The nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia is the largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine – and in all of Europe. Its six power plant blocks have a total output of 6000 MW. It is one of four nuclear power plants with a total of 15 units in Ukraine. According to the state-owned energy company Ukrenergo, 50 to 60 percent of the electricity in the Ukrainian grid is produced by nuclear power plants.

Petro Kotin, head of the state-owned Ukrainian nuclear power plant operator Energoatom, recently stated that before the Russian attack, the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant supplied almost half of the electricity generated by the Ukrainian nuclear power plants. The plant has now been under Russian occupation for almost six months.

According to Energoatom, the Russian troops have been using the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant as a depot for weapons and military equipment ever since. “Russian military are shelling the nuclear power plant to destroy infrastructure and isolate it from Ukraine’s energy system,” Energoatom’s website said. The company emphasizes that the safety of the plant and the surrounding areas is threatened. At the same time, Moscow blames Ukraine for the shelling, claiming that Russian troops were “protecting” the nuclear power plant.

As reported by the Ukrainian Nuclear Regulatory Authority, on August 25, as a result of hostilities near the power plant, an overhead power line was cut twice, disconnecting two units from the grid and triggering emergency response. However, the workers at the plant quickly succeeded in restoring the connection to the Ukrainian grid and electricity generation for Ukraine.

“The nuclear power plant has not been running at full capacity since the occupation. Two, sometimes three, blocks are in operation, with the third not being fully utilized. How much electricity the nuclear power plant generates for the Ukrainian grid is kept secret due to martial law,” Maria Zaturian, who is responsible for communications and international cooperation at the state-owned company Ukrenergo, told DW.

She does not believe that the Russian occupiers will succeed in separating the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant from the Ukrainian grid and integrating it into the Russian grid via the annexed Crimean peninsula. This is technically difficult. In order to achieve this, all sides would have to want this. But Ukraine had already disconnected its power grid from the Russian one on February 24, when Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine began, and fully synchronized it with the continental European grid ENTSO-E in mid-March.

“In order to safely disconnect the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant from the Ukrainian grid and securely connect it to the power grid of occupied Crimea, technically complex desynchronization and subsequent synchronization is necessary, with one line after the other having to be disconnected. At the same time, however, the frequency in the network must be maintained at 50 Hertz, otherwise problems or failures can occur,” explained Zaturjan.

Although there is no information on the electricity currently being produced at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, experts interviewed by Deutsche Welle consider the plant’s role in the Ukrainian energy system to be important, also because Ukraine is currently exporting electricity to the EU.

“Ukraine urgently needs the Zaporizhia NPP, otherwise it will not be able to fulfill the obligations it has assumed to export electricity abroad. The electricity produced is intended exclusively for securing the heating season,” said Volodymyr Omelchenko, an energy expert at the Kiev Razumkov Research Center.

Olena Pavlenko, head of the DiXi Group analysis center, which monitors Ukraine’s energy market, also believes that the country needs the nuclear power plant: “Electricity exports should support the energy sector and compensate companies for the fact that electricity prices for the population have been reduced.”

Since June 2022, Ukraine has been exporting electricity to Europe via Romania and Slovakia. According to Ukrenergo, this should have brought the company the equivalent of 67 million euros so far. The funds will be needed to prepare for the heating season – to purchase coal, repair power plant units and power lines.

Should the income from electricity exports fail, it could become difficult to prepare for the winter. “There is a baseline scenario that includes the nuclear power plant. But there are also several pessimistic scenarios without the Zaporizhia NPP and also without the other nuclear power plants. Then it will be a difficult heating period, but you can master it,” says Maria Zaturjan from Ukrenergo.

Olena Pavlenko from the DiXi Group believes that Ukraine is definitely missing electricity from the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. But there are factors that mitigate the situation. “As many people have left the country and large companies are at a standstill, electricity consumption in Ukraine has fallen by 35 percent. If not everyone suddenly returns in winter, then we can cope with the heating season without the nuclear power plant,” says Pavlenko.

At the same time, observers emphasize that the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant is indispensable for supplying the Mykolaiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Kherson regions and parts of the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions. If the Russian occupiers continue their provocations or their dangerous attempts to connect the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant to the Russian power grid, the power could go out in these regions. They would then have to be connected to backup capacities in the Ukrainian power grid in an emergency operation.

Author: Lilia Rzheutska

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The original of this article “What the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant means for Ukraine” comes from Deutsche Welle.