KYIV, Ukraine – In the early days of the war in Ukraine, the Russian military took control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant after a fierce battle that included shrapnel hitting the reactor’s containment structure. Response No. 1. The fire was quickly extinguished, a dense fire. The wall stopped a breach, and in the five months that followed, the war and global attention, turned to new fronts, new outrage, and new terror.
The war was not without its devastation and global consequences – geopolitical alliances changed, famine in Africa was exacerbated by missing grain exports, massacres of Ukrainian civilians, mass emigration and huge losses of Ukrainian and Russian troops. But The repeated shelling of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in recent days has particularly aroused widespread fear and outrage about the insane and present danger of turning a large nuclear power plant into a nuclear power plant. Europe into a theater of war.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, speaking late Thursday night to a country that still bears traces of the nuclear disaster from the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, said the Kremlin was involved in “a nuclear accident.” unmasked nuclear blackmail” and called the situation at the plant “One of the greatest crimes of the state of terror.”
Neither side is interested in a crisis that, in the worst case, could lead to the widespread release of deadly radioactive material, contaminate territory stretching hundreds of thousands of miles in any way the wind blows.
“The degree of infection of other territories of Ukraine and Europe, Russia and Belarus depends on the direction of the wind,” said the State Agency for the Management of the Ukrainian Exclusion Zone, which monitors the wasteland that still surrounds it. Chernobyl, said.
The plant’s reactors are designed to withstand a wide range of risks, from plane crashes to natural disasters. But direct attacks by rockets and missiles can be another matter. Ukraine has so far resisted firing back at the plant with advanced US-supplied missile systems, fearing it could attack one of the six reactors where pressurized water or highly radioactive waste is being stored.
However, experts expressed further concern about fire damage if a projectile was to hit a transformer at one of the reactors. That can take electricity network offline, potentially causing factory cooling system failure and leading to catastrophic failure, said Edwin Lymana nuclear energy expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group in Cambridge, Mass.
Each side blamed the other for endangering the safety of the plant.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of using the plant as a staging ground to launch missiles at the city of Nikopol on the west bank of the Dnipro River.
On Friday, the following days At least 13 people were killed During the shelling, many rockets fell, injuring three people, including a 12-year-old boy, as well as damaging four high-rise buildings and many houses and shops, a district official said. area said. It is unclear whether the overnight attacks came from the Zaporizhzhia tree.
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The Ukrainians also accused the Russians of stashing dozens of military vehicles with an unspecified number of ammunition in the premises of at least two reactors. Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, it said, is advising Russian forces on what parts of the plant site they can deliberately bombard without posing a safety threat, with the intention of The idea of threatening the world by creating a sense of danger (while blaming the Ukrainians).
Russian officials say Ukraine is trying to create a “dirty bomb” in Russian-controlled territory by targeting a waste storage facility, claiming that its air defense systems Russia repelled Ukrainian drone and artillery attacks on the plant.
Rafael M. Grossi, Secretary General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, said there is currently “no immediate threat” as a result of the recent shelling. here, but warn that the rating “may change at any time. “
While under Russian control, the facility is run by about 10,000 Ukrainian civilians, who tasked with keeping the factory running safely while facing according to Ukrainian officials.
“People are being kidnapped en masse,” said Dmytro Orlov, the exiled mayor of the nearby city of Enerhodar. a meeting last month with officials from Energoatom state agency that oversees Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. “The whereabouts of some of them are still unknown. The rest are in very difficult conditions: They are being tortured and subjected to physical and moral abuse.”
Ten employees are still missing, according to a Ukrainian energy official, who could only discuss security issues at the plant on condition of anonymity. That includes the facility’s head of environmental services, Ihor Kvashnin, according to Energoatom.
The war shows no signs of abating, at the nuclear site or anywhere else along the southern and eastern front lines.
On Friday, a senior Ukrainian official said the death toll from explosions at an air base in Crimea this week was much higher than previous estimates. That contradicts Russia’s demand for more limited damages. Images released by Planet Labs, a satellite imaging company, seem to show at least eight warplanes sunk and three explosion craters in aircraft parking areas near the runway. Russia has used the site as a launch pad for military operations since its invasion of Ukraine began in late February.
Ukrainian official Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to the Interior Minister, said 60 pilots and technicians were killed and 100 injured when a series of explosions rocked the Saki fields on the western coast of the Black Sea. of Crimea on Tuesday. He said the conclusion was based on video evidence and intelligence data, but he gave no further details.
There is no independent confirmation of this figure, and most experts focus on assessing damage to Russian military equipment. Russian authorities said bombs and ammunition stored at the site exploded, and denied reports that any aircraft had been destroyed.
A senior Ukrainian official said the explosions were an attack carried out with the help of partisans, resistance fighters that aid Ukrainian troops in Russian-occupied territory. But authorities in Kyiv have been reluctant to clarify how the explosion happened, or clarify whether it was responsible.
Mr. Zelensky warned officials against reveal details of attacks carried out by its forces or from bragging.
“War is certainly not the time for frivolous and noisy claims,” he said in the speech, which was unrelated to the airbase explosion. “The less specifics you provide about our defense plans, the better for the execution of those defense plans.”
Also on Friday, a United Nations chartered bulk carrier, Brave Commander, traveled to Ukraine carrying 23,000 tons of grain to starving regions of the Horn of Africa, the first trip to that region since the Russian invasion halted food exports six months ago. António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, who brokered an agreement last month between Ukraine and Russia to allow grain shipments, has called it “a beacon of relief.”
Instead, the nuclear plant has emerged as a cause of global anxiety.
On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of the Group of 7 major industrialized nations issued statement from their meeting in Germany to demand that Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine and immediately return control of the nuclear complex to Ukraine.
The statement blamed Russia’s military actions around the plant for “dramatically increasing the risk of a nuclear accident or incident”, endangering the entire region.
On Thursday, a State Department spokesman said the United States supports a demilitarized zone around the nuclear plant and called on Russia to cease military activities on its property or nearby.
Ukraine managed to deal with the constant shelling from the factory with precision counterattacks. For example, on July 22, Ukraine’s military intelligence service reported an attack by a kamikaze drone that blew up an air defense facility and a Grad missile launcher and killed soldiers in a tent camp about 150 meters from the reactor.
Marc Santora reported from Kyiv and Jason Horowitz from Rome. William J. Broad contributed reporting from New York.