Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that his country’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is “one step away from a radiation disaster” due to Russian shelling, but Russian authorities have said that Ukraine is also guilty of shelling in the area.
The Russian-occupied nuclear power plant in Ukraine has long been a focus of concerns around the globe that fighting could lead to a nuclear disaster. Zaporizhzhia is the biggest nuclear power plant on the European continent and has been under the control of Russian forces since early March shortly after the country was invaded, although Ukrainian staff continued to operate the plant.
It has been the scene of shelling throughout the conflict, and the two sides have been trading blame in recent weeks for this concerning activity. In late August, the Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom claimed that Russian troops had shelled the grounds of the complex and the damage was being assessed, but Moscow’s defense ministry said that Ukrainian forces had shelled the complex three times in the preceding 24 hours.
In a statement, the Russian defense ministry said: “A total of 17 shells were fired, four of which hit the roof of Special Building No. 1, where 168 assemblies of U.S. WestingHouse nuclear fuel are stored.”
According to their report, 10 shells exploded close to a dry storage facility where spent nuclear fuel is being kept, with three more exploding close to a building housing fresh nuclear fuel. Despite this, the radiation levels at the plant reportedly remained normal.
Zelensky said that the situation at the plant was “very risky” after reconnecting two of its six reactors to the grid after shelling caused them to be disconnected for the first time in the plant’s history. He has been using the claims of Russian shelling to encourage the international community to deem Moscow a terrorist state and deepen sanctions against it.
The chief of the Ukrainian presidential staff, Andriy Yermak, tweeted: “The Russians think they can force the world to comply with their conditions by shelling the Zaporizhzhia NPP (nuclear power plant). This will not happen. Instead, our military will punish them by hard hitting with precision on pain points.”
Russia, however, has said that Ukraine is trying to recapture the plant by force.
At an economic forum in Vladivostok, Putin said that claims of Russian forces being responsible for shelling at a plant they are already occupying were “absolute nonsense,” asking, “Well, are we shooting at ourselves or what?”
He said that fragments from Western weapons had been found at the plant and that Ukraine could be firing on the facility “to create an additional crisis.” Others who have accused Ukraine of shelling the plant believe they are doing so to provoke Russia into returning fire.
IAEA proposes protection zone around nuclear plant
On Sunday, the presidents of France and Russia traded blame about the safety of the plant, with Russian President Vladimir Putin placing the blame for the plant’s attacks on Ukrainian forces and French President Emmanuel Macron accusing the Russians of being responsible.
For his part, Macron asked Russian forces to withdraw their weapons from the area and follow recommendations made by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure the site’s safety. The agency has called for the establishment of a security zone around the site. They confirmed that a backup power line had been restored to the plant recently, giving it the external electricity needed to cool reactors and defend against a meltdown risk.
The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said that both Ukraine and Russia have expressed an interest in the agency’s proposal to form a protection zone around the plant. The two countries are reportedly engaging with the IAEA and asking questions about the proposal.
Last week, Ukrainian authorities encouraged people living in the area surrounding the nuclear plant to evacuate for safety reasons.
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