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Ukrainian nuclear plant is disconnected from power grid after shelling, officials say

The last two working power units at the Russian-occupied site were disconnected after shelling sparked fires nearby.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been the source of growing international alarm.Ed Jones / AFP - Getty Images

The Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant suffered a "complete disconnection" from Ukraine’s power grid Thursday for the first time in its 40-year history, officials said.

The last two working power units at the site in southern Ukraine were disconnected after shelling sparked fires nearby, Ukraine’s national energy company, Energoatom, said.

“As a result, the station’s two working power units were disconnected from the network,” it said in a statement posted to Telegram, which blamed Russian forces for the incident. “Thus, the actions of the invaders caused a complete disconnection of the ZNPP from the power grid — the first in the history of the plant.”

The energy supply to the plant was restored later in the day, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Intense fighting around the nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, has spurred growing fears of a nuclear catastrophe. The two sides have traded blame for the attacks, while world leaders have called for a demilitarized zone around the site.

Ukraine has warned that Russia was planning to disconnect the plant in a potentially risky effort to divert it to the Russian grid. A disruption in the supply of electricity to the plant could also knock out cooling systems that are essential for the safe operation of the reactors, while emergency diesel generators are sometimes unreliable. 

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said he hoped to send a mission to the plant within “days.”

Negotiations over how the mission would access the plant are complicated but advancing, Grossi said on France-24 television after meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, who pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call last week to allow the U.N. agency to visit the site.

“Almost every day there is a new incident at or near the [nuclear plant]” Grossi said in a statement on Twitter. “We can’t afford to lose any more time. I’m determined to personally lead an IAEA mission to the plant in the next few days to help stabilize the nuclear safety and security situation there.”

Fires broke out Thursday in the ash pits of a coal plant close to the nuclear plant, Energoatom said. The nuclear plant's security systems were functioning normally and work was underway to reconnect one of the power blocks to the grid, it added.

Security systems at the plant were activated after the power failure, a local official said, according to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

"Reconnection was performed. Emergency services immediately went to the place. Specialists promptly carried out work to restore the power supply," Alexander Volga, head of the Russian-installed regional administration, said according to the news agency.

Local officials blamed shelling by Ukrainian troops for the fires, RIA reported.

NBC News has not been able to verify the claims of either side.

The disruption at the nuclear complex captured by Russia shortly after it launched its invasion of Ukraine six months ago unfolded as the city of Enerhodar, where the plant is, had a power supply failure.

"Enerhodar once again found itself on the verge of a humanitarian disaster," Mayor Dmytro Orlov said in a statement on Telegram.

"Today, as a result of enemy shelling, the city was left completely without electricity and water," he said. "Now we are finding out how critical the situation is and whether it can be corrected in the near future."

In a later update, Orlov said restoration of the power supply had begun "thanks to the employees of utility companies and specialists of the (power plant)."

"After the completion of this process, the connection of the sewage, pumping station will begin," he said. "And the next step will be the restoration of wells at the drinking water intake."