Kyiv: No radiation was released from a Russian attack at Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant in Ukraine and firefighters have extinguished a blaze at the facility, U.N. and Ukrainian officials said Friday, as Russian forces pressed their campaign to cripple the country despite global condemnation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director-general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said Friday the building hit by a Russian “projectile” at the Zaporizhzhia plant was “not part of the reactor” but instead a training center at the plant. Nuclear officials from Sweden to China said no radiation spikes had been reported, as did Grossi. Ukrainian officials have said Russian troops took control of the overall site, but the plant’s staff were continuing to ensure its operations. Grossi said the Ukrainians were in control of the reactor. In the frenzied initial aftermath when the risk of a radiation release was not clear, the attack caused worldwide concern — and evoked memories of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, at Ukraine’s Chernobyl.
Facing worldwide indignation over the attack, Russia sought to deflect blame. Without producing evidence, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov blamed arson rather than artillery fire. He claimed a Ukrainian “sabotage group” had occupied the training building at the plant, fired on a Russian patrol and set fire to the building as they left.
There had been conflicting reports earlier over which part of the Zaporizhzhia facility had been affected in the attack, with an official saying at one point that shells fell directly on the facility and set fire to a reactor not in operation as well as a training building. Grossi later said that the fire was in the training center.
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The confusion itself underscored the dangers of active fighting near a nuclear power plant. It was the second time since the invasion began just over a week ago that concerns about a nuclear accident or a release of radiation materialized, following a battle at Chernobyl. Grossi said only one reactor of six at Zaporizhzhia is currently operating, at about 60% capacity, and that two people at the site were injured in the fire. Ukraine’s state nuclear plant operator Enerhoatom said three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and two wounded.
The plant fire came as the Russian military advanced on a strategic city on the Dnieper River near where the facility is located, and gained ground in their bid to cut the country off from the sea. That move would deal a severe blow to Ukraine’s economy and could worsen an already dire humanitarian situation. With the invasion in its second week, another round of talks between Russia and Ukraine yielded a tentative agreement to set up safe corridors to evacuate citizens and deliver humanitarian aid to the country, overturned by a war that has sent more than 1 million fleeing over the border and countless others sheltering underground. A handful cities are without heat and at least one is struggling to get food and water.
In the center of the capital, Kyiv, frequent shelling could still be heard Friday, although more distant than in recent days, with loud thudding every 10 minutes resonating over the rooftops. The West has heaped sanctions on Russia, and most of the world lined up to demand Russia withdraw its troops in a vote in the U.N. General Assembly this week. In the latest show of international opposition to the invasion, the U.N.’s top human rights body voted 32-2 on a resolution that would among other things set up a panel of experts to monitor human rights in Ukraine. Only Russia and Eritrea opposed; there were 13 abstentions.
The attack on the nuclear facility led to phone calls between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders. The U.S. Department of Energy activated its nuclear incident response team as a precaution.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to raise the issue of Russia’s attack on the plant.
In an emotional speech in the middle of the night, Zelenskyy said he feared an explosion that would be “the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe.” But most experts saw nothing to indicate an impending disaster.
“The real threat to Ukrainian lives continues to be the violent invasion and bombing of their country,” the American Nuclear Society said in a statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have brought their superior firepower to bear over the past few days, launching hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on cities and other sites around the country and making significant gains in the south.
The Russians announced the capture of the southern city of Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 280,000, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed the takeover of the government headquarters there, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began just over a week ago. (AP)