Russia has lambasted Ukraine for shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is under Russian control, three times in the past 24 hours despite a risk of leaking at the station.
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 offensive in the ex-Soviet country on February 24. Ukraine accuses Russia of storing heavy weapons in the plant. Moscow denies the allegation.
On Saturday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Ukrainian forces had shelled the nuclear plant at least three times during the previous 24 hours.
“A total of 17 shells were fired, four of which hit the roof of Special Building No. 1, where 168 assemblies of US WestingHouse nuclear fuel are stored,” it said in a statement, adding that 10 shells exploded in the vicinity of a dry storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and three more shells near a building, which houses fresh nuclear fuel storage.
However, the defense ministry said despite the explosions, the radiation situation at Zaporizhzhia remained normal.
The plant has come under fire repeatedly in recent weeks. Both Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of targeting the facility, which on Thursday sparked fires in the ash pits of a nearby coal power station that disconnected the plant from the power grid.
Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom energy agency once again accused Russian troops on Saturday of shelling the grounds of the plant complex in the previous 24 hours.
“The damage is currently being ascertained,” it said in a statement.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Friday that the situation at Zaporizhzhia remained “very risky” after two of its six reactors were reconnected to the grid following strikes that caused the station to be disconnected for the first time in its history.
Elsewhere in its statement on Saturday, Energoatom warned there is a risk of a radioactive leak at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia.
“As a result of periodic shelling, the infrastructure of the station has been damaged, there are risks of hydrogen leakage and sputtering of radioactive substances, and the fire hazard is high,” Ukraine’s state energy operator said.
Energoatom also said as of midday Saturday the plant “operates with the risk of violating radiation and fire safety standards.”
Despite the attacks, the Ukrainian staff continues to operate Zaporizhzhia, which has been a matter of international concern that fighting in the area could trigger a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster after the site was hit by shelling.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has already called for launching a mission to the plant “as soon as possible to help stabilize the nuclear safety and security situation there.”
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.