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What is happening to Ukraine’s threatened nuclear plant?

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, built in Soviet times and one of the 10 largest in the world, has been engulfed by fighting between Russian and Ukrainian militaries in recent weeks, sparking a stir fear of a nuclear disaster.

Here’s a look at the current situation:

WHAT’S HAPPENING AT THIS TIME

The plant has six reactors, only one of which was operational on Monday.

The shelling has so far not damaged the plant’s reactors or the nuclear fuel depot, but has repeatedly hit some auxiliary equipment.

On Monday, the plant knocked out Ukraine’s power grid after its last transmission line was cut off by a fire caused by shelling.

Pending repairs, the plant’s only operational reactor is generating the energy the plant needs for its own safety in what’s known as “island mode”.

Two inspectors from the UN atomic watchdog stayed at the plant after a visit by a larger group last week.

WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL THINGS?

Fighting near the plant has raised fears of a disaster like the one at Chornobyl, where a reactor exploded and spewed deadly radiation, contaminating a large area in a terrible nuclear accident. best of the world.

Nuclear experts say that while the buildings housing Zaporizhzhia’s reactors are protected with reinforced concrete that can withstand a errant shell or missile, disruptions in the power supply can could shut down the cooling systems necessary for the safety of the reactors. Emergency diesel generators can be unreliable.

Paul Dorfman, a nuclear safety expert at the University of Sussex, UK, said: “If electricity is lost in the fog of war, then we are in uncharted territory.

WHAT IS ‘ISLAND MODE’

Operation in “island mode” provides energy for the removal of residual heat from the reactor core and spent fuel tanks.

Experts say it is very unreliable.

Mycle Schneider, an independent policy consultant and coordinator of the State of the Nuclear Industry Report, said that if diesel generators fail, a core failure can happen within hours.

If the reactor has been turned off, the risk depends on the time since shutdown. The less time that passes, the more cooling has to be done, says Schneider.

While Zaphorizhzha’s spent fuel storage tank is located inside the plant’s containment area, a serious reactor failure could also affect the tank.

“Irradiated fuel will heat up and spontaneously ignite if exposed to air and no longer cooled,” says Schneider.

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