UN warns of ‘nuclear accident’ after drone attacks on Russia-held Zaporizhzhia power plant

Loud explosions and rifle fire heard at Zaporizhzhia throughout the day as IAEA says ‘attacking a nuclear power plant is an absolute no go’

Arpan Rai
Monday 08 April 2024 05:07 BST
Ukraine: Soviet-era dam destroyed near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The UN atomic watchdog’s head has warned of a “major nuclear accident” after a new drone attack on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant.

An explosion near the reactor building and blood stains suggesting one casualty on Sunday were also reported, including a hit on the dome of the plant’s sixth power unit.

The International Atomic Energy Agency‘s (IAEA) head, Rafael Mariano Grossi, called the attacks “reckless”. This is the direct targeting of the nuclear facility for the first time since November 2022 in military action, endangering nuclear safety and security.

Shortly after the attacks were reported, experts of the nuclear body were sent to three affected locations and able to confirm the physical impact of the drone detonations, the IAEA said.

The attack targeted one of the site’s six reactor’s buildings housing surveillance and communication equipment, it said.

“While they were at the roof of the reactor, unit 6, Russian troops engaged what appeared to be an approaching drone. This was followed by an explosion near the reactor building,” the IAEA said in a statement.

The IAEA team observed remnants of drones at this and two other impact locations at the site.

“At one of them, outside a laboratory, they saw blood stains next to a damaged military logistics vehicle, indicating at least one casualty,” the IAEA said.

Loud explosions and rifle fire were heard on the nuclear site throughout the day by the experts. “Additionally, the IAEA team heard several rounds of outgoing artillery fire from near the plant,” an IAEA statement added.

“This is a major escalation of the nuclear safety and security dangers facing the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Such reckless attacks significantly increase the risk of a major nuclear accident and must cease immediately,” Mr Grossi said.

The director general of IAEA warned that no one can “conceivably benefit or get any military or political advantage from attacks against nuclear facilities”.

“Attacking a nuclear power plant is an absolute no go,” Mr Grossi said.

Military decision makers should abstain from “any action violating the basic principles that protect nuclear facilities”, he added.

Officials at the Russia-controlled plant said no critical damage or casualties were reported and radiation levels at the plant were normal after the strikes.

However, officials blamed Ukraine for the military drone attacks.

A Ukrainian intelligence official denied the accusations and said Kyiv has nothing to do with incidents at the plant.

“Ukraine is not involved in any kind of armed provocations on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant illegally occupied by Russia,” Andriy Yusov, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, told the Ukrainska Pravda media outlet.

“Russian strikes, including imitation ones, on the territory of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant have long been a well known criminal practice of the invaders,” he said.

Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear facility, has been caught in the crossfire since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine for invasion in 2022 and seized the facility within days.

The IAEA has repeatedly expressed alarm about the nuclear power plant amid fears of a potential nuclear catastrophe. Both Ukraine and Russia have regularly accused the other of attacking the plant, which is still close to the front lines.

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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