Ukraine, Russia Accuse Each Other of Planning To Attack Europe's Biggest Nuclear Plant

July 5, 2023Associated Press
Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station

A Russian serviceman guards an area of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine, on May 1, 2022. Ukraine and Russia accused each other Wednesday, July 5, 2023, of planning to attack the power plant, which is occupied by Russian troops, but neither side provided evidence to support their claims. AP file photo.

By SAMYA KULLAB, Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine and Russia accused each other Wednesday of planning to attack one of the world's largest nuclear power plants, but neither side provided evidence to support their claims of an imminent threat to the facility in southeastern Ukraine that is occupied by Russian troops.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has been a focus of concern since Moscow's forces took control of it and its staff in the early stages of the war. Russia and Ukraine have regularly traded blame over shelling near the plant that caused power outages. Over the last year, the U.N.'s atomic watchdog repeatedly expressed alarm over the possibility of a radiation catastrophe like the one at Chernobyl after a reactor exploded in 1986.

The six reactors at Zaporizhzhia are shut down, but the plant still needs power and qualified staff to run crucial cooling systems and other safety features.

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, is seen in the background of the shallow Kakhovka Reservoir after the dam collapse, in Energodar, Russian-occupied Ukraine, Tuesday, June 27, 2023. Ukraine and Russia accused each other Wednesday, July 5, 2023, of planning to attack the power plant, which is occupied by Russian troops, but neither side provided evidence to support their claims. AP file photo by Libkos.

Ukraine has alleged more recently that Moscow might try to cause a deliberate leak in an attempt to derail Kyiv’s ongoing counteroffensive in the surrounding Zaporizhzhia region. Russia is suspected of blowing up a dam in southern Ukraine last month with a similar aim.

Citing the latest intelligence reports, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy alleged Tuesday night that Russian troops had placed “objects resembling explosives" on top of several of the plant's power units to “simulate” an attack from outside.

“Their detonation should not damage power units but may create a picture of shelling from Ukraine,” according to a statement from the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has officials stationed at the Russian-held plant, which is still run by its Ukrainian staff. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said his agency's most recent inspection of the plant found no activity related to explosives, “but we remain extremely alert.”

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, listens to a reporter's question during a news conference at the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Okuma, northeastern Japan, Wednesday, July 5, 2023. The United Nations nuclear chief toured Japan’s tsunami-wrecked nuclear power plant Wednesday, including some of the key facilities that will release treated radioactive water into the sea, the day after his agency affirmed the safety of a contentious plan. AP photo by Hiro Komae, Pool.

“As you know, there is a lot of combat. I have been there a few weeks ago, and there is contact there very close to the plant, so we cannot relax,” Grossi said during a visit to Japan.

In Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov raised the specter of a potentially “catastrophic” provocation by the Ukrainian army at the nuclear plant, which is Europe’s largest.

“The situation is quite tense. There is a great threat of sabotage by the Kyiv regime, which can be catastrophic in its consequences,” Peskov said in response to a reporter’s question about the plant. He also claimed that the Kremlin was pursuing “all measures” to counter the alleged Ukrainian threat.

Grossi said he was aware of both Kyiv’s and Moscow’s claims and reiterated that “nuclear power plants should never, under any circumstances, be attacked."

Ukrainian soldiers cover their ears during a Russian tank shelling in a shelter on the frontline in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, Sunday, July 2, 2023. AP photo by Libkos.

"A nuclear power plant should not be used as a military base,” he said.

A Russian attack on the plant would “probably not lead to the widespread dispersal of significant amounts of radiation” due to precautionary steps taken by the IAEA, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank.

“A blast at Zaporizhzhia would spread radiation and sow panic, but the actual off-site radiation risk would be relatively low,’’ the think tank said in a recent assessment, adding that wind might blow some radiation toward Russia.

The most likely scenarios are a Russian-engineered explosion that exposes one of the reactor cores and starts a fire that burns spent fuel, or a blast involving the dry spent fuel on site that would carry the radiation far afield via wind, the IISS said.

A view of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, in Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia region, in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine, on May 1, 2022. AP file photo.

Neither of those scenarios would bring a disaster on the scale of Chernobyl or Fukushima, Japan’s tsunami-wrecked nuclear plant, it said.

Renat Karchaa, an adviser to Russian state nuclear company Rosenergoatom, said there was “no basis” for Zelenskyy's claims of a plot to simulate an explosion.

“Why would we need explosives there? This is nonsense" aimed at "maintaining tension around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant,” Karchaa said.

Ukrainian soldiers fire toward the Russian position on the frontline in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, Saturday, June 24, 2023. AP photo by Efrem Lukatsky.

Russian media on Tuesday cited Karchaa as saying that Ukraine’s military planned to strike the plant early Wednesday with ammunition laced with nuclear waste. As of Wednesday afternoon, there was no indication of such an attack.

Last week, Ukrainian emergency workers held a drill to prepare for a potential release of radiation from the plant. In case of a nuclear disaster at the plant, approximately 300,000 people would be evacuated from the areas closest to the facility, according to the country’s emergency services.

Ukrainian officials have said the shut-down reactors are protected by thick concrete containment domes.

Mari Yamaguchi contributed from Okuma, Japan.

Read Next: Embedded With US Air Force Nuclear Missile and Bomber Units

Associated Press
Associated Press

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting, founded in 1846.

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