Nuclear disaster averted in Russia

LONDON, Sept. 17, 2000 (UPI) à‚– Russian power plant workers prevented a Chernobyl-style nuclear accident last week, The Guardian of London newspaper reported Sunday.

Russian officials admitted that several nuclear installations were shut down briefly because of an electricity failure. Nuclear experts said “courageous” workers at the Beloyarsk power station and the Mayak plant in the Ural Mountains had managed to avert a serious nuclear accident.

“The problem was that the diesel generators were in poor condition,” said Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of the Ecodefense organization which has spent the past week gathering information on the mishap. He praised power plant workers for their “heroic” efforts.

“We were just half an hour from another Chernobyl, had it not been for the professionalism of the plant staff,” said Alexei Yablokov of the Center for Ecological Problems of Russia, according to the Guardian report.

Preliminary investigations show that a short circuit in the regional electricity system caused a sudden blackout in three nuclear reactors in the Urals, including the top-secret Mayak factory, the world’s largest nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. Reactors at Mayak were shut down last Saturday after a power grid failure cut off the plant’s outside electricity supply for 45 minutes.

Russia’s Atomic Energy Ministry insisted that all back-up systems worked seconds after the accident, but environmental activists reported that the standby electricity generators of at least one of the reactors had failed to start, according to the newspaper report.

The head of the Mayak plant, Vitaliy Sadovnikov, told a local newspaper this was the worst blackout the station had faced. He credited his staff’s “near-military discipline” for preventing a serious accident. But Tobias Muenchmeyer, atomic energy expert with Greenpeace said the shutdown is an example of the ease in which a disaster could be sparked.

“The fact that the grid was down for 45 minutes is extremely alarming, because it means that control was temporarily lost in these crucial nuclear installations.”

Russian nuclear plants have lost power before, but this power cut happened at a time when Russia’s crumbling infrastructure is under even greater scrutiny than usual amid the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine.

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