IAEA warns that attacks on a nuclear plant in Russian-controlled Ukraine put the world at risk

Russia and Ukraine are trading blame before the United Nations Security Council for the attacks on Europe's largest nuclear power plant

Michael Weissenstein
Monday 15 April 2024 23:08 BST
Russia Ukraine War
Russia Ukraine War (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Russia and Ukraine on Monday traded blame before the United Nations Security Council for the attacks on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said have put the world “dangerously close to a nuclear accident.”

Without attributing blame, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said his agency has been able to confirm three attacks against the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant since April 7.

“These reckless attacks must cease immediately,” he told the Security Council. “Though, fortunately, they have not led to a radiological incident this time, they significantly increase the risk … where nuclear safety is already compromised.”

Zaporizhzhia sits in Russian-controlled territory in southeastern Ukraine and has six nuclear reactors.

Fears of a nuclear catastrophe have been at the forefront since Russian troops occupied the plant shortly after invading in February 2022. Continued fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces — as well as the tense supply situation at the plant — have raised the specter of a disaster.

Ukraine and its allies on Monday again blamed Russia for dangers at the site, with the United States saying, “Russia does not care about these risks.”

“If it did, it would not continue to forcibly control the plant,” U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood told the Security Council.

Russia, for its part, said Ukraine was to blame for the attacks.

“The IAEA’s report does not pinpoint which side is behind the attacks,” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said. “We know full well who it is.”

“Over the last few months, such attacks not only resumed,” Nebenzia said, “they significantly intensified.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N., Sergiy Kyslytsya, called the attacks “a well-planned false flag operation by the Russian Federation,” which he alleged Russia had designed to distract the world from its invasion of its neighbor.

The Zaporizhzhia facility is one of the 10 biggest nuclear plants in the world. Fighting in the southern part of Ukraine where it is located has raised the specter of a potential nuclear disaster like the one at Chernobyl in 1986, where a reactor exploded and blew deadly radiation across a vast area.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine in recent months has been able to make significant advances along the 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line crossing eastern and southern Ukraine. Drones, artillery and missiles have featured heavily in what has become a war of attrition.

Russia and Ukraine have frequently traded accusations over the Zaporizhzhia plant.

The most recent strikes did not compromise the facility, which is designed to withstand a commercial airliner crashing into it, the IAEA said.

The plant’s six reactors have been shut down for months, but it still needs power and qualified staff to operate crucial cooling systems and other safety features.

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