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Russia: West must pressure Ukraine to stop shelling nuclear plant

A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, August 4, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Russia has called on the West to pressure Kiev to stop bombarding the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in southeastern Ukraine.

Zaporizhzhia is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world. Russian forces seized the plant soon after Moscow launched its ongoing military operation in the ex-Soviet country on February 24. Ukraine accuses Russia of storing heavy weapons in the plant. Moscow accuses Kiev of targeting the facility.

On Monday, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned during a virtual press conference that the shelling of the plant was “extremely dangerous.”

“The shelling of the territory of the nuclear plant by the Ukrainian armed forces is a potentially extremely dangerous activity... fraught with catastrophic consequences for a vast area, including the territory of Europe,” he told reporters.

Peskov said Moscow expected “the countries that have absolute influence on the Ukrainian leadership to use this influence in order to rule out the continuation of such shelling.”

Russia's Defense Ministry has said the Ukrainian army inflicted damage on a high-voltage power line that provides electricity to nearby regions.

A “power surge” occurred at the station, causing smoke in a switchgear used to protect electrical equipment, it said, adding that firefighters at the scene managed to stop the smoke.

Meanwhile, Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Russian-installed administration of Zaporizhzhia region, said despite the damage, the plant was working normally.

A day earlier, Russian authorities at the plant, located near the city of Enerhodar, said a strike by Ukrainian forces had damaged administrative buildings inside the complex. “The Ukrainian army carried out an attack with a cluster bomb fired from an Uragan rocket launcher.”

They said the projectiles, purportedly fired by Ukrainian forces, fell within 400 meters of a working reactor. The strike had inflicted damage on some administrative buildings and that it hit a “zone storing used nuclear fuel.”

On Friday, Zaporizhzhia also came under strikes, which, according to its Ukrainian operator, Energoatom, had “caused a serious risk for the safe operation of the plant.” The operator said the strikes had damaged a power cable, forced one of the reactors to stop working and “seriously damaged” a station that contained nitrogen and oxygen as well as an auxiliary building.

Soon after the Friday strikes, Moscow lambasted Ukraine for “nuclear terrorism,” saying the Ukrainian army had carried out artillery attacks against Zaporizhzhia. “Ukrainian armed units carried out three artillery strikes on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the city of Enerhodar,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement at the time.

Russia has also taken control of the Chernobyl plant, about 100 kilometers north of Kiev, which has been one of the most radioactive locations on earth since it saw an explosion in its fourth reactor in April 1986.

Ukraine’s nuclear head calls for military-free zone at Zaporizhzhia

Separately on Monday, Petro Kotin, head of Energoatom, called for Zaporizhzhia to be made a demilitarized zone under the control of foreign peacekeepers.

“The decision that we demand from the world community and all our partners... is to withdraw the invaders from the territory of the station and create a demilitarized zone on the territory of the station,” he said on television.

“The presence of peacekeepers in this zone and the transfer of control of it to them, and then also control of the station to the Ukrainian side would resolve this problem,” Kotin added, while warning of the risk of a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster after the site was hit by shelling.

“If one container of spent nuclear fuel is broken, it will be a local accident in the plant and the surrounding area. If there are two or three containers, it will be much larger. It is impossible to assess the scale of this catastrophe,” Energoatom’s chief stated.

Kotin also criticized as “sluggish” the International Atomic Energy Agency's reaction to the situation at Zaporizhzhia over the past five months.

Ukraine’s top nuclear official alleged that 500 Russian soldiers and 50 pieces of heavy machinery including tanks, trucks and armored infantry vehicles were at the site. 

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