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Officials fear possible radiation leak after Chernobyl nuclear plant loses power in Ukraine

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Officials fear possible radiation leak after Chernobyl nuclear plant loses power in Ukraine
Losing power means that systems in the Chernobyl plant that regulate radiation could fail and allow harmful radiation to escape into the atmosphere. Photo by Carl Montgomery/Wikimedia Commons

March 9 (UPI) -- Officials in Ukraine said Wednesday that Russian shelling has damaged a high-voltage power line to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, which is under Russian control, and that radiation could escape if it's not repaired soon.

Authorities said the damage to the power line was caused by the "occupiers" and urged Moscow to call a halt to the fighting in the area to fix it. The Chernobyl plant is located about 70 miles northwest of Kyiv.

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Russian forces have slowly been making advances in some parts of Ukraine and none at all in other areas that are guarded by Ukrainian troops and civilians. A new cease-fire that began on Wednesday was called to allow thousands of Ukrainians to flee the fighting, but it doesn't offer the necessary protection to fix the Chernobyl power line.

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Russian troops seized control of the Chernobyl plant shortly after the invasion began on Feb. 24.

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Losing power means that systems in the plant that regulate radiation could fail and allow harmful radiation to escape into the atmosphere.

A sign near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine warns of possible radiation exposure stemming from the 1986 explosion at the facility, which partially melted the core in reactor No. 4. File Photo by Sergey Starostenko/UPI

"About 20,000 spent fuel assemblies are stored in the spent nuclear fuel storage facility-1. They need constant cooling. Which is possible only if there is electricity," Ukraine's State Service of Special Communications said in a tweet Wednesday.

"If it is not there, the pumps will not cool. As a result, the temperature in the holding pools will increase. After that evaporation will occur, that will lead to nuclear discharge. The wind can transfer the radioactive cloud to other regions of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Europe. In addition, there is no ventilation inside the facility."

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Officials also said that personnel at the plant will be exposed to a "dangerous dose of radiation."

Ukrainian officials said that there's also an increased risk of fire due to the outage, as extinguishing and suppression systems depend on electricity to function.

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Making matters worse, officials said on Tuesday that systems that monitor nuclear waste at Chernobyl had stopped transmitting data.

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"I'm deeply concerned about the difficult and stressful situation facing staff at the Chernobyl nuclear plant and the potential risks this entails for nuclear safety," Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said. "I call on the forces in effective control of the site to urgently facilitate the safe rotation of personnel there."

The IAEA said in a tweet earlier Tuesday, however, that it didn't foresee a "critical impact on safety" from the power outage.

More than 200 workers at the Chernobyl plant have been trapped there since the start of the war as no one is being allowed to replace them. The IAEA on Wednesday called on the international community to facilitate a staff rotation.

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The Chernobyl nuclear plant was the site of a 1986 partial core meltdown after an explosion in its reactor No. 4. It was one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.

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European Union leaders attend a summit at the Chateau de Versailles near Paris on March 11, 2022. Photo by the European Union/ UPI | License Photo

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