Energy issues in Ukraine and Europe take center stage

Energy troubles plagued Ukraine and Europe as much of the Russian-held region, home to a largely paralyzed nuclear power plant, was reported experiencing temporary power outages on Sunday.

Only one out of six reactors at the Zaporizhia plant was connected to the grid, and Russia’s main natural gas pipeline to Germany remained shut down.

Fighting in Ukraine and related disputes over pipelines lie behind power and natural gas shortages, which have worsened as Russia’s war in Ukraine, which began February 24, enters a seventh month.

Both topics will be the focus of this week. Inspectors from the UN nuclear agency are scheduled to brief the Security Council on Tuesday about their inspection and safety visit to the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. European Union energy ministers were scheduled to hold an emergency meeting in Brussels on Friday to discuss the bloc’s electricity market, which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said was “no longer operational”.

Much of the Zaporizhia region, including the key city of Melitopol, lost power on Sunday.

But it was later restored, said Vladimir Rogov, the head of the Russian-installed local administration in Enerhodar, the city where the nuclear power plant is located. According to the Russian news agency Tass, the power also went out in several parts of the port city of Cherson in the south-west.

While Rogov said no new shelling of the area around the six-reactor Zaporizhia plant was reported on Sunday, the impact of previous strikes continued.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Saturday that the plant was disconnected from its last external main power line and one reactor was disconnected due to grid restrictions. Another reactor was still operational, producing power for cooling and other essential safety functions on-site and off-site for homes, factories and others through a back-up power line, the IAEA said.

Russian forces have held the Zaporizhia plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, since early March and Ukrainian workers continue to operate it.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said he would brief the UN Security Council on Tuesday on a mission he led to the plant last week. The 14-strong delegation braved gunfire and artillery fire to reach the plant last Thursday after months of negotiations to allow passage through the front lines of the fighting.

Without blaming either side at war, Grossi said his major concern is the physical integrity of the facility, its power supply and the condition of its personnel.

Europe’s energy picture remained clouded by the war in Ukraine.

Just hours before Russian energy company Gazprom was due to resume natural gas supplies to Germany via a major pipeline after a three-day hiatus, it said on Friday it could not do so until oil leaks in turbines were fixed.

This is the latest development in a saga in which Gazprom has cited technical problems as the reason for reducing gas flows through Nord Stream 1 – statements that German officials have dismissed as a cover for a political power play. Gazprom’s recent rationale for the shutdown dismissed Siemens Energy of Germany, which makes turbines the pipeline uses, saying turbine leaks could be patched while gas continues to flow through the pipeline.

Von der Leyen blamed the energy crisis in Europe on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine. Ahead of next Friday’s EU energy ministers’ meeting, she said that electricity and natural gas prices should be decoupled and that she supports a price cap on Russian pipeline gas exported to Europe.

Natural gas is one of the most important fuels for power generation and, alongside oil exports, an important source of income for Russia.

On the Ukraine battlefield, Russian shellfire hit the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv overnight, damaging a medical treatment facility, the city’s mayor said on Sunday.

Mykolayiv and the surrounding area have been hit daily for weeks. One child was killed and five people injured in rocket attacks in the region on Saturday, Governor Vitaliy Kim said.

Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych reported no injuries in the night’s attack, which he said also damaged apartment buildings. Mykolayiv, located 30 kilometers (20 miles) upstream from the Black Sea on the Southern Bug, is a major port and shipbuilding center.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Russian shelling late Saturday torched a large wooden restaurant complex, according to the region’s emergency services. One person was killed and two others injured in shelling in the region, Governor Oleh Syniehubov said.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, where Russian forces have tried to take full control, said four people were killed in shelling on Saturday.

Andrew Katell contributed to this story from New York.

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