Ukraine's nuclear plant loses power line

·3-min read

A critical nuclear power plant in Ukraine again lost external power, international energy officials say, heightening concerns as the energy battle between Moscow and the West ramped up in recent days amid the ongoing war.

Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia plant - the largest in Europe - saw its last remaining main external power line cut off even as a reserve line was able to continue supplying electricity to the grid, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Saturday.

Only one of the six reactors remained in operation at the station, the agency said in a statement posted on its website.

The plant, controlled by Moscow since Russian troops invaded Ukraine in late February, has become a focal point of the conflict, with each side blaming the other for nearby shelling.

Meanwhile, the stand-off over Russian gas and oil exports ramped up this week as Moscow vowed to keep its main gas pipeline to Germany shuttered and G7 countries announced a planned price cap on Russian oil exports.

The energy fight is a fallout from President Vladimir Putin's six-month invasion of Ukraine, underscoring the deep rift between Moscow and Western nations as Europe steels itself for the cold months ahead.

"Russia (is) preparing a decisive energy blow on all Europeans for this winter," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address on Saturday, citing the Nord Stream 1 pipeline's continued closure.

Zelenskiy earlier blamed Russian shelling for the nuclear plant's cutoff last week that narrowly avoided a radiation leak.

Moscow has cited Western sanctions and technical issues for energy disruptions, while European countries have accused Russia of weaponising supplies as part of its military invasion.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded accusations about attacks on the Zaporizhzhia plant, which was captured by Russian forces in March but is still operated by Ukrainian staff and connected to the Ukrainian power grid.

An IAEA mission toured the plant on Thursday and some experts have remained there pending the release of a report by the UN nuclear watchdog in coming days.

Last week, Zaporizhzhia was severed from the national grid for the first time in its history after transmission lines were cut, prompting power cuts across Ukraine, although emergency generators kicked for vital cooling processes.

Meanwhile, the IAEA on Saturday said remaining inspectors noted one reactor was "still operating and producing electricity both for cooling and other essential safety functions at the site and for households, factories and others through the grid."

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, in a statement, said the fifth reactor was switched off "as a result of constant shelling by Russian occupation forces" and that there was "insufficient capacity from the last reserve line to operate two reactors."

Deteriorating conditions amid the shelling have prompted fears of a radiation disaster that the International Red Cross has said would cause a major humanitarian crisis.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of storing heavy weapons at the site to discourage Ukraine from firing on it. Russia, which denies the presence of any such weapons there, has so far resisted international calls to relocate troops and demilitarise the area.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what it calls "a special military operation." Kyiv and the West have said it was an unprovoked aggressive war against a former part of the Soviet Union.

More than six months later, Russia has pressed ahead as the United States and other countries have pledged fresh military aid for Kyiv.

Ukraine had launched a counter offensive earlier this week after several weeks of relative stalemate in the conflict that has seen thousands killed and millions displaced. It targets the south, particularly the Kherson region, occupied by Russians early in the conflict.