March 3, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Jack Guy, Laura Smith-Spark, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022
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10:21 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

US activates Nuclear Incident Response team, sees no elevated radiation readings at Zaporizhzhia plant 

From CNN's Pete Muntean

US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm tweeted Thursday night that she spoke with Ukraine’s energy minister about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The US has activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team, and is monitoring the situation along with the Department of Defense, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the White House, she said.

Radiation levels normal: "We have seen no elevated radiation readings near the facility. The plant’s reactors are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down," she said.

"Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease," she added.
10:14 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant generates about 20% of Ukraine's electricity

From CNN's Travis Caldwell and Steve Almasy

Early Friday, Ukrainian officials reported a fire at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Here's what we know about the facility:

Where is the plant? It's located in the city of Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine, some 70 miles (112 kilometers) from the city of Zaporizhzhia. Six power units are in operation at the facility, with the first coming online in 1984, according to Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator.  

How much power does it generate? The plant generates 40-42 billion kWh, which accounts for one-fifth of the average annual electricity production in Ukraine and almost 47% of electricity generated by Ukrainian nuclear power plants.  

The plant has capabilities “for continuous radiation monitoring of the nuclear power plant industrial site, the sanitary protection and 30-kilometers radiation control zones,” according to Energoatom. There is also a dry storage facility onsite for spent fuel. 

What's the biggest concern? National security analyst Joe Cirincione told CNN he was “very concerned” about the blaze." There are multiple ways this could get very terrible very quick,” he said.

He warned the plant could see a nuclear meltdown if the electricity or plumbing to the facility get cut off. Cirincione added that if the Russian military wants to take the plant offline, they should capture the facility rather than physically attack due to the dangers involved. 

“If those fuel rods are still in the reactor and you cut off the electricity, then you're cutting off the cooling system that controls the reaction and you'll be unleashing an uncontrollable nuclear chain reaction in that facility. You will have a meltdown,” he said. 

But we don't know enough yet: Nuclear policy expert Graham Allison told CNN that "not all fires at a power plant have catastrophic consequences." A disaster would depend on where the fire is located, whether staff are able to take the appropriate measures, and several other factors — including how many reactors were impacted, he said.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant seen on July 9, 2019.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant seen on July 9, 2019. (Dmytro Smolyenko/Future Publishing/Getty Images)
10:12 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

Ukraine tells IAEA essential equipment was not affected at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

From CNN's Akanksha Sharma

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a tweet on Friday that “essential” equipment at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant site has not been affected by the fire, according to Ukrainian authorities.

It added that the “plant personnel (are) taking mitigatory actions.”

Earlier on Friday, Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant spokesperson Andrii Tuz also told CNN that the plant has not sustained any critical damage.

9:48 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

White House information shows no signs of elevated radiation levels at Ukraine nuclear plant

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Sam Fossum

Two White House officials said their latest information shows "no indications of elevated levels of radiation" at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex in Ukraine. 

The White House is continuing to monitor the situation closely. 

US President Joe Biden received an update from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky late Thursday night about the reported fire at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the White House said in a statement after the two leaders' phone call.

Biden joined Zelensky "in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site," according to the statement. 

Biden also received an update on the situation from the under secretary for Nuclear Security of the US Department of Energy and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). 

9:42 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

Zaporizhzhia spokesperson: Fighting has stopped near power plant and radiation levels are currently normal

From CNN's Masha Angelova, Hira Humayun and Philip Wang

Fighting has stopped near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and background radiation levels are currently normal as a fire continued at the facility, a spokesperson at the plant said on Friday.

Spokesperson Andrii Tuz said the plant has not sustained any critical damage, although only one power generation unit out of six is operational.

In an earlier Facebook post, Tuz said at least one power generating unit at the nuclear plant was struck in the fighting. "A lot of technical equipment was hit," he told CNN.

Firefighters met with guns: Earlier Friday, Ukrainian officials said firefighters were unable to access the nuclear plant. Tuz said when firefighters initially arrived, they were met with guns and turned around. 

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is the biggest in Europe according to the plant's website. It supports one fifth of total electric power generated in Ukraine.

The nuclear plant has six units in total, with the first one connected to the power grid in 1984, and the sixth one connected in 1995.

9:35 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

American Nuclear Society urges forces to "refrain from military actions near nuclear facilities"

Leaders of the American Nuclear Society have urged all armed forces in Ukraine to "refrain from military actions near nuclear facilities," saying staff at nuclear power plants must be able to do their jobs without interruption or "the fear of being killed or injured."

"We also urge the securing of off-site power supplies for every nuclear facility, uninterrupted transportation to and from sites for plant workers and supply chains; and unfettered communications with regulators and inspectors," said the organization's president, Steven Nesbit, and CEO Craig Piercy in the statement.

They urged an end to the war to "prevent further loss of life and prevent any risk to Ukraine's nuclear facilities.”

9:37 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

Nuclear experts: Disaster depends on where the fire is taking place

As a fire reported by Ukrainian officials continues at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, nuclear experts answered some of the most urgent questions:

Are there systems in the plant that can automatically fight the fire? Yes, but they don't fight all fires, said nuclear policy expert and Harvard professor Graham Allison. And not all fires at a power plant can have "catastrophic consequences." It depends on where the fire is — the biggest concern is if the blaze reaches a reactor's cooling pits, which could cause a meltdown of the reactor.

What could happen if a reactor melts down? If a fire, missile strike or other type of attack disrupts the nuclear reactor's cooling structure, it won't be able to cool itself — causing the fuel inside to overheat and melt down, releasing large amounts of radioactivity, said James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The most recent and severe examples include the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Soviet Ukraine.

How likely is this? It's hard to say because there's still much we don't know, several experts agreed — most importantly, where the fire is located, whether it's even near the reactors or in a different part of the nuclear power complex, whether all the reactors are working — all things that could influence the severity of a disaster, if one occurs.

Why is the power plant coming under attack? Russian troops appear to be trying to seal off a nearby river and encircle Ukrainian forces, a classic maneuver, said retired US Army Gen. Wesley Clark — and the power plant is "right in the way." The plant is also a "key strategic asset," providing much of Ukraine's power, he added: "Take that offline, the grid is at least temporarily destabilized. You're cutting the ability of Ukrainians to be able to handle communications to a lot of other things."

9:18 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

Where is the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant?

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is on fire following an attack by the Russian military, according to Dmytro Orlov, the mayor of the nearby city of Enerhodar.

The plant is located in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine, some 70 miles (112 kilometers) from the city of Zaporizhzhia.

Zaporizhzhia is located about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of the city of Donetsk within one of the two pro-Moscow territories recognized as an independent state last month by Russia.

The plant is the largest of its kind in Ukraine and contains six of the country's 15 nuclear energy reactors, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

9:06 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

Ukraine reports "no change in radiation levels" at Zaporizhzhia

Ukraine's nuclear regulator told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) there is "no change reported in radiation levels at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant site," the IAEA tweeted on Friday.

Ukrainian officials said early Friday a fire had broken out at the nuclear plant as Russian forces attacked "from all sides," with firefighters unable to reach the site.