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Russia blames Ukraine after IAEA says Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant losing power again

A Russian serviceman patrols the premises housing the southeastern Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant on May 1, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Russia blames Ukrainian forces for attacking a nuclear power plant situated in the ex-Soviet republic’s southeast as the UN nuclear watchdog says the facility’s operations have been compromised again.

In a statement released on Saturday, Russia's Defense Ministry said the Ukrainian forces had attempted to capture the Zaporizhzhia plant in an attack on the facility on Friday night.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, however, blamed Russian shelling for the cutoff and said a radiation leak had narrowly
been avoided.

This came after on Saturday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the plant had lost connection to the last remaining main external power line. But the agency’s experts also learned that a reserve line linking the facility to a nearby thermal power plant, was still delivering electricity to the external grid.

Zaporizhzhia houses six reactors that makes it Europe's largest nuclear power station.

The IAEA said only one of the six reactors remained in operation.

"One reactor is still operating and producing electricity both for cooling and other essential safety functions at the site and for households, factories, and others through the grid," the agency said.

During past months, Moscow and Kiev have been reciprocally accusing each other of conducting shelling around the nuclear plant.

Transmission lines to the plant were cut last week and the facility was cut off from the national grid for the first time in its history, prompting power cuts in various regions of Ukraine. But emergency generators kicked in to provide power needed for vital cooling processes.

An IAEA mission, led by the body's Director General Rafael Grossi, toured the plant on Thursday. Some experts have remained there pending the release of a report on the facility’s operations.

Western countries accuse Russia of seeking to curtail the inspection, but Grossi has brushed off any allegations that the visit to the facility had been “manipulated.”

"We are never manipulated…We know what we need to do. And we listen, of course, respectfully, to all this noise. But our ability is to, you know, keep focus on what we need to do," he said.

Grossi added, “We've seen what I requested to see. Everything I requested to see - even as we were going along, when something we thought should be seen, I said, 'I want to go here and there' and we saw everything.”

Russia seized the plant after launching a military operation in Ukraine in February.

The operation is aimed at “demilitarizing” the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, which is made up of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, among other things.

Back in 2014, the republics broke away from Ukraine, refusing to recognize a Western-backed Ukrainian government there that had overthrown a democratically-elected Russia-friendly administration.

Announcing the operation, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”

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