Is Ukraine's #2 nuclear power plant next?
Stephanie Freid in Yuzhnoukrainsk
The Pivdenoukrainsk plant is Ukraine's second-biggest. /CGTN

The Pivdenoukrainsk plant is Ukraine's second-biggest. /CGTN

Reports of explosions, fires, shelling, wounded employees and power shutdowns at Europe's biggest nuclear power plant are sending shockwaves through the international community, amid mushrooming fears of a possible nuclear disaster.

The plant at Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine was taken over by an estimated 500 Russian soldiers in March shortly after Russia advanced into Ukraine. Zaporizhzhia is Ukraine's largest nuclear facility, with six reactors on the grounds. 

Although Russian atomic energy experts were reportedly brought to Zaporizhzhia to maintain plant operations with their Ukrainian counterparts, reports have surfaced of Russian hostility and intimidation towards Ukraine plant employees. 


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In Mykolaiv region's Yuzhnoukrainsk city, officials at Ukraine's second largest plant – Pivdenoukrainsk, or the South Nuclear Power Plant – are closely following the developments unfolding a few hundred kilometers to the east. 

"We are on the phone with the military getting constant updates," says Yuzhnoukrainsk Deputy Mayor and Chief Military Liaison Sergeii Gornostiy. Once a week there are calls with Ukraine's atomic energy agency chief.

The South Nuclear Power Plant employs seven thousand people, has three reactors and is the main focal point of the city – built around the facility when it began operating in the mid-1970s.

"Depending on the scope of a disaster," Gornostiy continues, "we have an evacuation plan in place for the civilians, families, non-critical personnel. It was in place before the current war."

The South Nuclear Power Plant. /CGTN

The South Nuclear Power Plant. /CGTN

Yuzhnoukrainsk city grew up around the plant. /CGTN

Yuzhnoukrainsk city grew up around the plant. /CGTN

Ukraine blew up bridges to deter the Russian advance. /CGTN

Ukraine blew up bridges to deter the Russian advance. /CGTN

At the onset of the current conflict, Russian troops advanced to within 20 kilometers of the South Nuclear Power Plant. As a deterrent, Ukraine's army blew up bridges and rail lines leading to Yuzhnoukrainsk to prevent a plant takeover.

"At the current stage, Russian soldiers are 120 kilometers away from here," Gornostiy explains. "We have police, army, SBU (Ukraine Intelligence Service) and government officials keeping a close watch on all developments and monitoring the implications for our plant. We feel secure and we have protocols in place." 

International analysts predict Russia's long-term strategy may be to wrest control of all four Ukraine nuclear facilities. Zaporizhzhia provides half of Ukraine's electricity needs; one of the South Nuclear facility reactors powers a quarter of the country's electricity. 


Military officials say securing Ukraine's nuclear sights is their top priority.

"We are in a dead-end position because this isn't just a situation where terrorists have captured an isolated object," said Dmytro Pletenchuk, public affairs officer for the Mykolaiv Governate. "They have also captured a huge piece of territory surrounding that object."

In June, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi visited the Pivdenoukrainsk facility. He has strongly expressed his fears over the future of Zaporizhzhnia; Pivdenoukrainsk could be next.

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