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'Ukraine risking another Chernobyl': Russia warns over fate of Zaporozhskaya nuclear power plant

A Russian soldier is seen in an area of the Zaporozhskaya Nuclear Power Station in southeastern Ukraine, May 1, 2022. (Photo by AP)

Moscow has raised the alarm over the fate of the Zaporozhskaya Nuclear Power Station. Ukraine and Russia have been trading accusations for strikes targeting Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

A senior non-proliferation and arms control official at the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Ukrainian troops keep firing artillery shells at the facility in Ukraine's Zaporozhskaya region.

Igor Vishnevetsky warned the shelling of the plant risks triggering an event similar to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He made an appeal to the United Nations (UN) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "as well as to the countries that have influence on the Kiev regime, so they would take action in order to make the shelling of the nuclear power plant stop immediately."

The Russian Defense Ministry said earlier this week that “parts of the equipment” at the plant are out of power due to the shelling. According to the ministry, a fire broke out at the facility and was quickly put out. It was only "sheer luck” that the Ukrainian shells did not cause a bigger fire and “a possible nuclear disaster," it said. The ministry also called on the international community to condemn Ukraine for “the acts of nuclear terrorism.” 

Ukraine blames Russia for 'terror' at nuclear plant

Ukraine and its Western allies, however, accuse Russia of using the plant as a military base to fire at Ukrainians. Russian troops took control of the plant in March.

President Vladimir Zelensky claimed on Friday that the shelling of the nuclear power plant came from Russian troops. Zelensky accused Russia  of committing acts of "nuclear terrorism."

"Today, the occupiers have created another extremely risky situation for all of Europe: they struck the Zaporozhskaya nuclear power plant twice," Zelensky said in his daily video address. "Any bombing of this site is a shameless crime, an act of terror," he said. "Russia must take responsibility for the very fact of creating a threat to a nuclear plant."

Zelensky said this is yet another reason "to impose tough sanctions on all of Russia’s nuclear power industry."

The Ukrainian president echoed US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who has formerly accused Russia of using "the plant as a military base to fire at Ukrainians."

Russia, however, dismissed his remarks, saying the actions of its armed forces "don’t damage Ukraine’s nuclear safety in any way and cause no obstacles to the plant’s operation.”

In the meantime, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said the plant needs to be inspected for repairs and “to prevent a nuclear accident from happening." He warned on Tuesday that the situation at the nuclear power plant was "volatile."

Ukrainian nuclear materials may fall into terrorist hands: Russia

Given the situation around the nuclear power plant, Russia warned that Ukrainian nuclear materials will fall into the hands of terrorists.

Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office and Other International Organizations in Geneva Andrey Belousov said on Saturday that Moscow is going to great lengths to prevent such a scenario.

He said "there is an increasing risk of a nuclear disaster or an emergency situation, which would lead to negative consequences."

"As for the risk of nuclear materials from Ukraine falling into the hands of terrorists, it cannot be ruled out that if an emergency situation or a disaster takes place, Ukraine’s nuclear facilities will go out of control," Belousov said.

He said Russia, "as responsible state," is making utmost efforts to make sure that the nuclear plant is safe.

Russia launched its military campaign in Ukraine in late February. President Vladimir Putin said back then that one of the goals of the operation was to "de-Nazify" his country's eastern neighbor.

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