NEWS: Ukraine
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is reportedly without electricity.

The Cher­nobyl nuclear pow­er plant and all facil­i­ties in the Cher­nobyl exclu­sion zone have been com­plete­ly dis­con­nect­ed and are now with­out elec­tric­i­ty, the Ukrain­ian state ener­gy com­pa­ny announced.

Russ­ian forces attacked the for­mer nuclear facil­i­ty on the very first day of the inva­sion (Feb­ru­ary 24), seiz­ing it after heavy fight­ing and tak­ing its approx­i­mate­ly 210 employ­ees hostage, Live Sci­ence pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed. Now that the plant has been dis­con­nect­ed from the pow­er grid, the approx­i­mate­ly 20,000 units of spent nuclear fuel stored in the plan­t’s cool­ing tanks will no longer have active cooling.

Ukrain­ian offi­cials have warned that this could increase the like­li­hood of evap­o­ra­tion and release of nuclear mate­r­i­al and give a dan­ger­ous dose of radioac­tive mate­r­i­al to plant per­son­nel. Some nuclear pow­er experts, how­ev­er, warned that because the spent fuel rods are now 22 years old and much cool­er than they were, this event is unlikely.

Relat­ed: 5 strange things you did­n’t know about Chernobyl

“The spent fuel rods are at least 22 years old. They have very lit­tle heat to dis­si­pate,” Mark Nel­son, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Radi­ant Ener­gy Fund, which advis­es com­pa­nies and non­prof­its on nuclear pow­er, wrote on Twitter.

“Their heat is low enough that experts I’ve talked to expect weeks or even months to heat the water enough to dry out the pool. Even then, nat­ur­al air cir­cu­la­tion should be sufficient.”

Ukraine’s State Ser­vice for Spe­cial Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Infor­ma­tion Pro­tec­tion (SSSCIP) blamed the pow­er out­age on “dam­age caused by the occu­pants,” although there has not yet been inde­pen­dent ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the cause.

Ukrain­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Dmytro Kule­ba said the back­up diesel gen­er­a­tors at the Cher­nobyl plant had a 48-hour capac­i­ty and called for a cease-fire to restore power.

Mean­while, offi­cials from the U.N.‘s Inter­na­tion­al Atom­ic Ener­gy Agency (IAEA) expressed grow­ing con­cern for the wel­fare of Cher­nobyl staff, who have been held hostage at the plant for two weeks. Work­ers used to leave the radioac­tive plant after hours, but are now forced to live at the site.

Sys­tems set up to mon­i­tor nuclear mate­ri­als at the Cher­nobyl radioac­tive waste facil­i­ty stopped trans­mit­ting data to the U.N. nuclear watch­dog Tues­day, March 8.

Safe­guards are the tech­ni­cal mea­sures the IAEA uses to track nuclear mate­ri­als and ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands. With these offline, the agency has no way of know­ing the loca­tion of nuclear mate­ri­als at the plant, increas­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty that they could fall into the wrong hands.

The IAEA said in a state­ment that “remote trans­mis­sion of data from the safe­guards mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems installed at the Cher­nobyl nuclear pow­er plant had been lost” and that while work­ers have “lim­it­ed access to food and water, and med­i­cine,” the “sit­u­a­tion for the staff was deteriorating.”

The facil­i­ty’s staff is respon­si­ble for decom­mis­sion­ing the site and ensur­ing the safe dis­pos­al of radioac­tive mate­ri­als inside the plan­t’s for­mer reac­tors. How­ev­er, since the Russ­ian occu­pa­tion of Cher­nobyl, this work has been sus­pend­ed. Pri­or to the pow­er out­age, work­ers could only be con­tact­ed by e‑mail.

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