The Ukrainian nuclear plant, Zaporizhzhya—the largest of its kind in Europe (~5700 Mwe) —was overrun by Russian forces on March 4, 2022. The plant is located in the southeastern area of Ukraine, near the city of Enerhodar, on the Dneiper river at the southern shore of the Kakhovka Reservoir. These six VVER-1000 PWR’s (pressurized water reactors) generate nearly half of the country’s electricity, prior to the Russian Invasion and employed ~11,000 workers.
According to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, Russian forces (~500 soldiers) have fortified the outside of the plant with trenches and heavy artillery and constantly patrol the plant. Inside the plant, Russian troops are stepping up measures to find anyone they think might pose a threat, through questioning and screening their cellphones for evidence of allegiance to Kyiv.
“People are being abducted en masse,” said Enerhodar’s exiled mayor, Dmytro Orlov, in a meeting with officials from Energoatom, the state nuclear company which operates the complex. “The whereabouts of some of them are unknown. The rest are in very difficult conditions: They are being tortured and physically and morally abused.” Unnamed plant workers, their relative,s and other witnesses, told the Wall Street Journal, that more than a dozen employees were handcuffed and driven off for questioning and when they came back, they were visibly injured after days of interrogation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, has implored both the Russian and Ukrainian sides to be allowed to send a safety mission to the plant, but both have turned it down. One of their major concerns is centered around ~30,000 kilograms of enriched uranium and ~40,000 kilograms of plutonium that the plant houses with unused and spent nuclear fuel assemblies.
Moscow’s plans for the plant remains unclear. Alexey Likhachev, head of Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, told state media that his company does not plan to take operational control of the complex — despite the reported presence of Rosatom officials at the site. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, on a visit to Russian-occupied Ukraine, said Kyiv may soon be forced to pay Moscow for the power produced at the plant — which amounts to a fifth of all electricity production in the country.
Exiled mayor Orlov said in an interview with a local radio station that many of the plant employees were trying to escape to Ukrainian-held territory – “It is unclear who will operate the nuclear power plant.”
Petro Kotin, the acting president of Energoatom, said that the plant’s “seizure and gradual transformation into a military base with many weapons and explosives” amounted to an act of “nuclear terrorism”. “Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant is a well-fortified facility even in peacetime, and has become a perfect military base since the amount of nuclear material located there protects them from attack. Ukraine will not strike at such an object.”