The Russian-installed administration in the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar has dismissed the rumors about the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (NPP), considered the largest in Europe.
In a statement issued on its Telegram channel on Monday, Enerhodar’s Russian-installed military and civilian administration made it clear that the nuclear plant remains under Russian control.
“The media are actively spreading fake news that Russia is allegedly planning to withdraw from Enerhodar and leave the [nuclear plant],” the statement reads.
“This information is not true,” the Russian-backed administration said, recalling as proof the rebuilding of the outdoor switchgear at the plant that Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation started off on Friday to create a backup power supply source.
“Given the great importance of backup power supply for nuclear safety at the Zaporizhzhia NPP, especially during winter, we have made a decision to commence the restoration of the outdoor switchgear of the Zaporizhzhia NPP, despite the direct threat to the lives of the employees that will be engaged in that work,” the company said.
The statement came amid reports circulating in Ukrainian media sources, suggesting that Russian forces might be preparing to vacate the vast NPP in the Enerhodar city of Ukraine.
After invading Ukraine on February 24, Russian armed forces seized control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on March 4, 2022. On October 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to formalize Russian control over the plant.
The Zaporizhzhia NPP, which was put into operation in 1985, is the largest nuclear power plant of its kind in Europe and among the ten largest in the world. It generates about half of the nuclear power or 6,000 MW and one-fifth of the overall annual power output in Ukraine, which was 149 billion kWh in 2020.
Russia and Ukraine, which both suffered from the world's worst and most fatal nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986, have accused each other of shelling the complex, which has Soviet-designed VVER-1000 V-320 water-cooled and water-moderated reactors containing Uranium 235, which has a half-life of more than 700 million years. Both sides have warned of the danger of a nuclear catastrophe. All six reactors are now in cold shutdown after reactor No. 6 was shut down on September 12.
A cold shutdown means the reactor’s temperature is below boiling point but electrical pumps moving water through the reactor core must still keep working to cool the fuel.
Although the plant is no longer producing electricity, the overheating of nuclear fuel is the biggest risk, which could happen if the power that drives the cooling systems was cut.
The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has repeatedly expressed concerns over the shelling of the plant. Amid fears the conflict could cause a nuclear accident, the IAEA has proposed the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the plant.