Ukrainian nuclear power plant bombed, says UN nuclear watchdog

This photo taken on September 11, 2022 shows a security guard standing in front of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia, amid the war in Ukraine.

Stringer | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is under Russian control, was rocked by shelling on Sunday, prompting condemnation from the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, who said such attacks risked causing a disaster major nuclear.

Repeated shelling of the plant in southern Ukraine has raised concerns about the potential for a serious accident just 500 km (300 miles) from the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

More than a dozen explosions rocked the Zaporizhzhia power plant, which Russia took control of shortly after its February invasion of Ukraine, Saturday night and Sunday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said ( IAEA).

An IAEA team on the ground said some buildings, systems and equipment at the plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, had been damaged. The IAEA team was able to see some of the explosions from their windows.

“The news from our team yesterday and this morning is extremely worrying,” Rafael Grossi, the UN’s chief nuclear watchdog, said in a statement.

“Explosions have occurred at the site of this major nuclear power plant, which is totally unacceptable. Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately. As I have said many times before, you are playing with fire!”

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has six Soviet-designed water-cooled and water-moderated VVER-1000 V-320 reactors containing uranium-235, which has a half-life of more than 700 million years .

The reactors are shut down but there is a risk of the nuclear fuel overheating if the power supply to the cooling systems were cut off. The bombings repeatedly cut the power lines.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Ukraine fired shells at power lines feeding the plant, while TASS reported some of the site’s storage facilities were hit, citing a Russian nuclear energy official .

“They bombed not only yesterday, but also today, they are bombing right now,” said Renat Karchaa, adviser to the CEO of Rosenergoatom, adding that any artillery attack on the site posed a threat to nuclear security.

Karchaa said the shells were fired near a dry nuclear waste storage facility and a building that houses fresh spent nuclear fuel, but no radioactive emissions have currently been detected, according to TASS.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of attacking the plant and risking a nuclear accident. The facility supplied about a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity before the February 24 Russian invasion and has been forced to run on backup generators on several occasions.

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