Invasion of Ukraine: Chernobyl faces nuclear disaster as employees are trapped

Workers at the site are running out of fuel and food, the mayor of a nearby city has warned (Image: ZUMA Press/REX/Shutterstock)

While Russian troops are holding workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant “hostage,” the mayor of a nearby town is warning that a “complete disaster” could be imminent.

Yuri Fomichev says the site is running out of fuel, including for backup generators that power its security systems.

With the plant now under siege for three weeks, food supplies are also running low and the stress of being held at gunpoint could lead to “a new accident,” he adds.

His concerns were echoed by the official in charge of a 19-mile exclusion zone around Chernobyl, who warned staff were “at the limit of their human capacity due to physical and emotional exhaustion”.

The employees had to create temporary sleeping accommodations on site from a few camp beds, tables and the floor. Slavutyc was built for evacuated personnel after the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The decommissioned power plant houses 20 tons of nuclear waste, which must be constantly cooled to prevent radiation from escaping through evaporation.

Warning of a “total humanitarian catastrophe” Fomichev told the Daily Mail there could be a repeat of the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan’s Fukushima if the cooling systems fail, even for a short time.

Editorial use only. -- MANDATORY CREDIT: 2022 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES SATELLITE IMAGE -- DO NOT REMOVE/CROPP WATERMARK -- HANDOUT/NO SALE Mandatory Credit: Photo by MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (12844390b) A handout satellite image made available by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine, March 10, 2022. Satellite images of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine - March 10, 2022

Employees should constantly cool nuclear waste to prevent radiation leakage (Image: Maxar Technologies/EPA/REX/Shutterstock)

Slavutyc – home to around 20,000 people – was stormed on the first day of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, with Russian troops blowing up an access bridge to cut off the area.

In a series of text messages, Fomichev said families have had to cook over open fires in their yards due to frequent power cuts. They are also forced to use whatever fuel the city has left over for heating.

Slavutyc was without power for five days after Russian troops damaged a high-voltage power line. Ukraine’s national energy company Ukrenergo supplied electricity to the city for the third time on Monday.

Fomichev said the plant’s employees were “very tired – physically, morally and mentally”. He added: “You lose concentration and it is very dangerous for the nuclear power plant”.

The mayor called for a “humanitarian corridor” to give exhausted workers a chance to leave and hire new ones.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Bryan Smith/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock (12792352bc) The abandoned city of Pripyat at the Chernobyl disaster in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone on February 6, 2022 in Ukraine. Russia continues its military build-up across the border in Belarus, 15 kilometers from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The fastest way to Kyiv from the north is through Belarus, straight through this area, a distance of 120 kilometers. The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on April 26, 1986 in Reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the city of Pripyat in northern Ukrainian SSR in the Soviet Union. It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history, both in terms of cost and casualties. Chernobyl Exclusion Zone as Russia continues its military buildup across the border in Belarus, Ukraine - February 06, 2022

The workers are supposed to rotate every 24 hours, but that wasn’t the case because Russian troops are holding them “hostage” (Image: ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock)

Yevhen Kramarenko, head of the agency that manages the exclusion zone, said the 103 workers at Chernobyl should be replaced every 24 hours.

Another 160 employees are stuck in Slavutych but cannot rotate with their colleagues. Kramarenko said the latest data to get to the site showed a 20-fold increase in radiation levels from the site.

Critical censors are deployed across the exclusion zone, however the agency lost connection on the second day of the invasion.

Earlier this week, Ukrainian authorities told the UN’s nuclear watchdog that Chernobyl workers were completely devastated and unable to carry out repairs.

A statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency said: “The regulator of Ukraine informed the IAEA that the personnel at (Chernobyl) are no longer performing repairs and maintenance work on safety-related equipment, partly due to their physical and mental fatigue after working outside break for almost three weeks.’

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Justin Scacco

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