The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, expressed alarm at the damage reports and demanded that a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency be urgently allowed to visit the plant to assess and protect the site.
“I am deeply concerned about yesterday’s bombing of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, which underscores the very real danger of a nuclear catastrophe that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” Grossi said in a statement on Saturday.
“Military action that threatens the safety and security of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant is absolutely unacceptable and must be avoided at all costs,” he added.
Kyiv accused Russian forces of stockpiling heavy weapons and launching attacks from the factory, which they seized in early March and are still occupying. Meanwhile, Moscow claimed that Ukrainian forces were targeting the complex.
Friday’s bombing damaged a power line and forced one of the plant’s reactors to stop working, according to Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power company, Energoatom, which later said there was no damage to the reactors themselves and that the radioactive situation was normal.
The attacks on the station continued Saturday night, according to Energoatom, hitting various parts of the complex and injuring a Ukrainian employee. It claimed that Russian forces and employees of the Russian nuclear power company Rosatom, who had been at the site since taking control of the plant, took refuge in shelters before the attack began.
Energoatom warned that the missiles hit the site of the station’s dry storage facility, where 174 containers hold spent nuclear fuel, and damaged three radioactive detectors, making timely detection and response to the leaked radioactive material “currently impossible.”
“This time a nuclear catastrophe was miraculously averted, but miracles cannot last forever,” she added.
While the security situation is stable and there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Grossi warned of the dire danger that further fighting could pose at the site.
“Any military firepower directed at or from the facility would amount to playing with fire, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” Grossi said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his nightly speech on Saturday, once again accused Russia of bombing the plant and using it to sow terror in Europe.
“Unfortunately, we have a significant deterioration in the situation around the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant,” Zelensky said. “Russian terrorists became the first to use a nuclear plant for terrorism in the world. The largest in Europe!”
Zelensky said on Sunday he had spoken with European Council President Charles Michel
CNN has not been able to verify claims of damage to the plant, which occupies a sprawling site. Ukrainian prosecutors opened an investigation into the bombing.
‘Irresponsible breach of nuclear safety rules’
The EU’s top diplomat criticized Russia’s military activities around the Zaporizhzhya power plant and called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to gain access to the complex.
Many Western and Ukrainian officials believe that Russia is now using the giant nuclear facility as a stronghold to protect its forces and launch attacks, because they assume Kyiv will not return to fire and risk a crisis.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken accused Moscow of using the plant to protect its forces, while Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in a recent security assessment that Russia’s actions at the complex sabotage the safety of its operations.
Ukraine’s Enerhodar Mayor Dmytro Orlov said in late July that Russian forces had been seen using heavy weapons near the plant because they “know very well that the Ukrainian armed forces will not respond to these attacks, because they could damage the nuclear power plant.”
“The potential consequences of hitting a working reactor are equivalent to using an atomic bomb,” the ministry said on Twitter.
Grossi called on all parties to “exercise maximum restraint in the vicinity of this important nuclear facility, with its six reactors.”
“The Ukrainian employees who run the plant under Russian occupation must be able to carry out their important duties without threats or pressures that undermine not only their own safety but also the integrity of the facility itself,” he added.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has been trying to coordinate a mission of protection experts to visit the plant since it was captured by Russian forces.
“This mission will play a critical role in helping to stabilize the nuclear security and security situation there, as we have done at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and elsewhere in Ukraine in recent months,” he said.
CNN’s Maria Knight, Vasco Cutovio and Tim Lister contributed to this report.