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Russia planned to disconnect ZNPP from the grid and use it to power Crimea as early as in May, says Ukrainian nuclear expert

Russia entertained plans of disconnecting the Zaporizhzhia NPP from the grid and its subsequent use for Crimea’s needs back in May, as The Insider learned from Olga Kosharna, a nuclear energy and safety expert and former member of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine.

According to Kosharna, when the units are shut down because of damage to the output line and the generator in unit 6 has worked several hours on residual power, all remaining power supply is used for the plant's internal needs. When that generator stops, emergency diesel generators are activated.

“Disconnected from the bulk power system, the plant does not receive power for its needs, and the amount of diesel fuel is limited. The rules stipulate for a ten-day supply of fuel, but the real period of safe operation will most likely be shorter, depending on the logistics of delivering a sufficient amount of diesel for the emergency generators.”

However, even if the plant is disconnected, residents of the adjacent territories will still have electricity. As the expert explained, the occupied areas of the Kherson Region and Zaporizhzhia are powered by a specific Ukrainian distribution network, so the shutdown of a single NPP unit will not affect the regional electricity supply.

“For output, the plant uses 750 kV transmission lines, while the distribution network includes lines of 150 and 330 kV, so the mere fact of the NPP unit shutting down does not impact the supply of electricity to households across the occupied territories. Considering that we’re currently exporting electricity to Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Moldavia, we have a surplus.”

As Kosharna points out, the Russian authorities’ intention to use the NPP's disconnection as a pretext for its redirection toward Crimea was already common knowledge in May. In late July, Russia was rebuilding the power line from the Crimean neck of land to the Kakhovka substation and moved on to the next part of the plan on August 4 at the ZNPP. Before the plant can be switched to the Russian grid, it must be shut down, which requires supplying the energy for its internal needs from Crimea through the Dzhankoi and Kakhovka substations. As Kosharna explains, after that, the plant can be connected to Russia’s bulk power system:

“Once Russians came up with the plan of using Crimean electricity to power the plant, a colossal power tower on the newly restored line from the occupied Kherson Region suddenly crumbled, and the Dzhankoi substation incidentally exploded on August 17.”

The expert does not believe the substation can be repaired. Faced with the necessity to rebuild it from scratch, Russia currently lacks the capabilities. Kosharna expressed confidence that power towers will keep falling and more Crimean substations will burn. Not only did Russia want to connect the ZNPP to Crimea, but it also wanted to disable all energy-generating facilities across the occupied territories and supply all of them, “from the Kherson Region to Krasnodar Territory”, through Russia’s bulk power system. However, in the absence of technical capabilities, Russia has resorted to blackmail “to draw Ukraine to the negotiation table”. Redirecting the NPP’s output to Crimea could have taken Russia at least six months, adds Kosharna:

“It took them three months to restore the power line from the neck of the land after our guerrillas blew it up in December 2015. They might need eight months, but I don't think they have any chances of success today. I am certain that third parties will not bomb transformer stations on occupied lands, but power towers will keep falling and more Crimean substations will catch fire.”

On September 5, the Zaporizhzhia NPP was completely disconnected from the network connecting it to the Ukrainian national electrical grid for the second time in history due to a fire caused by shelling, as Energoatom reported. The first such disconnection occurred on August 25, 2022. According to nuclear physicist Andrey Ozharsky, Russian authorities could use the disconnection of the NPP from the Ukrainian grid as a pretext for its redirection to Crimea. However, this would require restoring power transmission lines toward Crimea and Russia and synchronizing its generators with the Russian grid.

Earlier, The Insider obtained footage of Russian multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) firing from the ZNPP site on the night of September 2nd to 3rd. The footage shows MLRSs in close proximity to a power unit.

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