Russia Damages Chernobyl Power Line Hours After Damage Repaired, Says Operator

A power line connecting Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant to the rest of the country has been damaged by Russian forces once again, an energy company has said.

On Monday morning, Ukrenergo, a Ukrainian national power company, said the line between Chernobyl and the city of Slavutych had been "damaged by the occupying forces" despite repair crews repairing it just one day prior.

Russian forces have occupied the Chernobyl plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident, since the early stages of Russia's widely-condemned invasion of Ukraine on February 24th.

The occupation of Chernobyl has caused concern since the site must continuously be manned and operated by staff in order to keep the radioactive remains of the 1986 disaster contained.

For this reason, the Chernobyl plant continues to receive outside power despite being decommissioned. Some of this power goes towards water cooling to control the heat of spent nuclear fuel, for instance.

Last week, Ukrainian officials said that the Chernobyl plant had been left without external power due to damage by Russian forces, leaving the plant reliant on reserve generators. By Sunday, power had been restored meaning that cooling systems would once again be able to work without backup power.

However, on Monday morning, Ukrenergo said in a Facebook post: "The power line that supplies the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the town of Slavutych was damaged by the occupying forces after the Ukrenergo repair crew restored the line.

"The repair crew of NEC Ukrenergo should head to the occupied territory near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant again, to find and repair new damage to the line."

Ukrenergo said a stable supply of power to the facility would "help avoid a repeat of the Chernobyl disaster"—though this is something that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) appears to have dismissed.

After the Chernobyl plant was left without power, the IAEA said on March 9th that the current volume of cooling water was "sufficient for effective heat removal without [the] need for electrical supply," partly because of how much time has passed since the 1986 disaster.

"IAEA and [the] Ukraine nuclear regulator agree that loss of power at [the] Chernobyl nuclear power plant would not have a critical impact on essential safety functions at the site," the IAEA said that day.

Still, loss of power might have an impact on important ongoing radiation monitoring at the site.

On Monday, Ukrenergo said the Chernobyl plant "cannot be left without a reliable energy supply" and that repair crews needed unimpeded access to damaged power lines.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to cause international alarm. Between February 24th when the invasion started and March 13th, there have been at least 636 confirmed civilian deaths in Ukraine including six girls, 10 boys, and 30 children whose sex was not yet known, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Right reported on Monday. It's feared the true civilian death toll could be far higher.

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Workers are pictured near power lines at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in July, 2019. The plant is the site of the world's worst nuclear accident which happened in 1986. Brendan Hoffman/Getty