Staff exodus threatens safety of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

She had continued to work at the Zaporizhzhia complex for months after it was stormed by the Russians in March, among hundreds of Ukrainian workers held hostage to enable the plant — the largest nuclear power plant in ‘Europe — to continue to operate.

But eventually, the constant outbursts and fears for her young son’s life made her take the risk of leaving.

“It’s scary,” Elena told CNN. “Everything explodes there.”

CNN agreed to use only Elena’s first name out of respect for her security concerns.

The Ukrainians accused Russian troops of using the plant as a shield and risking serious damage or potential disaster at the plant. In response, the Kremlin repeatedly claimed that Ukrainian forces were bombing the factory.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a speech before the UN Security Council on Wednesday that Russia had “put the world on the brink of a radioactive disaster” by turning the plant into a “war zone” and had called for the demilitarization of the plant.

“At night (the Russians) fire somewhere behind the tank,” Elena said. “There are many, many explosions at the same time, like big cars shooting.”

On Thursday, the Zaporizhzhia power plant was completely disconnected from the Ukrainian power grid for the first time in its history.

Fears about the consequences of the actions of Russian troops around the factory accelerated the exodus of workers.

“For two weeks there has been a crazy flight of personnel,” said Daria, an employee who still works at the nuclear plant. CNN has agreed not to use his real name in light of his security concerns. “We have people leaving in droves, dozens of them, in packs.”

Elena said factory workers are terrified of the Russian troops based there, as they walk around with machine guns and at night often “get drunk and shoot in the air.”

“A man was killed there just before I left. That’s why we left,” Elena said.

Three Ukrainian workers have been killed by the Russian military since March after being beaten or shelled, and at least 26 others have been arrested for leaking information, Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro said on Wednesday. Lubinets.

“Very dangerous” conditions

For those remaining at the plant, the situation is “worsening day by day,” Petro Kotin, chairman of Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom, told CNN.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” Kotin said. “They are actually heroes, who continue to work under these conditions at the factory.”

Kotin said Russian forces placed 20 trucks in two turbine halls, as revealed in a recent leaked video verified by CNN.

“We believe there (are) explosive materials inside these trucks,” Kotin said. “And it’s very dangerous.”

Petro Kotin is the president of the Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom.

A potential fire could spread to the nearby reactor because the firefighters’ entrance is blocked, he said.

He believes the Russians will attempt to transfer output from the Zaporizhzhia plant from the Ukrainian power grid to the Russian grid, a process that would involve a “complete shutdown” of the plant using diesel generators to cool the reactors. Such an operation would be very dangerous, he said.

On Thursday, the plant was completely disconnected from the Ukrainian power grid for the first time in its history, according to the country’s nuclear operator, Energoatom. He said fires in nearby ash pits had caused the last remaining power line connected to the Ukrainian power grid to be disconnected, adding that the “actions of the invaders” were to blame.

The Russian-installed regional governor later said work was underway to restore power to the region. He in turn blamed Ukrainian military action for the blackouts.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said late Thursday that all six reactors were still disconnected from the Ukrainian power grid.

“Helpless Anger”

The increasing dangers of factory work added to the psychological pressure on the skeletal personnel left behind. Factory worker Daria said there were only 10-15% of staff left in her department, who lived day to day in a “state of helpless anger”.

“Mentally it’s already very hard,” Daria said. “But I don’t know when and how we will leave.”

Daria said the plant’s technical staff are “going out of their way” to keep it running without incident, but she added that the world “has no idea how serious everything is, how much everything a thin thread”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday that Russia has

“The human psychological state can lead to accidents,” Daria said. “In factories like ours, it’s not really the equipment that’s to blame. What matters here are the people, their decisions, their reactions to signals, to any violation, to any damage.”

The IAEA is currently negotiating with Russia for an urgent inspection of the nuclear power plant to assess the safety of the operation. But Daria said she believes ‘nothing will change’ even if it happens.

“My only hope is the Ukrainian army,” Daria said, but she fears what the Russians will do if they arrive. “They like to say ‘we’re going to destroy you’ so much and they already have their orders for that. That’s why people are leaving.”

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