A nuclear accident at a power plant in Ukraine, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, shut the plant down last Friday, but the Ukraine government did not reveal the alarming mishap until Wednesday, claiming that the accident posed “no threat” to the public from radiation.
The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which is also the fifth-largest nuclear plant in the world, consists of six nuclear reactors, the first of which went on line in 1985, with the sixth finally becoming operational 10 years later.
The nuclear plant is located just 120 miles from the war-torn eastern Ukraine region of Donetsk, a stronghold of pro-Russian separatist rebels who have battled the Ukraine government in heavy fighting for much of 2014.
Donetsk is the region where on July 17, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by, it is widely believed, a rebel anti-aircraft missile, killing all 298 people on board.
Nuclear experts have raised the alarm that the power plant could be vulnerable to artillery fire from the war zone nearby.
But last week’s nuclear accident had nothing to do with the conflict, according to Ukraine Energy Minister Vladimir Demchyshyn, who said that a short circuit in an electrical transformer resulted in one of the six nuclear reactors at the plant being shut off on November 28. The reactor is supposed to be back in operation and generating power by December 5.
Though the accident has caused the plant to generate less power than usual, it carried “no safety significance,” according to a statement on the website of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“There is no threat, there are no problems with the reactors,” Demchyshyn told the media at a Wednesday briefing.
Another of the plant’s six reactors was already shut down for scheduled maintenance at the time of last Friday’s accident, leaving just four of the Zaporizhzhya plant’s reactors available to produce electricity.
But the accident led to power outages in numerous smaller Ukraine municipalities, adding to the energy woes of a country whose coal-fired power plants are already facing dangerous shortages.
In fact, in eastern Ukraine coal supplies are estimated to last only into this weekend. Demchyshyn has called for Ukraine consumers to voluntarily curtail their use of electricity but he also said that the country could be subjected to rolling blackouts of about two hours each, as the country struggles to make its energy supplies last, a crisis only made worse by the nuclear accident last week.