Nuclear accident fears mount as Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia plant damaged

Powerful explosions shook the area around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant over the past day, causing damage at the site, the United Nations atomic agency said. 

Damage was seen at several buildings and equipment, though none so far has been critical to nuclear safety and security, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on its website, citing plant management.  

More than a dozen blasts were heard within a short period on Sunday morning. Members of the agency’s monitoring team, on-site at Zaporizhzhia since September, could also see some of the explosions from their windows, the IAEA said.  

Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for sporadic shelling in the vicinity of Europe’s largest atomic plant for months, and did so again on Sunday. 

Nuclear safety risk

“The news from our team yesterday and this morning is extremely disturbing,” said IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi. “Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately.”   

Russia’s army issued a statement blaming Ukraine for the shelling, saying Kyiv “does not stop its provocations aiming at creating the threat of a man-made catastrophe.” It said radiation levels remain normal. 

Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator, said on Telegram that Russian forces had struck the facility, causing damage to connection overpasses, chemical desalinated water storage tanks and the steam generator purge system, among other things. 

The damage comes as Ukraine struggles to keep the lights on for millions of people after weeks of Russian missile and drone attacks on power facilities across the country. 

“The Russians targeted and disabled the very infrastructure needed to launch 5th and 6th power units and to restore electricity production for the Ukrainian grid,” Energoatom said. 

The power plant has been controlled by Russia since shortly after Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion, but continues to be operated by Ukrainian personnel. Russian President Vladimir Putin in September declared the plant part of Russia, amid a broader annexation of the Zaporizhzhia region. 

The IAEA has urged Ukraine and Russia to agree to a safety and security zone around Zaporizhzhia, without success. Artillery fire and shelling in the vicinity has repeatedly disconnected the facility from the electrical grid, posing a safety risk. 

—With assistance from Alex Nicholson and Olesia Safronova

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