EUROPE'S biggest nuclear power plant was disconnected from the power grid for the first time ever amid fears of a Chernobyl-style disaster, Ukraine's state energy firm said.
Nuclear agency Energoatom said fire damage to overhead power lines caused the last two reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) to be cut off.
It comes amid looming fears the site could be the scene of a devastating nuclear disaster as both Ukraine and Russia accuse the other of putting the plant at risk.
Vladimir Putin's troops have been in satellite forces massing at the site amid growing calls for it to become a demilitarised zone.
Energoatom said the plant has now been disconnected from the network for the "first time in its history"after a fire at ash pits close to the facility damaged incoming power lines.
Bringing the plant totally offline could potentially compromise safety systems and lead to disaster – with the two reactors currently being powered by backup diesel generators, officials told Reuters.
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And it is feared if the plant becomes totally isolated from the power grid and its backup generator then fails it could go into meltdown.
Neighbouring towns such as Kherson, Melitopol, and Enerhodar were reportedly left without power as the situation around the plant sits on a knife edge.
Ukrainian news agency Interfax report efforts are now underway by engineers to safely bring the plant back online.
Three other power lines "were earlier damaged during terrorist attacks" by Russian forces.
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"The actions of the invaders caused the complete disconnection of the ZNPP from of the power grid is the first in the history of the station," Energoatom said on Telegram.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February, captured the Zaporizhzhia plant in March and has controlled it since, although it continues to be operated by Ukrainian technicians from Energoatom.
Putin's forces have been accused of planning to totally disconnect the facility from Ukraine's power grid and send the energy back to Russia.
Ukraine has regularly accused Russia of "nuclear blackmail" over the site.
It is feared disconnecting the plant entirely would leave the ZNPP dependent on a single source of electricity to cool the reactors.
And an uncooled reactor could lead to a catastrophic failure and a nuclear disaster.
Switching between the Ukrainian and Russian power grids would leave the reactor only reliant on a backup diesel generator – with no other options if it suffered a failure.
After only 90 minutes without power the reactors would reach a dangerous temperature.
"During this disconnection, the plant won’t be connected to any power supply and that is the reason for the danger," Energoatom chief Petro Kotin told The Guardian.
"If you fail to provide cooling … for one hour and a half, then you will have melting already."
It comes as chilling satellite images captured Vlad's soldiers and military vehicles just metres from the deadly nuclear reactors.
The pictures, shared by the UK's Ministry of Defence, show Russian armoured personnel carriers and military cargo trucks just 60 metres from reactor five of the six-reactor nuke plant in Zaporizhzhia, southern Ukraine.
"On 21 August 2022, imagery indicated that Russia maintained an enhanced military presence at the [Zaporizhzhia] site, with armoured personnel carriers deployed within 60 metres of reactor number five," the MoD said.
"Russian troops were probably attempting to conceal the vehicles by parking them under overhead pipes and gantries."
It went on: "Russia is probably prepared to exploit any Ukrainian military activity near [Zaporizhzhia] for propaganda purposes.
"While Russia maintains the military occupation of [the plant], the principal risks to reactor operations are likely to remain disruption to the reactors' cooling systems, damage to its backup power supply, or errors by workers operating under pressure."
Zaporizhzhia has been in the hands of Russian soldiers since March, and reports claim Ukrainian troops are being tortured by agents from the Russian secret service the FSB to keep them from revealing to UN safety inspectors about risks at the site.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are set to be granted access to the plant in the coming days.
Russian state media TASS reports that "employees of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant were arrested for informing the Ukrainian Army of the location of Russian military equipment at the plant".
But one engineer told The Telegraph that many of their colleagues had been arrested on their way to work by FSB agents.
"One of [the FSB's] methods here is to take the control room workers to the basement," he said, adding that secret police detain and torture the workers.
"Our management keeps silent about it, not to create panic, but people who return after those basement 'conversations' don't say anything at all," he added.
Just two days ago, a worker at the plant was reportedly killed by Russian forces after his taxi was shelled.
The mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said that the attack took place on Monday, and named the dead man as 26-year-old Vladyslav Mitin, who worked as a locksmith at the thermal automation and measurement department.
Russia is probably prepared to exploit any Ukrainian military activity near [Zaporizhzhia] for propaganda purposes
Ukraine accuses Russia of holding Zaporizhzhia to ransom, storing weapons there while launching deadly attacks.
It also warns that the workforce at the plant has been cut to dangerously low levels, while landmines have been placed around the cooling pond.
Earlier this month, workers at Zaporizhzhia were reportedly ordered to leave by Russian forces, sparking fears of a disaster.
Last week, footage emerged appearing to show at least five Russian military trucks parked inside a nuclear turbogenerator hall at the plant.
All of the trucks have distinctive Russian 'Z' war markings on their hoods and are painted camouflage green.
Fears are growing that Vlad's forces will stage a "false flag" attack at the plant when IAEA inspectors visit which they will blame on Ukraine, in an insane game of brinksmanship with Kyiv.
On Thursday, Russian troops reportedly started deliberate forest fires in the woods near Zaporizhzhia, triggering power outages and cutting off water in the nearby city of Enerhodar, home to some 53,000 people.
The fires caused damage to nearby power lines, leaving the towns of Melitopol and Berdyansk without electricity.
Pro-Russian social media accounts have blamed the forest fires on Ukrainian forces, claiming their troops were using incendiary ammunition on the plant.
Russian-backed authorities at the plant claim their security system was called into action following alleged Ukrainian shelling.
Vladimir Rogov, head of the pro-Kremlin puppet regime in the region, has insisted that the power outage didn't affect Zaporizhzhia.
It follows fears of a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster at the plant, which could spread radioactive fallout across Europe.
The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 is the worst-ever radioactive spill.
It took place in what was then the Soviet Union but is modern-day Ukraine, and caused deadly radiation to fall across Europe.
Although the direct death toll from the disaster quoted by the Soviets was just 31, it is believed to have triggered higher-than-average rates of cancers in the surrounding area in the years since.
A 2,600 km² exclusion zone remains in place around the plant, including the abandoned town of Pripyat which was built for workers at Chernobyl.
The head of Energoatom, the Ukrainian atomic energy company, has warned that Russia is planning on disconnecting Zaporizhzhia from Ukraine's power grid, in a move that would risk a catastrophic failure in the plant's cooling systems.
Russian engineers' have produced detailed plans to cut off the plant and connect it to the Russian network instead, Petro Kotin said.
He added that he fears Putin's men are targeting the plant's power lines connecting it to Ukraine's grid to complete the takeover, The Guardian reports.
"You cannot just switch from one system to another immediately, you have to shut down everything on one side, and then you start to switch on another side," he told The Guardian.
He added: "During this disconnection, the plant won't be connected to any power supply and that is the reason for the danger. If you fail to provide cooling… for one hour and a half, then you will have melting already."
Kotin warned of the dangers if any Russian military equipment at the plant blew up and triggered a fire.
"This situation is very dangerous not only for the plant [and] for Ukraine but also for the whole world because you never can say what the weather would be like and what the wind direction [would be]," he said.
Russian troops continue to be bogged down in a war of attrition in Ukraine, with no serious territorial gains made in months.
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