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Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant shuts down last reactor in face of flooding threat

Ukraine's nuclear energy agency says it has put the last operating reactor at Europe's largest nuclear power plant into a "cold shutdown" — a safety precaution as catastrophic flooding from the collapse of a nearby dam threatens the facility's water supply.

Five out of six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is occupied by Russian forces, are already in cold shutdown, in which all control rods are inserted into the reactor core to stop the nuclear fission reaction and generation of heat and pressure.

Energoatom, the Ukrainian nuclear power agency, said in a statement late Friday that there was "no direct threat" to the Zaporizhzhia plant due to the breach of the Kakhovka dam further down the Dnipro River, which has forced thousands of people to flee flooding and also sharply reduced water levels in a reservoir used to help cool the facility.

The last reactor was put into cold shutdown on Thursday, Energoatom said, adding that other factors in the decision included shelling near the site which has damaged overhead lines connecting the plant to Ukraine's energy system.

With all nuclear reactions stopped, temperatures and pressure inside reactors gradually decline, reducing the required intensity of water cooling of the radioactive fuel. This is a nuclear power plant's safest operating mode. Energoatom employees are still working at the power plant, although it remains controlled by the Russians.

The site's power units have not operated since September last year. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, is due to visit Kyiv next week, when he will present President Volodymyr Zelensky with details of a new programme to help the country avoid a nuclear disaster.

Fighting back

Both international analysts and Russian leaders have confirmed that Ukraine has launched its long-promised counteroffensive in the south of the country, potentially with the aim of retaking territory near the plant.

This morning, Ukrainian authorities reported that at least four civilians have died across the country in Russian strikes using Iranian-made Shahed drones, missiles, and artillery and mortar strikes.

The Ukrainian air force claimed that during the night, it had shot down 20 out of 35 Shahed drones and two out of eight missiles "of various types" launched by Russian forces.

Vladimir Putin has claimed that Ukrainian forces are suffering far heavier losses in the counteroffensive than his own, insisting that Russia has the upper hand.

“The Ukrainian troops haven’t achieved their stated tasks in a single area of fighting,” he told reporters at a Eurasian Economic Union summit in the Russian town of Sochi on Friday.

It is unclear whether his version of events has any basis in fact.