- Work underway to reconnect two working reactors to the grid
- Zelenskiy urges global pressure to force Russians off site
- Kyiv residents worried about situation at factory
KYIV, Aug 26 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s president has urged the world to act much faster to force Russian troops to evacuate Europe’s largest nuclear power plant after the site was cut off from power for hours during of an incident which he said risked causing an international radioactive catastrophe.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian shelling on Thursday sparked fires in the ash pits of a nearby coal-fired power plant that disconnected the Zaporozhzhia plant from the power grid. A Russian official said Ukraine was to blame.
Backup diesel generators provided vital power for the plant’s cooling and safety systems, Zelenskiy said, praising the Ukrainian technicians who operate the plant under the watchful eye of the Russian military.
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“The main thing is … international pressure is needed to compel the occupiers to immediately withdraw from the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” he said in a video address on Thursday evening.
“The IAEA and other international organizations must act much faster than they are acting now. Because every minute that Russian troops stay at the nuclear power plant poses a risk of a global radioactive disaster,” he said. declared, referring to the United Nations nuclear watchdog. .
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Russia was doing everything to ensure that an IAEA visit to the plant could go ahead safely. Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ukraine was trying to disrupt such a visit by attacking the plant.
Residents of the town of Zaporozhzhia, 50 km northeast of the plant and some 435 km (270 miles) southeast of Kyiv, have expressed concern over the situation.
“Of course I’m scared. Everyone is scared, we don’t know what’s going to happen next, what’s in store for us every minute, second,” said social media manager Maria Varakina, 25. .
Schoolteacher Hanna Kuz, 46, said people feared Ukrainian authorities would not be able to warn residents in time of any radioactive fallout.
Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear company Energoatom said one of the plant’s two operating reactors had been reconnected to the grid and was supplying power again after it was completely disconnected on Thursday.
Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in the occupied town of Enerhodar near the plant, blamed Ukraine’s armed forces for Thursday’s incident, saying they started a fire in a forest near the factory.
“It was caused by the disconnection of power lines from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as a result of provocations by Zelenskiy fighters,” Rogov wrote on Telegram. “The disconnection itself was triggered by a fire and a short circuit on the power lines.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that its forces had destroyed an American-made M777 howitzer that Ukraine allegedly used to bomb the Zaporizhzhia plant. Satellite images showed a fire near the factory but Reuters could not verify the cause.
Energoatom said Thursday’s incident was the first complete shutdown of the plant, which has become a flashpoint in the six-month war.
Zaporizhzhia regional authorities said more than 18,000 people in several settlements were left without power on Friday due to damage to power lines.
A Reuters cameraman said there was electricity as usual in the town of Zaporizhzhia on Friday.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February, seized the plant in March and has controlled it ever since, although Ukrainian personnel still run it. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of bombing the site, fueling fears of a nuclear disaster. The city of Zaporizhzhia remains controlled by the Ukrainian authorities.
The United Nations is seeking access to the factory and has called for the demilitarization of the area.
Germany on Friday condemned Russia’s continued occupation of the plant, calling the situation “very, very dangerous”.
Paul Bracken, a national security expert and professor at the Yale School of Management, said the fear was that artillery shells or missiles could puncture the walls of the reactor and spread the radiation far and wide, much like the crash. of 1986 involving the Chernobyl reactor.
A breakdown at the Zaporizhzhia plant could “kill hundreds or thousands of people and damage the environment of a much larger area reaching into Europe,” Bracken said.
“Russian roulette is a good metaphor as the Russians spin the gun chamber, threatening to blow the brains out of the reactor all over Europe,” he said.
Russia’s ground campaign has stalled in recent months after its troops were pushed back from the capital Kyiv, but fighting continues along front lines to the south and east.
Russian forces control territory along Ukraine’s Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts, while the conflict has turned into a war of attrition in the eastern Donbass region.
Explosions were heard early Friday in the southern city of Mykolaiv, a battleground as Russian forces attempt to push west along the coast to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea. The immediate cause of the explosions was unclear, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said.
Ukraine said it repelled Russian assaults on Bakhmut and Soledar in the eastern region of Donetsk and hit munitions depots and enemy personnel in the southern region of Kherson.
Ukrainian forces fired around 10 rockets from a US-provided HIMARS multiple rocket launcher at the town of Stakhanov in the eastern Donbass region, dissident pro-Moscow officials in Luhansk were quoted by the agency as saying. of Russian press TASS.
According to Russian news agency TASS, the deputy head of traffic police in the occupied Ukrainian city of Berdyansk was killed in a bomb attack on Friday. His Russian-installed administration blamed the explosion on “Ukrainian saboteurs”. Read more
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. The Odessa regional administration said the officer was injured in an explosion carried out by what it called unidentified partisan fighters in Berdyansk.
Reuters was unable to verify battlefield reports from either side.
The Kremlin says its goal is to “denazify” and demilitarize Ukraine and eliminate perceived security threats to Russia. Ukraine and the West say this is a baseless pretext for a war of conquest.
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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Gareth Jones and William Maclean; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Angus MacSwan
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