The situation Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has just gone from bad to worse as entire residential districts in the vicinity of the facility are being evacuated by Russian authorities. This includes at least 18 settlements in the Zaporizhzhia region who have been given emergency evacuation orders.
BBC has cited as Ukrainian official as saying this has sparked a "mad panic" - also given UN's nuclear watchdog is warning that a "severe nuclear accident" could occurr. Hours-long waits and traffic jams have been observed as thousands of people pack up and head out of the city.
Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi described that the situation "becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous."
He called for stability and protection of Europe’s largest nuclear site. "I’m extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant. We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment," Grossi said.
The issue is a Ukrainian counteroffensive may have started in the city, given the significantly ramped-up shelling. Regional Russian head Yevgeny Balitsk said Friday that "in the past few days, the enemy has stepped up shelling of settlements close to the front line."
"I have therefore made a decision to evacuate first of all children and parents, elderly people, disabled people and hospital patients," he said in a written statement.
The IAEA for its part said further that "while operating staff remain at the site" there was "deep concern about the increasingly tense, stressful, and challenging conditions for personnel and their families" - this given that families of staff members are being evacuated. The UN organization confirmed that--
It said IAEA experts at the plant had "received information that the announced evacuation of residents from the nearby town of Enerhodar - where most plant staff live - has started".
The Russian military said noted in a statement that "The first to be evacuated are those who accepted Russian citizenship in the first months of the occupation." Currently all reactors are said to be shut down and that operators are "doing everything to ensure nuclear safety" amid the heightened fighting.
Last week, broader evacuations of civilians near the front lines in southern regions began and have picked up pace...
A huge traffic line from temporarily #Russian occupied Melitopol to #Crimea.#Evacuation in the occupied territories happening?— TOGA (@KrzysztofJano15) May 5, 2023
There are already queues at gas stations in the temporary occupied #Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
In the Molochansk and Tokmak districts, people… pic.twitter.com/uMeeScy1nQ
While the plant has over the course of the war been subject to multiple power outages and seen external damage due to shelling (all of them 'close-call' incidents), it has layers of safety mechanisms such as power back-up generators and other 'fail-safes'. However, due to the war it's long been feared a Chernobyl-style nuclear fallout disaster could be on the horizon, given the extreme unpredictability of the situation on the ground. The power plant supplies 20% of Ukraine's national electricity needs.