Ukraine accused Russian forces on Sunday of endangering a captured nuclear power plant, saying a catastrophic radioactive leak was “miraculously averted” after missiles landed on the complex’s grounds. It was the latest threat to Europe’s largest nuclear facility, as fighting in the southern region raised fears of a major accident.
The missiles fired on Saturday night hit a dry spent fuel storage facility containing 174 barrels, each containing 24 sets of spent nuclear fuel, according to Ukrainian nuclear energy company Energoatom. One person was wounded by shrapnel and several windows were damaged in the attack, which a pro-Russian regional official attributed to Ukrainian forces.
Russian forces have controlled the Zaporizhzhya plant since March, using it as a base to launch artillery shells at the Ukrainian-controlled town of Nikopol across the Dnipro River over the past month. Saturday’s attack included a barrage of missiles that Ukrainian officials said damaged 47 apartment buildings and homes, adding that Ukraine could not respond to the attacks for fear that a counterattack would lead to a radiological disaster.
The stakes became more clear Saturday night.
“It appears that they specifically targeted drums of spent fuel stored in the open near the bombing site,” Energoatom said in a post on Telegram. The publication said three radiation-detection screens were damaged at the site, making it “currently impossible” to sense and respond to the radiation leak in a timely manner.
“There are still risks of hydrogen leakage and scattering of radioactive materials, and the risk of fire is also high,” the nuclear power company said in a previous post.
The fighting, combined with Russia’s occupation of parts of the plant and the pressure on plant workers, prompted Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, to warning In the past week “every principle of nuclear safety has been violated”.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, he added that conditions at the plant were “out of control.”
Russia responded to Ukraine’s assurances on Sunday. The head of the pro-Russian administration in Zaporizhzhia, Yevgeny Palitsky, wrote on Telegram, the messaging platform, that Ukrainian forces used the Uragan cargo missile – a type of cluster weapon – to target the spent fuel storage area and damage administrative buildings. The Russian Defense Ministry had previously accused Ukraine of attacking the facility, saying on Thursday that Ukraine had carried out an artillery strike against it.
But Ukraine insisted that Russia was to blame. During a national television program on Sunday, the head of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Regional Military Administration, Oleksandr Starukh, said there was only a three-second delay between each shell’s launch and its landing — evidence, he said, that the attack came from nearby Russian forces.
Our coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian war
Since the invasion of Ukraine in February, Russia has made it a priority to seize critical infrastructure such as power plants, ports, transportation, storage facilities and agricultural production. Infrastructure in the hands of the Ukrainians was also targeted.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate, Andrei Yusov, said that Russia was bombing the Zaporizhzhya site to destroy infrastructure, damage power lines that supply electricity to the Ukrainian national grid, and eventually cut off electricity to the south of the country. There has been no independent confirmation of it.
Mr. Yusuf said on Telegram that Russian forces had also planted mines in the station’s power units.
Safety concern has been mounting in Zaporizhia since March, when a fire broke out in one of its buildings during the fighting while Russian forces took control. Ukrainian authorities say Russian forces have since stockpiled weapons, including artillery, at the plant; In recent weeks, they began to bombard Nikopol from his land.
Ukraine has also accused Russia of carrying out bombings at the station in order to anger Ukraine’s European allies over nuclear safety and possibly dissuade them from arming Ukraine further.
The danger that a plant can pose to an entire continent is another example of the ability of war to strike parts of the world far from the battlefield.
Since the Russian invasion, Ukrainian grain has disappeared from the world market, helping to inflate global food prices and putting millions of people at risk. The five-month shortage has just begun to ease with last month’s deal to allow Ukrainian agricultural products to leave blocked ports.
The United Nations said four ships carrying more than 160,000 metric tons, or about 176,000 tons, of sunflower oil, corn and flour set sail from Ukrainian ports on Sunday as part of the deal. But experts have warned that the global food crisis could last for years, fueled by the ongoing repercussions of various wars, the Covid-19 pandemic and severe weather exacerbated by climate change.
The war in Ukraine also pushed the world into the politics all too familiar of the Cold War, in which the United States and its Western allies sided against Russia, China and others, leaving many of the less powerful nations stranded between them.
The split surfaced again on Sunday, when Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken to South Africa, becoming the third high-ranking US official to visit Africa in two weeks. Mr. Blinken’s visit follows an enchanting tour of African countries by his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, where Lavrov shrugged off the blame for food shortages.
To date, there are no reports of a radioactive leak in Zaporizhzhia. But the prospect of a Ukrainian counterattack to reclaim territory in the Kherson province, located southwest of Zaporizhzhya, also increases the instability surrounding the plant.
Ukraine was the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, the 1986 reactor fire at Chernobyl in the north of the country, which spread deadly radiation across the region and endangered Europe.
Chernobyl has also seen fighting this year. But the IAEA’s Mr Grossi said he was much more concerned about Zaporizhia, noting that while his agency had been able to restore sensors and resume regular inspections at Chernobyl, the Russian occupation and continued bombing of Zaporizhia had prevented the agency from accessing key parts. for its reactors.
Ukrainian officials assert that the Russian occupation of the factory has put its employees under great pressure, according to Energoatum, as Russian forces searching for the saboteurs subjected them to harsh interrogations that included torture with electric shocks. The exiled mayor of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, said some workers had disappeared and at least one had been killed.
Ukrainian officials warn that acute stress makes employees more likely to make mistakes that could lead to an accident.
Matthew Mbok BigAnd the Emma Popola And the Ruth McClain Contribute to the preparation of reports.