Strikes near another Ukrainian nuclear plant heighten fears of disaster

KYIV, Ukraine — A powerful Russian missile exploded less than 900 feet from the reactors of a Ukrainian nuclear power plant early Monday, according to Ukrainian officials, a reminder that, despite Despite defeat on the battlefield, Russia can still threaten disaster in any of the four active nuclei of Ukraine’s plants.

Monday’s attack landed near the Southern Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, 160 miles west of another nuclear complex that has become the focus of global concern, the Zaporizhzhia plant, where The United Nations sent a group of experts to stabilize the situation this month.

Unlike Zaporizhzhia treeLocated in an active battlefield, the South Ukraine site is far from the front lines and Monday’s attack appears to demonstrate Russia’s reach and the catastrophic ability of an attack on a factory like so.

Security camera footage showed a giant fireball lighting up the night sky over the area, and the shockwave blew out more than 100 windows at the factory in Southern Ukraine. Energoatom, Ukraine’s national nuclear energy company, said the explosion caused extensive damage around a hydroelectric power plant near the complex, forcing one of the plant’s hydraulic units to shut down and causing a partial blackout in the area.

The origin of the explosion could not be independently confirmed, but the attack fits a longstanding pattern of Russia attacking Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, even if it poses a serious threat to Ukraine. with civilians. Russia defeated the energy systems on which Ukrainian civilians depended with artillery, established a base for a short time in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and has capture the factory ZaporizhzhiaEurope’s largest nuclear power plant, for many months, growing fear that an accident will ensue.

Officials said three reactors at the plant in southern Ukraine were operating normally and the extent of the damage and the type of missile were still being investigated. Ukraine’s southern military command said in a statement that preliminary information indicated an Iskander cruise missile, with a range of hundreds of miles – one of the weapons in Russia’s arsenal that could reach any corner of Ukraine.

Before Russian President Vladimir V. Putin sent his forces to Ukraine in February, nuclear plants produced more than half of Ukraine’s electricity, the second highest rate among European nations. after France. That overdependence has raised concerns about further energy disruptions during the winter, and about threats to nuclear plants around the country.

“There is no other way to describe this except nuclear terrorism,” Petro Kotin, the head of Energoatom, told Ukrainian state television on Monday. He said that although the dense concrete buildings that house the nuclear reactors are built to withstand a plane crash, the explosion from the overnight attack could be powerful enough to damage containment structures, if the missile strikes closer.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy office of the president of Ukraine, said in a statement: “A few hundred meters away and we will wake up in a completely different reality.

The The deadliest attack on a nuclear plantIt may not be a direct attack on a well-protected reactor, experts say, but an attack that damages or destroys much more vulnerable critical infrastructure, like cooling system, helping the reactor operate safely. Failure of the cooling system can lead to a meltdown and a huge radiation release.

In Monday’s explosion, less than 70 miles north city ​​of MykolaivEnergoatom said there was no damage to essential safety equipment and the plant remained fully operational.

The attack near the South Ukraine plant, Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear plant, comes after months of concern about the larger Zaporizhzhia plant in the east. That complex has under repeated shelling, with Russian and Ukrainian trade allegations of responsibility. When conditions deteriorated last month, the United Nations sent an inspection team to the factorycalled for the establishment of a demilitarized zone at the site.

Situation at Zaporizhzhia plant, which is occupied by Russian troops but operated by Ukrainian engineers, appears to have stabilized in recent days, after the plant resumed receiving electricity from the Ukrainian power grid last week. But its six reactors have all been shut down as a safety measure, after Energoatom determined it was too risky to keep them operating with combat nearby.

When the Kremlin’s campaign for territory stalled, stalled in the east and suffered a journey in the northRussia regularly bombards vital Ukrainian infrastructure, including power plants, water treatment centers, railways, and utilities. After a Ukrainian counterattack drive away Russian forces of the northern Kharkiv region just over a week ago, Russia launched missile attacks on a large thermal power plant in areaquickly causing it to fall into a power outage.

The Russian government has denied deliberately targeting civilian centers, although the destruction of Mariupolin the south of Ukraine, and great damage to other cities and towns, and its history of attacking civilians in Syria and Chechnya. The Kremlin made no statement on Monday about the factory attack in Southern Ukraine.

Analysts say the strikes fit a pattern of sieges that cut off power lines, clean water, food supplies and communications. Combined with the bombardment of thermal power plants, the seizure of a hydroelectric power station, and dozens of attacks on power lines and substations, “Russia’s Purposeful Recklessness at the Nuclear Power Plant Zaporizhzhia appears to be part of a broader strategy to cut Ukraine’s energy sources,” Suriya Jayanti, a fellow at the Atlantic Council, wrote in a report last week.

Ukrainian officials say they can still produce enough energy to meet the nation’s needs this winter, but damage to infrastructure in towns and cities will make transmission difficult. electricity to hundreds of thousands of consumers.

Ukrainian officials have urged those living in territory recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces and in other parts of the country hard hit by fighting to evacuate and not return home until when the fighting ends.

And an estimated 1.2 million people live in parts of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces, whose access to electricity is unclear. In some places, heating, water and electricity infrastructure has been destroyed or severely damaged. Power outages are frequently reported in the occupied southern regions of Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Moscow’s attacks on energy infrastructure are intended to hurt Ukrainians as temperatures drop, and to prevent the Kyiv government from exporting energy to other parts of Europe. Europe, where Russia’s energy sanctions have contributed to Electricity and gas bills skyrocketed for consumers and businesses.

“Russia is trying to prevent us from using Ukraine’s ability to stabilize the situation in Europe,” Zelensky said last week. “Our ability to export electricity is something that Russia is very afraid of right now. Because we can thwart Russian plans to squeeze every penny from ordinary European citizens this winter when energy prices are expected to soar.”

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s intelligence service, recently said that nuclear power is essential to Ukraine’s energy production and therefore Russia will plan further attacks, increasing the risk of accidents. Nuclear.

“The Russian aggressors have systematically and continuously encircled Ukraine’s entire energy infrastructure, and this certainly could eventually involve other nuclear facilities, other nuclear power plants”.

Report contributed by Anastasia Kuznietsova from Kyiv, Ukraine and Alan Yuhas from New York.

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