Shelling came ‘dangerously close’ to Ukraine’s nuclear plant, UN says

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Ukraine narrowly avoided a nuclear catastrophe this past weekend after a barrage of shells fell “dangerously close” to the Zaporizhzhia atomic power plant’s reactors, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said.

“We were fortunate a potentially serious nuclear incident did not happen. Next time, we may not be so lucky,” Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated Sunday, describing the situation as a “close call.”

“We are talking meters, not kilometers,” he added.

As they have done throughout the nine-month war, Russia and Ukraine on Monday blamed each other for at least a dozen explosions at Europe’s largest nuclear power station, which has been under the Kremlin’s control since March.

Addressing the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the members of the alliance to guarantee protection from “Russian sabotage” at nuclear facilities.

Heavy shelling rocked Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant this weekend and came dangerously close to striking its reactors.
Heavy shelling rocked Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant this weekend and came dangerously close to striking its reactors.
REUTERS

The head of Russia’s state-run nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, said it had discussed Sunday’s shelling with the IAEA, and said there was a risk of a nuclear accident.

IAEA experts at the Zaporizhzhia facility reported hearing more than a dozen blasts within a short period Sunday morning and could see some explosions from their windows, the agency said.

Grossi called the shelling “extremely disturbing,” and appealed to both sides to urgently implement a nuclear safety and security zone around the facility.

A plume of smoke rises during a fire caused by a Russian airstrike in Kherson, southern Ukraine, Saturday.
A plume of smoke rises during a fire caused by a Russian airstrike in Kherson, southern Ukraine, Saturday.
AP

“Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately,” he said. “As I have said many times before, you’re playing with fire!”

The attacks that rocked the Zaporizhzhia plant also hit a cooling pond, a cable to one reactor and a bridge to another, according to an IAEA team on the ground citing information provided by plant management.

Radiation levels remained normal and there were no reports of casualties, the IAEA said. While there was no direct impact on nuclear safety and security systems, “the shelling came dangerously close,” Grossi stressed.

“Whoever is shelling at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, is taking huge risks and gambling with many people’s lives,” he said.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, described the incident at the power station as a "close call" and said those responsible for the shelling were "playing with fire."
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, described the incident at the power station as a “close call” and said those responsible for the shelling were “playing with fire.”
REUTERS

Grossi spoke to world leaders and reiterated the need for a nuclear safety and security protection zone around Zaporizhzhia, the IAEA said.

A team from the nuclear watchdog planned to conduct an assessment Monday, Grossi said.

The Zaporizhzhia plant provided about a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity before Russia’s invasion, and has been forced to operate on back-up generators a number of times.

The plant’s six reactors are shut down but there is a risk that nuclear fuel could overheat if the power driving the cooling systems is cut. Shelling has repeatedly cut power lines.

Russia’s defense ministry said Ukraine fired at power lines supplying the plant. Ukraine’s nuclear energy firm Energoatom said Russia’s military shelled the site, accusing it of nuclear blackmail and actions that were “endangering the whole world.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the NATO Parliamentary to guarantee protection from "Russian sabotage" at nuclear facilities.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the NATO Parliamentary to guarantee protection from “Russian sabotage” at nuclear facilities.
REUTERS

Russia’s response to military setbacks and the retreat from Kherson in recent weeks has included a barrage of missile strikes, many on power facilities that have left much of the country without electricity as winter sets in and temperatures drop below freezing.

Zelensky said that half of the country’s power capacity had been knocked out by Russian rockets.

The World Health Organization on Monday warned that the power outages could threaten the lives of millions of Ukrainians this upcoming winter.

“Put simply –- this winter will be about survival,” Hans Kluge, regional director for Europe at the UN’s health body, told reporters during his visit to Kyiv on Monday.

“This winter will be life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine,” he said.

The warning comes as Russian troops battled Ukrainian frontline positions with artillery fire, with the heaviest attacks reported in the Donetsk region.

Kyiv on Monday reported heavy fighting over the previous 24 hours, saying its forces had fought back Russian attacks in the Donetsk region while Russian shelling continued in the Luhansk region and Kharkiv.

“The fiercest battles, as before, are in the Donetsk region. Although there were fewer attacks today due to worsening weather, the amount of Russian shelling unfortunately remains extremely high,” Zelensky said.

“In the Luhansk region, we are slowly moving forward while fighting. As of now, there have been almost 400 artillery attacks in the east since the start of the day,” he said.

With Post wires

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