Ukraine nuclear suffers cyber-attack

Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom said Russian-based hackers launched a major three-hour attack on its website but had not caused significant problems.

“The Russian group ‘People’s Cyber Army’ carried out a cyber-attack using 7.25 million bot users, who simulated hundreds of millions of views of the company’s main page,” Energoatom said in a statement.

“On August 16, 2022, the most powerful cyber-attack since the start of the Russian invasion occurred against Energoatom’s website,” the operator added, noting that it “was attacked from Russian territory”.

However, it stressed that the assault “did not have a considerable impact on the work of the Energoatom website”.

The hacker had called on its followers to attack the Ukrainian nuclear operator’s website, but by Tuesday evening (16 August) it announced a change in plans, redirecting supporters to a new target: the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance. 

The attack comes as tension continues over the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant the south of the country, which Russian forces occupied in March, shortly after invading.

Both Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the installation, which is the largest in Europe, sparking fears of a nuclear accident. 

Earlier this month, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned that the situation at Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant “is completely out of control” and is getting more dangerous each day, 

Rafael Grossi said that “patchy” communication from the facility and his organisation’s inability to visit the site were deeply concerning.

“What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous,” he said.

The IAEA is unsure whether the plant, which is now in Russian-controlled territory but is being run by Ukrainian staff, is receiving all the parts it needs to operate properly, as its supply of equipment has been affected by the war.

“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated,” Grossi said of the site, adding that his organisation urgently needs to check that Zaporizhzhia’s nuclear material is being safeguarded.

He called on both Ukraine and Russia to allow experts to reach the plant to assess the situation as soon as possible.

If the plant loses grid power due to a potential uptick of fighting in the area, back-up generators and batteries are still insufficient to cool, not only the six reactors, but large pools of highly radioactive spent fuel, according to Shaun Burnie, nuclear specialist with Greenpeace East Asia.