the power from the plant still reached areas under Russian control.
Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Kremlin-appointed regional administration, said on Telegram that a shell hit an area between two reactors. His claims could not be immediately verified.
In recent weeks, Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for bombings on and near the plant, while accusing each other of attempts to derail the visit of IAEA experts, including the mission is supposed to help secure the site. Grossi said their presence on the site was “a game-changer”.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Ukrainian troops launched a new attempt to seize the factory on Friday evening, despite the presence of IAEA observers, sending 42 boats with 250 special forces and “mercenaries” foreigners to attempt a landing on the shore of the nearby Kakhovka Reservoir. .
The ministry said four Russian warplanes and two helicopter gunships destroyed about 20 boats and the rest turned back. He added that Russian artillery hit the Ukrainian-controlled right bank of the Dnieper to target the retreating landing party.
The ministry claimed that the Russian military killed 47 soldiers, including 10 “mercenaries”, and wounded 23. The Russian claims could not be independently verified.
The plant has repeatedly suffered complete disconnection from the Ukrainian power grid since last week, with the country’s nuclear power operator, Enerhoatom, blaming mortar fire and fires near the site.
Local Ukrainian authorities have accused Moscow of shelling two towns overlooking the plant on the other side of the Dnieper with rockets, an accusation they have also repeated several times in recent weeks.
In Zorya, a small village about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Zaporizhzhia plant, residents could hear the sound of explosions in the area on Friday.
It is not the bombardments that scare them the most, but the risk of a radioactive leak in the plant.
“The power station, yes, it’s the scariest,” said Natalia Stokoz, a mother of three. “Because children and adults will be affected, and it’s scary if the nuclear plant blows up.”
Oleksandr Pasko, a 31-year-old farmer, said “there is anxiety because we are quite close”. Pasko said Russian shelling has intensified in recent weeks.
During the first weeks of the war, the authorities gave iodine tablets and masks to people living near the factory in case of radiation exposure.
Recently, they also distributed iodine pills in the city of Zaporizhzhia, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the factory.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered to act as a “facilitator” on the Zaporizhzhia plant issue, during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, according to a statement from the Turkish presidency.
Ukraine’s military reported Saturday morning that Russian forces overnight continued their stalled advance in the country’s industrial east, while trying to hold captured areas in northeastern and southern Ukraine, including in the Kherson region cited as the target of Kyiv’s recent counter-offensive.
He added that Ukrainian forces repelled half a dozen Russian attacks in the Donetsk region, including nearly two towns designated as key targets in Moscow’s strenuous efforts to capture the rest of the province. The Donetsk region is one of two that make up Ukraine’s industrial heartland of Donbass, alongside Luhansk, which was overrun by Russian troops in early July.
Separately, the British military confirmed in its regular update on Saturday morning that Ukrainian forces were carrying out “new offensive operations” in southern Ukraine, advancing along a broad front west of the Dnieper. and focusing on three axes in the Russian-occupied Kherson region.
“The operation has limited immediate objectives, but the Ukrainian forces have probably achieved a degree of tactical surprise; exploiting poor logistics, administration and leadership in the Russian Armed Forces,” the UK MoD tweeted.
Russian shelling killed an 8-year-old child and injured at least four others in a southern Ukrainian town near the Kherson region, Ukrainian officials said.
Joanna Kozlowska reported from London.
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